Did you get a chance to check out HBO’s latest original series, Euphoria? Starring Maude Apatow, Zendaya, and Eric Dane, the show has been described as gratuitous, visceral, and hard to watch. Many reviewers said watching “Euphoria” made them fearful for today’s youth.
As the mom of two teenage boys (and one young adult), I can relate to this fear. When my husband Sam and I sat down to watch “Euphoria,” I was hopeful that the show would be useful for parents, as a sort of tool or teachable moment for talking about those tough teenage lessons.
I won’t lie, it was a difficult watch. It highlights the worst-case scenarios and it is an over-the-top representation of what most teens face each day. From the lack of boundaries, to the ubiquity of porn, to the fuzziness of consent, to the ways in which girls are covertly and overtly encouraged to trade their bodies and sexuality for “love” and approval, it’s a difficult television program for parents.
Sending nudes has become a way to get ‘in with the in crowd,’ until of course, it backfires and girls find themselves being cruelly and inhumanely bullied by their classmates. Losing your virginity is a must if you want to prove that you’re not immature. Wearing seductive clothing or posting erotic images on your Instagram or Snapchats are all part and parcel of growing up now, and that is really scary.
But, I am glad we are scared. I am glad parents are watching “Euphoria” and feeling enraged and threatened. This big emotional response is needed. We collectively need to examine the messages about sexuality and gender in this country, and the ways in which these messages harm and even destroy young girls.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think shutting off “Euphoria” is the answer. Healing this culture’s wounds around sex is going to take much more fierce work than that. We need to start encouraging girls (and boys) to own their bodies and their sexuality. It belongs to them. Not us as parents. Not their classmates or boyfriends or Snapchat. It’s theirs to honor. Theirs to enjoy. Theirs to explore.
We need to start looking closely at mainstream porn and at statistics which show how violent, forced sex scenes are on the rise, and at how many sex workers are speaking out against sexual assault in the industry.
Our kids need to hear us talk about porn, to explain how it can be dangerous, coerced and how many people in the business are actually trafficked and victims of sexual abuse. They need to understand that this illicit, tempting world can involve a lot of pain and deep trauma, and that watching porn, making porn or sending porn is to become part of this wound.
To put it another way: The average kid sees pornography by the age of eight years old in this modern world, yet how many parents are actually talking to their kids about porn and helping them process these overwhelming images? When is our parenting going to catch up with our technology?
This is not to say that adults cannot enjoy erotica which is consensual and humanely made, but for teens, it is a slippery slope that can forever alter their sexual responses, their fantasies, and the ways they relate to their sexuality.
Girls usually feel the brunt of this sexual pressure. A recent study showed that two-thirds of girls ages 15-18 have been pressured to send nudes. The study showed that only 8% of the girls who sent nudes did so because they actually wanted to…the rest said they felt like they had to in order to please their boyfriend or to be part of the popular crowd and escape bullying. (Ironically, sending nudes also leads to bullying, sometimes with fatal results).
How can we stop this? How can we protect our girls? I wish we could just block HBO on our kids’ television and solve the problem. But it’s deeper than that. We have to actually empower girls to realize that their worth doesn’t lie in their appearance or in their sexual availability. To understand that lust isn’t love and that a boyfriend who begs you for nudes is not someone who truly cares for you in the first place. We need to teach our girls self-worth, independence, confidence…and we need to teach them that sex is not scary or dirty and that they aren’t wrong for having sexual urges.
There are so many ways young people can enjoy sex without rushing to intimacy—and this is part of the reason I actually tell parents to buy their daughters a vibrator. If a girl knows how to pleasure herself and own her own sexuality, she is going to be much less likely to be manipulated by outside forces. Is this going to be something every parent feels comfortable with? No. But you can still talk to your teen about how masturbation is safe, normal and a healthy exploration of one’s body.
And let’s not forget the most important piece of this puzzle. We need to talk to our boys about consent and about respecting boundaries and bodily autonomy, including when it comes to nudes and sexting. The responsibility in ending rape and sexual assault lies with the perpetrators, not the victims, and we need to start focusing on that rather than asking ‘Well, what was she wearing?’ or ‘Why did she drink so much?’
Shows like “Euphoria” come and go every couple of years. Whether it’s Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, Pretty Little Liars, you name it, there is always some show which horrifies parents and titillates teenagers. We can turn off the T.V.—or we can turn on to what is happening in our kids’ lives and get honest and proactive about making the world a better place for them.