Sexualized Teens: The Profitable Market That Hurts No One Except the Teenagers Themselves

Iris Liu, Writer

My name is Iris Liu, and I am a 16-year-old high school student. To me, being a teenager means going to school, complaining about assignment due dates, occasionally relaxing on the weekends with my friends at a diner, and talking about the latest dating drama at school.


But to the media, being a teenager means something very different: mini-skirts, sex scandals, and mature twenty or thirty-year-olds in full makeup and professionally done hair. For them, being a teenager isn’t just struggling with acne and college applications. It’s a sexy brand, and they want to sell it.


“Because these actors are actually adults, directors feel more comfortable putting them in some situations that teens are unlikely to find themselves in.” Mrs. Henson, the program director for the Parent Television Council – an organization dedicated to protecting children and families from graphic sex, violence, and profanity in the media – said, “and so as a consequence, I think teens may be watching what’s happening on the screen and feel like this is a normal or typical teenage experience and that there must be something wrong with them if their experiences don’t look like what they see on screen,”


But why sexualize teenage characters? Don’t some of these producers have their own children? Is this really what they think teenagers are? Euphoria, one of the hottest shows on HBO max is replete with explicit sex scenes and full-frontal nudity of supposed teenage characters still attending high school. Why wouldn’t they just write about adult characters?


Mrs. Henson explained this behavior in our interview. “And you often hear, you know, actresses over the age of 40, lamenting the fact that now they only get cast as moms because, you know, you’re kind of washed up in Hollywood when you’re over 40, so there is this sort of youth obsession with the entertainment industry.”


But this youth obsession affects us, teenagers. We learn by imitating what we see at school, but also what we see on social media and TV. It’s a loop that reinforces itself: the more of this grossly overdramatized version of teenage life we see, the more problems we have because of it: identity crises, confusion, and self-loathing because it’s impossible to measure up to the increasingly sexual images of teens we see on our screens.


A Manhasset High school student I interviewed had this to say about the effects of oversexualizing teenagers.


“It creates this pressure that teenagers should be having sex when they’re like young. And like they should be discovering their sexual like desires but that’s not necessarily true. Like you can wait until you are an adult it doesn’t matter. And I think it especially impacts kids like it kind of causes children to grow up too fast because social media are becoming sexualized more and more at a younger age. Like how in the 2000s when you are 13 you are still watching my little pony or whatever but now children who are 13 on TikTok’s are pushing their boobs up, you know?” 


In the end, what content is produced by these media platforms relies on how much profit they can reap. This is the part where I call you, the reader, to action. Drop your subscriptions to media streaming platforms that show oversexualized teenagers so they will realize how drastic the situation is and stop.


But I also doubt you will drop your subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, or other streaming services just because of sexualized teenagers. Like the rest of us, you’ve become too used to it. Or maybe after listening to this podcast, you will at least pause when you see another sexualized portrayal of a “teenager”. And maybe think about the other teens watching this, who still haven’t quite grown out of their baby fat, being told that a young adult in their twenties with a fully-matured body, is what teenagers are supposed to be.