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Teen Sex in the Movies: We've Come a Long Way, Baby

Tara McNamara

Teen sex was a cinematic norm in the 1980s, even sparking its own movie genre, the teen sex comedy. And not just in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Little Darlings or Zapped, all appropriately rated R (although we '80s kids saw it anyway on that newfangled pay cable service, HBO). It was presented matter-of-factly in the PG-rated Sixteen Candles, Footloose and Meatballs, as if getting it on was the mandatory next step after getting armpit hair.   

Commercial filmmakers are typically more responsible these days about portraying teen sex than they have been in the past (though I was surprised by how casually it was treated in movies like Vampire Academy and Endless Love recently). Some would argue that’s a welcome improvement, the girls are in control of their sexuality… but I wonder why teen sex needs to be portrayed in the movies at all.

It’s well documented that kids take cues about how to live their life from movies and TV. When teen characters engage in an activity as if it’s the norm, it leads real kids to assume, “I guess this is what teenagers do.” If eliminating smoking from movies has contributed to the plummeting teen smoking rate, imagine if films didn’t depict teen sex at all? I’m well aware those so-called raging teen hormones will lead plenty of teens to sleep together whether or not they see The Fault in Our Stars. On the other hand, when we look at The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Twilight – movies that really resonate with modern teens and tweens – they have romantic elements but characters are mostly chaste until marriage. I never thought I’d be wistful for Bella.

To see a film with the family and avoid sexual situations in the theater this weekend, you have to scratch most of the current PG-13 movies off the list. Here are some other choices:

The Lego Movie. Everything is awesome. For all ages. For real.

Pompeii. No sex, but plenty of brutal historical violence in this film which works hard to accurately bring the time period and the natural disaster to life.

Frozen Sing-a-long. As my 12-year-old daughter says, "Frozen is the new thing. Everyone just wants to sing the songs." Here is your chance to do so with Elsa, Anna and Olaf.

What do kids say about these films? Find out at, where all kids are movie critics.


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