Sex and the Media: An Airbrushed Reality 

Content warning: Mentions of mental health disorders and body image.

Sex positivity with Ffion Nugent.

First of all, I wanted to say a huge ‘Welcome back!’ and thank you for being so patient with me after having a break from writing. This month’s article is something that resonates with me personally and for many other young people growing up. The representation of how sex is portrayed in the media has had a profoundly negative impact on the mental health of young people. It reinforces gender dysphoria amongst the trans community and it does not give a good example to young people (or anyone for that matter) about the importance of giving and asking for consent. 

Body goals

Mainstream rom-coms, such as Love Actually or reality TV shows like Love Island and The Kardashians have a rigid, unforgiving representation of the typical feminine and masculine body type. It encourages young people with vulvas to strive for a slim waist, large breasts, plump lips and long hair. Whilst encouraging young people with penises to achieve that chiseled jawline, six pack abs and broad shoulders. These body types are over represented in the media, and this speaks to young people’s subconscious that this is the only body type you should ever achieve to be happy. Studies have shown the effects of this over representation significantly reduces people’s self esteem and reinforces symptoms of anxiety and depression. This can lead to people becoming reluctant to engage in sexual activity with their partners, developing a reduced libido and unhealthy sexual relationships. As well as the risk of developing an eating disorder, body dysmorphia and/or suicidal ideation.  


Although there are many brief examples of gay relationships on TV and film, the general representation is still very much heteronormative. Picture this: boy meets girl, the girl falls into trouble and only the boy can save her, then they fall in love. This is typically the backbone storyline to many disney films. Not only does this reinforce patriarchal norms, where the woman is incapable of doing anything productive herself and only the masculine presenting character can save the day, it also minimises the representation of LGBTQ+ characters and relationships. This consequently maintains those feelings of marginalisation for people of the LGBTQ+ community. Although, the Netflix television show Sex Education has been praised for challenging those stereotypical storylines, giving the limelight to LGBTQ+ relationships. 

The perfectly polished look 

Nowhere in mainstream TV and film does it explain the stumbling, sweaty realities of sex. There is always just the right dimmed lighting and just the right music to set the mood. There isn’t a bead of sweat on their bodies and their hair and makeup always looks flawless. Where in reality, this perfect picture is far from the truth. However, the bottom line for me is that consent is never established. The people simply know exactly when and how they want to have sex, they never ensure consent is maintained by checking in on each other and there is no debrief, or ‘pillow talk’ afterwards. Female pleasure is always overlooked, where the male orgasm is the main focal point. It teaches young people that as long as the man is satisfied, that is what matters. However, the book turned to television series Normal People gives a great example of how consent and female pleasure can be normalised and worked into before, during and after sex.

Image courtesy of Canva.

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