Differences in Western Sexuality

One of the things I’ve talked about on this blog is the construction of modern sexuality and adolescence and the impact of this on our cultural mores. Over the last couple of centuries this has gone through some developments leading to contemporary attitudes about sexuality. Along with the construction of adolescence has blossomed, in the twentieth-century, the category of, and attitudes towards, teenagers. Teenagers occupy a kind of liminal state between adolescent and adult and this creates a complex intersection of discourses all inter-relating that impact our attitudes towards teens and young adults. No where is this more evident than regarding teen sexuality. With this in mind, I found it quite interesting to find my way to an old slate piece (h/t: Feministing). The link takes you to a slide show that shows some of the discursive differences between attitudes about teen sexuality in America (and I would argue Canada) in comparison with European attitudes. I have to say, some of the statistics are quite telling and the explanations they take about the piece are solid.

From my own perspective, I find it interesting to ask the question, while watching the slide-show and reading the analysis, ‘to what end do these different views of teen sexuality aim?” That is, what if we take a methodological stance that assumes a teleology and homogeneity to these discourses and consequently wonder what are the goals of talking about teen sexuality in way that they are talked about? Now, of course, we know that discourses are contradictory and there is no homogeneous force shaping them, but taking this stance might offer interesting insight.

In that light, I would argue that the respective discourse about teen sexuality says something about the different attitudes about about teen sexuality in Europe and North America. We see European attitudes being more practical–focused on strategies that accomplish specific goals and attempting to frame representations to meet these practical goals. In North American attitudes, I find the discourse about teen sexuality has very little to do with teen sexuality in and of itself. The goals are similar, but impacting the discourse is a whole set of idealizations and imaginary fictions imputed on the subject. North American attitudes speak to me of this having much more to do with adult fears and dreams than teens themselves. Unfortunately, it leads me to a kind of psychologism where I come to this insight, and thus its corollary: What kinds of of strange nostalgias has led former teens (adults) to construct these elaborate fear-based narratives about their past?

It all seems a little opaque to me, but I find the question an interesting one that I will continue to ruminate on.


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