These days, it often feels like romance and sex start at a very early age. We like to wrap our adolescents up in cotton wool, but we think nothing of pre-teen obsessions with stars like Justin Bieber and the boys from One Direction. Yet, are these teen sensations not singing about blatantly adult concepts, about the intricacies of intimacy and modern relationships?
In one of the most downloaded songs of the last ten years, What Makes You Beautiful, One Direction bookmark their appreciation for a beautiful girl with the repeated refrain, “I want you so desperately.’ Now, to a 14-year old super fan, there seems to be nothing more romantic. He wants to be with this girl so bad, he can barely take it.
To a far more cynical adult listener, it is a plea for more than just a turn on the dance floor and a little bit of a hug. The modern teenager, though not entirely unaware of the sexual metaphors which lurk beneath even the sweetest sounding pop songs, is a human being temporarily stuck between childhood and maturity. As such it is not always easy for them to separate the two perspectives.
This can cause a lot of confusion for young adults, but the problem is not necessarily in how sex is presented to them, but how they are taught to respond to it. The crux of the issue lies with the ability to distinguish between sex and love, an ability which marks the beginning of true adult sexuality. For a teenager, even one who rationally understands that sex and love can exist without one another, sexuality is inexorably wrapped up in validation from others – usually members of the opposite sex.
It takes time for teenagers to start connecting sex with personal gratification, rather than validation. This is why we see girls queuing for hours outside tour buses, waiting for floppy haired superstars to make an appearance, and validate their existence by acknowledging it. They are channeling a burgeoning desire, which they do not yet understand, into the desperate need to be noticed.
It is important, particularly for parents, to allow a child to (safely) express this desire. In fact, teenage obsessions over stars like Robert Pattinson and Justin Bieber are a vital aspect of female sexual development, because they are the first ‘love affairs’ that a girl encounters. She enjoys the exuberant highs of imaginary passion for her model man, and learns how to deal with romantic loss when she realizes that the fantasy will never be real – and ultimately, she learns how to move on.
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