For the developing teen, fortifying their roles in their communities and the ambiguous society at large helps to create engagement and life-long communication that defines individuals and their social, political, and personal space. As society polices romantic and sexual conduct, those found “criminal” face disengagement and social homelessness that leads to dangerous decisions in the hope to preserve their emotional integrity. To realign their emotional desires with their sexual identities, those teaching teens about sexuality should stress the importance of identity presentation in society to begin conversations of change that germinate in interpersonal relationships, families, schools, and social media.
As teens develop an individual presence that distinguished them from their families of origin, new socialising institutions emerge. Peer approval, important before adolescence, becomes the driving force for interpersonal relationships and relationship-building, especially in the form of dating and courtship (the most effective way to communicate societal efficacy) (Savin-Williams, 2005, p. 257). In America, conservative ideals about the family promote heterosexual couplings or pseudo-heterosexual couplings (femme-butch pairings, top-bottom dichotomies, and so on), and participating in these pairings presents rewards (like the 2015 decision to legalise same-sex marriage across the country). When educating teens about sexual and romantic identity, these couples should not be demonised or nonconforming couples glorified; this is replicating the system that allows nonconforming couples to endure ridicule and economic disparity, among other consequences. The roles of being a supportive peer is the most efficient way to change the narrative of identity disempowerment.
For the benefit of peers, sexually-different teens reform their identity performance, jeopardising their confidence. Savin-Williams (2005) noted that queer teens do not feel like genuine people when performing a straight act (p. 260). To protect their body, their identities are shrouded in the expectations of others, wearing away at the hidden selves. If a teen forgoes the coming out process, the dissociative identities they assume will be manifestations of trauma. The recognition of queerdom does not aid in prevention of trauma, as queer identity, romance, or sexuality, when recognised, is barely supported and most definitely not celebrated (Savin-Williams, 2005, p. 259). Queer identity is frowned upon, and queer collectivity holds no reward in a social world, but a queer sorority is especially celebrated in the teen social media, with the rise of teen, queer idols that emulate the flashy social media society and homogenous beautification of the connected world. The queer sexual identity is under a new reformation, to be the “queerest.”
Queer sexuality is subject to fantasy in a whole new way in regards to the growth of the internet persona. When Savin-Williams (2005) related his ideas about sexual fantasy as a way for queer teens to affirm their sexual identity regardless of sexual practice, he had no idea how the internet would transform the sexual identity and its social value (p. 259, 261). On teen social media that cater to homogenous beautification practices of the teen experience, queerness is celebrated and preferred and asexualised as it is commodified. The sexual implications of sexual identities are erased when the experiences of peoples with these sexual identities are stylised and homogenised. Sexuality, then, is uncultured without the style. Those who fail the styled expectations are irrelevant and overlooked in modern queer teen social realities. This has led to the exclusion of many groups including people of colour, lower class peoples, and disabled people, among others.
The “in group” and the “out group” are both susceptible to the desexualisation of sexual presence within social media. In the past, being cut-off from physical intimacy (combined with heterosexist sociosexual pressures) led to sexually reckless acts like unprotected sexual contact (Savin-Williams, 2005, p. 263). In the context of the modern teen, sexual practices via social media (“cybersex”) has become that new sexually dangerous space. In the asynchronous space, the impact of sexting and sexual media (from amateur smartphone photography to unrestricted pornography) can endure as evidence in the deep wen or become disseminated as sexual property in the dark web. The desexualisation of sexual online presence has created an influx of sexual recklessness that threatens to autonomy of the object née subject. In addition to the dangers of the web, many teens (especially queer) still exist in the physical dangerous space. The stylised sexual self is ignorant of the political and social realities of the sexualised self.
For sexual education and teen identity, recognising the performance of sexuality in the physical and social media world is crucial for maintaining self-integrity. As teens develop biologically and socially, they require validation of their special existence in order to function as adults (Savin-Williams, 2005, p. 263). Peer approval, extended to the connected world because of social media, is a valid form of community confirmation. The dependency this medium requires also needs to be stressed, that the main currents of identity should not be energised by social media remarks and self-commercialism. One needs to possess a strong image of the self to fall back on in times of doubt, a cornerstone to developing assertive behaviour and communication efficacy. Having an identity, even if unpractised, is healthier than assuming a persona to present a falsified narrative that strips the power and definition of behaviour from a sexual identity. Sexuality is more than a style or a practice—it is a framework that, from, adolescence, defines how one will interact with the system, whether replicating it or speaking back to it. A sexual teen needs to be able to claim their sexuality without having to follow pre-conditioned guidelines of presentation.
Teen sexual discourse needs to focus on the importance of identification, the power of labelling, and the place of sexuality in social media to help temper the language future generations will use to address sexuality. The sexual (physical) barriers of the past are reinvented in the social media world where the lasting effects of any action are visible to a world that shrouds this new field in the romantic fictions and hopes akin to errant sexual fantasies.
Savin-Williams, R. C. (2005). Dating and romantic relationships among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youths. In N. B. Moore and J. K. Davidson, Sr. (Eds.), Speaking of sexuality: Interdisciplinary Readings (2nd ed.) (pp. 257-264). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publishing Company.