Social Media, Sexuality, and Young People


By Kayla Holt

Social media has shaped our world in a way very few people could have predicted. We spend hours upon hours looking through snapshots of other people’s lives in an almost voyeuristic manner. However, we often forget is that they are just that, snapshots and highly manicured snapshots at that. In the age of Instagram and YouTube things are rarely what they seem.

Being born in 1993 I am, for better or worse, a millennial and I lived through the social media boom. I remember when YouTube was barely more than HTML coding, but had no ads and a time before FaceBook even existed. The platform of the day was MySpace which was ruled by scene kings and queens who had managed to teach themselves HTML and photo editing to make their profiles the best of the best.

Times have changed and so has social media culture. The people who get the most likes and followers aren’t the people with obsessively straightened swoop bangs anymore. Now the people who get the most likes and followers are the people who filter out every imperfection, both in photos and in content. We don’t get to see the messy parts of people online; the image of them that we get has gone through a filtering process to add to their online persona. 

The perfect image that these online content creators make for themselves isn’t inherently bad; we’re taught to put our best foot forward, right? Where the waters get murky is when the young people consuming this content start to emulate the people they look up to online; the repeated exposure to “perfect” skews what normal really is! These murky waters get down right brackish when the element of sexuality is added to the mix of the influences of social media on young people, especially young girls.   

The pressure of being a teen or preteen girl is hard enough without getting bombarded by images of perfection. When I look back at pictures of myself as a teenager I look a mess, but so did everyone else. We were all kids starting a transition into being an adult without any internet celebrity to copy. YouTube makeup tutorials didn’t really exist yet and Instagram wouldn’t show up for a couple years, so we were left to our own devices. 

With the rise of beauty gurus and Instagram models, girls are skipping that awkward transition period more and more. Not only does this shorten their childhoods, but it also means they are finding themselves in situations and relationships that they aren’t truly ready for because they are still kids who still have so much growing to do. Girls are emulating these beauty gurus in looks and fashion and behavior because it’s what they think they are supposed to do. 

When girls copy women it doesn’t mean that they are women. Treating them as such and holding them to the same standards, especially in relationships, is ludacris. A young girl approaching a man (or woman) older than them isn’t the same as an adult approaching another adult. As the adult in the scenario, it’s their responsibility to turn down the advance and not encourage further advances. “Oh, well she came onto me” isn’t a valid excuse because not only is she emulating a behavior that she thinks is acceptable (and has probably been encouraged before), but there is a clear power difference. The proper answer when a young girl makes an advance on an older person is “no”. 

Not only is it unfair to expect girls to perform the same level of emotional labor in relationships as women, it is damaging. Regardless of how mature a girl acts, she is not a woman and should not be held to the same standards. 

Social media truly is a double edged blade because it has accelerated the rate at which we can share information, but the culture around it can be very toxic especially to the developing sexuality of young people. Everything on the internet must be taken with a grain of salt and we must understand that the people we follow online aren’t typically showing us a complete picture of themselves or their lives. Social media isn’t going away, so to stay safe adults must be able to identify copy cat behaviors (as well as proceed to set boundaries and discourage inappropriate behaviors) and kids growing up on the internet will learn to be critical of the media they are consuming. 

Photo Credit Priscilla De Preez