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Representations of Sexually Inexperienced Emerging Adults in Fictional Television Series and Movies

Abstract

Despite sexual imperatives and social norms marginalizing non-sexualities–referred to as compulsory sexuality –, representations of sexually inexperienced emerging adults (SIEA) in works of fiction have been overlooked. The goal of this research was to document media representations of SIEA in popular fictional television series and movies in a contemporary North American context. We conducted in-depth analyses of fictional television series and movies that portrayed at least one lead or secondary SIEA character. Eleven characters were analyzed through a conceptual framework based on social clock, script, and stigma theories. A hybrid qualitative analysis combining tenets of dialectical team-coding, textual, narrative, and critical discourse was conducted. First, each character was assessed regarding the virginity script it best depicted. Three characters (Anastasia, 50 Shades of Grey; April, Grey’s Anatomy; Jane, Jane the Virgin) fit the gift script, five characters (Shoshanna, Girls; Charlene, F**ked Up; Brian, The Young Kieslowski; Jules, L’heure bleue; Peter, The Late Bloomer) best belonged to the stigma script, and three characters (Kala, Sense8; Chiron, Moonlight; Sam, Atypical) exemplified the process script. However, there was some script overlap in many of these representations, which were found to be insufficient to adequately capture the complexity of each characters’ situation with regards to their sexual inexperience. Second, we developed a matrix in which each character was positioned on four axes: (1) intentionality of sexual inexperience, (2) identity, (3) social skills, and (4) social integration. Third, stigma manifestations of SIEA characters were found at the individual, interpersonal, and structural levels. Gender differences were salient in our corpus: male characters’ inexperience was depicted as a by-product of extrinsic or uncontrollable factors (e.g., medical condition), whereas female characters were held responsible for their inexperience and asked to “justify” it. In fact, gender was the primary characteristic through which characters were represented, and superseded the place given to sexual inexperience in the narratives.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. For instance, in the GLAAD 2019–2020 report, “Where We Are on TV,” which provides statistics regarding sexual and gender diversity in U.S. television, neither sexual inexperience, virginity, nor asexuality are mentioned.

  2. Age was unknown for two characters (Jules in L’heure bleue and Chiron in Moonlight). However, they were retained based on their social and vocational roles coherent with those of 18- to 29-year-olds (i.e., university setting).

  3. Naturalizing fiction can be interpreted through the lens of their “realism”, at least with regards to the representation of interpersonal relations (Jost, 2009).

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Acknowledgements

A special thanks to our research assistants, Nicholas Boucher-Bégin, B.A., Melissa Anne Fuller, M.A., and Chloé Rivard, B.A., for their precious help with data collection, character grids completion and preliminary analyses.

Funding

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), 430–2018-00668, Insight Development Grant, Marie-Aude Boislard.

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Correspondence to Marie-Aude Boislard.

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Boislard, MA., Boisvert, S., Millette, M. et al. Representations of Sexually Inexperienced Emerging Adults in Fictional Television Series and Movies. Sexuality & Culture 26, 1031–1059 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-021-09930-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-021-09930-w