Pretty Little Liars and Teen Sexuality

Pretty Little Liars-- yes, that Pretty Little Liars, the one on ABC Family with the ads that looked like it was a show about undead prom queens-- is, at least kinda, doing teen sexuality right.

I’m just as surprised as you are. This is a show that looked dumb, sounded dumb, and, honestly, is pretty dumb. But I like how they’re handling teen girls’ sexuality on the show, even though I still can’t quite openly admit that I watch it. First off, lemme lay down the nitty-gritty of the show: queen bee Allison mysteriously disappears, leaving her four BFFs like “WTF?” Flash-forward a year later, and the BFFs are, respectively: 1.) returning from Iceland, 2.) athletic, 3.) the new (klepto) queen bee, and 4.) the smart one who wears argyle non-ironically.

All four girls are involved in sexually charged subplots by episode 4, but I’m only going to deal with Girl 2 and Girl 3 today. Girl Number 3 has the requisite hunky/lunky boyfriend, but instead of being the sex-crazed jock trope that I’ve come to expect from trashy TV, he’s a religious dude who’s not really into doing it right now. Girl 3 is the one pushing sex as the next step in their relationship.

There are a couple of problems with this, duh. Would I prefer to see Girl 3 interested in sex because both the closeness and the pleasure that can come from being sexual, instead of because it’s the “next step” and her best friend thinks it’s weird that they haven’t done it? Yeah, I would like that. But it’s not TV’s responsibility to make every character Feminist Supergrrrl, and, frankly, not a whole lot of teen girls are. So despite the problems there, I enjoy that the show’s creators have decided to portray a different side of female sexuality-- one that doesn’t think that only dudes want sex. Girl also whips out a condom while trying to get her boo to have sex, and I am always into visible safe sex in media.

On to the next sexual situation: this one involving girl number two, Sporty Spice (AKA/actually named Emily). Sexy, pot-smoking New Neighbor Girl has moved in to Creepy Town, and puts her sights on our girl Emily pretty much immediately. Emily has a loser swimmer boyfriend, who she breaks up with because he’s a loser, and, after much flirting and arm-grazing, she makes out with Neighbor Girl in a photo booth. She freaks out, get some wise advice, realizes that haters gonna hate, and tells New Neighbor that she was into the kiss, but needs some space.

There are a lot of things that I like about this arc. First, cute queer girls! Whaddup! Neighbor Girl is pretty straight-up about being into Emily. Second, queer girls of color! Double whaddup! Seriously, name a show that features girls who like girls, where both of those girls are not white (Shay Mitchell, the actress who plays Emily, is half Filipina and half Scottish, and Bianca Lawson, who plays Neighbor Girl, is African American). Two minority groups that are historically under-represented in mainstream media, featured as a part of a show like it’s no big. I like that.

At the end of the fourth ep, Emily tells Neighbor Girl that she needs some space to deal with, you know, her dead former BFF texting her from the grave or whatevs (kind of the entire plot of the series) even though she’s into Neighbor Girl. Neighbor Girl is all, “It’s cool, I’ll wait, cause I like you.” Which seems to me to be damn close to a healthy relationship (maybe minus the post-mortem texting thing) featured on television.

More please.

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Anna S
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