Every teen drama criticized for graphic portrayals of sex is met with arguments that many teenagers do have sex lives, and that these shows’ portrayals are realistic and refreshing. Although many high schoolers are indeed sexually active, the casting of adult actors by shows like "Euphoria" (2019–) and "Riverdale" (2017–) can quickly become distasteful. While I don’t believe in pearl-clutching over teenage sexuality nor in not portraying it at all, I am disturbed by Hollywood’s tendency to cast adult actors to play minors. The fine line between a realistic portrayal of teenagers and oversexualization is found in how teenage sex is portrayed, and the current, popular teen drama "Euphoria" fails on many counts.
“Euphoria” sometimes portrays sex as empowering for female characters, which can be a great thing and a departure from much other media. However, this sexual empowerment often manifests in a way that co-opts the women’s empowerment movement as an excuse to cater to the male gaze. This is exemplified through the characterization of Kat’s (Barbie Ferreira) sexualized cam girl arc as a method of empowerment. While women should be free to express their sexuality and exert control over their own bodies, this perversion of feminism by male directors, writers and producers not only eroticizes female bodies but also pressures women and girls to chase desirability in harmful ways and to base their self-worth on sexual attractiveness as Kat did in the show. This can exacerbate the objectification of women and underage girls.
Furthermore, while "Euphoria" can successfully cover nuanced topics like addiction, its empathetic visage feels shallow due to the show sexualizing its characters. Nate (Jacob Elordi), Cassie’s (Sydney Sweeney) love interest in Season 2, is framed as unsympathetic because he sexualizes her, but my inner cynic rolls its eyes at this would-be noble attempt to reject the male gaze when the show turns around and crafts intentionally erotic cinematography when filming scenes of Cassie. While Nate is hospitalized, he has a fever dream sex fantasy of Cassie. Female characters in the show do have similar sexual fantasies — like when Kat pictures a hypermasculine viking — but the scenes are shot incredibly differently. While Kat’s viking is filmed at more of a distance, making the viewer less focused on the scene, Cassie is pictured from Nate’s point of view with close-up, sexualized angles. Kat’s fantasy is a way of conveying information about herself to the audience. Nate’s is intended to tantalize us as it does him. When cinematography is actively sexualizing teen girls, the show is no longer subversive, or a commentary — it is complicit.
With underage girls, Hollywood toes a line of technicalities. 37-year-old Sam Levinson’s history of sexualizing underage female characters in his work and Drake’s (executive producer of "Euphoria") previous predatory behavior is ignored in the show. Hollywood’s strange fixation with underage girls hints at a bigger societal problem: the barely curtailed obsession of adult men with underage and barely legal teens. TV creators and viewers alike must be more aware of the impact of sexualizing minors, and should treat "Euphoria" and similar shows with a careful, critical eye.