Oh, to be a teenager again. You have little to no responsibilities, and your biggest concerns are whether or not you’ll get a good grade on your math test, or if the boy you’re secretly crushing on in your gym class will ask you out.
Those were the days when you were young and innocent, as teenage years should be. It often consisted of sleepovers where you shared dating and kissing tips you read in a magazine and gossiped with your friends about who’s dating who.
That was my teenage experience, but if you look at teen magazines now, teenage girls are reading a different message. If you look at most teenage girl magazines, their “relationship” section isn’t even there anymore.
Some Relationship Articles Are There, but Not Many
Seventeen was one of my favorite magazines when I was a teenager, and it’s still popular today with two million followers on Instagram. My friends and I used to read it for fashion, beauty, and relationship advice, as well as some good celebrity gossip (the relationship drama between Nick Jonas and Miley Cyrus was one for the ages). While Seventeen still covers all of these topics, there aren’t as many relationship articles as there used to be. They still have articles like "Here's the Secret To Getting over a Crush" and "20 Funny Flirting Memes That Totally Encapsulate the Struggle," but their last relationship article was published on August 27 (at the time of publishing).
It’s been months since Seventeen or Teen Vogue has published an actual relationship advice article.
Teen Vogue was another teenage favorite of mine, and they pay even less attention to relationship articles. Though one can argue that they’re more of a fashion magazine, most of their articles focus on far-left politics before fashion, beauty, and relationship advice. They have a "sex and relationships" section, but the last article on relationship advice that wasn’t focused on sex was published on July 14. The previous relationship article before that was published on February 14.
More “Sex” in “Sex and Relationships”
There seems to be an emphasis on sex in the “sex and relationships” section in teen magazines, and this phenomenon continues in women’s magazines. There are some positives of teen magazines talking about sex like information on teen pregnancy and sexual health questions, both of which I remember being very helpful in my teen years because puberty is so confusing for teens.
It becomes problematic when there is more content on sex than relationships. Both Seventeen and Teen Vogue have published articles on how to get an abortion if you're underaged, but Teen Vogue’s articles on sex take the cake for portraying sex as more important than romantic relationships. Some of their most controversial titles include "When Is It Safe To Send a Partner Nude Photos?" (the author acknowledges child pornography laws, but still encourages teens to send nudes), "Why Sex Work Is Real Work," and "How To Use Sex Magic To Manifest Your Best Self."
An emphasis on sex over relationships takes the relationship aspect out of sex.
When I was a teenager, I read plenty of advice articles on kissing, dating, and flirting, but the line between these tips and sex tips was clearly drawn. This is no longer the case for teen magazines, however; remember when Teen Vogue controversially published "Anal Sex: Safety, How to's, Tips, and More"?
When one thinks of popular women’s magazines, Cosmopolitan is often the first to come to mind. Though Cosmo does publish some good relationship articles, they’re most famous for their sex tips. I read Cosmo in my later teen years, but it mainly consisted of my friends and I giggling and cringing at the sex tips; we all knew that this was meant for adults. We often went as far as hiding the magazines under our beds so our parents wouldn’t find it, and yes, my mom did find my hidden copy of Cosmo when I was 18.
Teen magazines now have similar content to what Cosmo had in the 2000s, leading some of their current content to be more controversial than it was before. Some of their most controversial sex articles include personal essays painting infidelity and polyamorous relationships as empowering.
There’s a major problem with this — it ignores that there’s way more to relationships than just sex.
In short, an emphasis on sex over relationships towards a teenage audience takes the relationship aspect out of sex, making it easier for women’s magazines to make sex even cheaper. There’s a major problem with this philosophy — it ignores that there’s way more to relationships than just sex.
There’s Much More to Relationships Than Just Sex
Modern hookup culture tries to portray casual sex as empowering for women, failing to recognize that scientific evidence links casual sex to psychological issues like anxiety and depression, as well as evidence that having sex early in relationships is “linked to later dissatisfaction.” Failing to acknowledge that women experience higher levels of oxytocin during sex (which leads to stronger emotional attachment to a sexual partner) and encouraging women to have sex like men (sex without feelings) are misleading at best and dangerous at worst.
This message teaches young women that sex is not only the most important part of a relationship but that women don’t need to be in a relationship to have sex. While this is true from a technical standpoint, failing to acknowledge the psychological effects that casual sex has on women and promoting it to young women doesn’t empower them to be in healthy relationships.
Teaching teenage girls how to communicate in a relationship will set them up for successful relationships.
These magazines should emphasize the important parts of a relationship that don’t involve sex, like how to communicate and date ideas. Communication is the key to any healthy relationship, so teaching young women how to communicate in a relationship will set them up for successful and healthy relationships in the long run. Teaching these rewarding aspects of a healthy relationship set women up for long-term happiness, while just teaching them about casual sex sets them up for misery.
The rise of hookup culture affects everyone, but especially young women. Teen magazines have caught wind of this phenomenon, and aren’t afraid to use it to get more clicks or sell more magazines. If these popular magazines truly cared about the well-being of their readers, they should be teaching teenage girls relationship advice before sex advice.