Category Archives: sex in media

How Ellie From “The Last Of Us” Does LGBT Characters Right

1482574113135812936

In the current state of popular culture, one of the most emotionally-charged words is “diversity.” It gets thrown around like a nuclear hot potato. Anyone who holds it too long gets burned and anyone who doesn’t hold it long enough gets attacked. Whether it’s the handling of female characters or representation of minorities, diversity is one of those buzzwords that creates the wrong kind of buzz.

That’s not to say that it’s always mishandled. From a pure business standpoint, it makes sense for media companies to pursue diversity because the world is becoming an increasingly diverse place. New markets and consumer bases are emerging as people gain greater access to media, thanks largely to global connectivity. Any competent business would want to appeal to the most customers possible.

Economics aside, injecting diversity into a movie, TV, comic book, or video game is fraught with challenges and potential backlash. Movies have felt it. Comic books have felt it. Video games have especially felt it, thanks to scandals that seem to get more frustrating with each passing year.

The number of failed attempts to promote diversity is vast and tends to bring out the worst in many people. The successes, though, often fly under the radar and generate way too little attention. Other than the success ofBlack Panther” and the occasional Supergirl comic, the cases of diversity done right are few and far between.

That’s why I think it’s fitting that one of the best cases of diversity comes from the world of video games, an industry that finds itself in a new controversy every other week. It’s even more fitting that it comes courtesy of “The Last of Us,” a franchise I’ve praised before in how it portrays masculinity in a refreshingly positive way.

Beyond just being an excellent game with amazing characters, it also provides a case study in how diversity can be done effectively. It doesn’t have to be forced. It doesn’t have to be preachy. It doesn’t even have to have a larger agenda. It can just be a bonus on top of a well-made product.

The character in question this time is Ellie, the co-protagonist to Joel in the first game and the main protagonist in the upcoming sequel. Her story is every bit as rich and compelling as Joel’s. Her history, her personality, and even the way she complements the gameplay helps make her distinct. She’s a major reason why this game is so enjoyable and why it sold so well.

She achieved all this as both a female and an LGBT character. It sounds like one of those combinations that has to be forced, but that’s not the case with Ellie. In fact, anyone who plays the entire story of the first game wouldn’t even know about Ellie’s sexuality because it was only revealed through a DLC , or downloadable content.

Even within that content, though, Ellie’s sexual orientation was not a big part of the story it told. It effectively filled in a time gap within the main game while also exploring more of Ellie’s backstory, but at no point did it make her sexuality a bigger issue than it needed to be. You could’ve removed that detail entirely and the story would still work, but it wouldn’t be quite as memorable.

More recently, during a preview of “The Last of Us Part II” at E3 2018, Ellie’s status as a homosexual woman was reaffirmed. Again, it wasn’t critical to making the moment work. The fact she’s attracted to other women doesn’t take anything away from the emotional weight of the scene. It does help enhance it, though.

Therein lies the key. What makes Ellie a great character has nothing to do with her sexuality. It’s not a defining aspect of her persona, nor should it be. It defines her no more than Joel’s heterosexuality defines him. It doesn’t have to be thrown in someone’s face as this huge, all-encompassing feature. It’s just a small part of a much greater whole that is Ellie.

There’s no effort to make her this LGBT icon, which has a tendency obscure a character when forced. Her status as LGBT isn’t belabored, either. She’s not important to the overall narrative in “The Last of Us” because she’s female and gay. She’s important because of factors independent of those traits.

That importance grows throughout the story, but not because of her gender or her sexuality. It’s what she does that helps establish her as an important character and a compelling one, at that. Her story complements Joel’s and the various other characters she encounters.

In the process, she also demonstrates a unique personality. She’s tough and stubborn, but she’s also impulsive and temperamental. Many of those qualities are entirely gender-neutral. Some stand out more because she’s a woman and that’s okay because a girl acting girly isn’t a big deal, which tends to get lost with other female characters.

It may seem so obvious, but the fact that diversity in media is such an issue shows just how difficult it is to pursue. Ellie succeeds because the diversity she represents is never primary to her character. It’s not even secondary, either. That’s not to say her gender and her sexuality are ignored, but it’s never elevated beyond a certain point.

Before any of those diversity-related issues come up, “The Last of Us” works to establish who Ellie is and why she’s important. That process of establishing a good, compelling character without her gender or sexuality being the focal point does a lot to get you to care about her story. It’s a process that can’t be rushed and the game does a masterful job in that respect.

The person Ellie is when you first encounter her early in the game is not the same person by the end. She’s someone who undergoes a lot of growth, encountering more than a few setbacks along the way. There are times she’s easy to root for. There are times when she comes off as an arrogant brat. Before you ever find out about her sexuality, you learn about her as a person.

By the time her sexuality finally comes up, Ellie is already so much more than the gender she’s attracted to. She’s a survivor, a fighter, and someone who has seen everyone she’s ever cared about die or leave her until Joel comes along. She also has a vital part to play in the ongoing apocalypse the world around her faces. All of this, once again, is not dependent on her gender or her sexuality.

I know I keep belaboring that, but it’s worth belaboring because that aspect of character development keeps getting glossed over. Other efforts at diverse characters often rush to the diversity without establishing why anyone should care about them. It’s why all-female remakes rarely resonate. It also leads to characters whose diversity is so blatant that it’s hard to take them seriously.

That’s not to say Ellie is a perfect example of diversity done right. She has her flaws, as does Joel. There are times when she’s too tough for her own good. She has a tendency to push peoples’ buttons for the wrong reasons. She also has questionable tastes in jokes. Even proponents of diversity can find flaws in her.

Despite those flaws, there are many lessons that characters like Ellie and games like “The Last of Us” can teach when it comes to doing diversity and LGBT representation right. The most important can be boiled down to four basic components:

  • Don’t try and force diversity just to fill a quota
  • Develop the character before developing the diversity
  • Don’t make their status as a woman or LGBT their most defining trait
  • Have the character complement their supporting cast, regardless of their diversity status

There are probably many more lessons that I’m not qualified to teach, but I think characters like Ellie do plenty by just being memorable and endearing. She’s a great character within a great story. That wouldn’t change if she were straight, but her being a lesbian does help her stand out, albeit for all the right reasons.

It’s also worth noting that Ellie’s story is still ongoing. “The Last of Us Part II” is set to come out in 2019 and the next part of her story promises to get pretty dark. Whether she maintains the complexity and appeal of her current character remains to be seen, but she has a strong foundation to build on, which is key for any character, regardless of their sexual preferences.

Whether we like it or not, there’s a lot of animosity between both sides, there more diversity in future media because the world is a diverse place. It’s just a matter of going about it in a meaningful, compelling way. Ellie is an example of how an LGBT character can work and when done right, it works pretty damn well.

Leave a comment

Filed under gender issues, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, video games

The WRONG Way To Deal With The Incel Phenomenon (And Ideas For A Better Way)

wallpaper-man-and-woman-at-sunset

When dealing with complex social issues, people have a frustrating tendency to propose solutions that cause more problems. Some of them are unintended and manageable. Some are just absurd and untenable.

I say that as someone who has stated before that complaining about a problem without pursuing a solution amounts to little more than empty whining. I’m in favor of confronting major issues, be they small-scale problems on a local level and bigger problems that may end up being an existential threat to the human race.

However, most reasonable people agree that attempting to solve a problem with a bad solution is akin to killing a fly with a machine gun. Even if it works, it causes plenty of damage and creates an entirely new set of problems that need solving.

This brings me to what I feel is the most asinine issue to emerge since religious zealots got needlessly outraged over the Teletubbies. I’m referring, sadly, to the incel phenomenon and believe me, it makes me miss the days when the Teletubbies were a problem.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’d really prefer to talk about less frustrating topics, but this is quickly evolving/devolving into an issue that isn’t going away on its own. People have started dying because of this phenomenon. Some depraved individuals are already being idolized because of it. This is not one of those things that will blow over after the next Kardashian scandal.

Before I go any further, I need to make clear that I do not think highly the incel phenomenon. It brings out the absolute worst in those who espouse it. I also do not associate incels with other movements involving men’s rights, gender equality, or any mainstream political ideology. These individuals are their own entity.

Their deplorable behavior and demeaning attitudes are solely on them. Their hatred, misogyny, and violent acts are not the least bit justified. I can only manage so much sympathy for those who identify as incel, given the recent news surrounding them. With all that being said, I’m going to try and be fair in addressing this problem.

As much as I abhor the ideology of self-identified incels, I don’t deny that they’re real human beings who are in a state of deep distress. I also don’t deny that their distress is painful to them. Others can call it pathetic all they want. To them, the pain is real.

This is a group of people who genuinely feel that they are the victims of a gross injustice. They see themselves as individuals who have followed all the rules that society has laid out for them. They believe themselves to be good, decent people who are worthy of sex, love, and intimacy. To them, the fact that they aren’t getting any of that is akin to denying a starving child food while donating meals to Bill Gates.

It certainly doesn’t help that popular culture has been selling us all the narrative for decades that being a nice person will get you the lover you want. Since kids, we’ve been led to believe that if we just follow the examples of our favorite photogenic heroes, we’ll get what we want. It always works out in the movies and on TV. Why shouldn’t it work out in real life?

Anyone with a passing knowledge of reality knows why that sentiment is dead wrong. We all have to learn at some point that we are not the heroes of our own story. Things don’t always work out. Life isn’t fair. Nobody owes you anything and the universe doesn’t give a wet fart about your feelings.

It’s a painful revelation, but for those in the incel movement, that pain is too much. It’s not that they haven’t gotten over it. It’s that they’ve given up. They call it “taking the black pill” instead of the red pill. Rather than the truth offered by “The Matrix,” the black pill is akin to just waving the white flag and conceding the battle to the machines.

In this case, though, the machines are the social conditions that ensure incels will never have sex, find love, or feel intimacy. Like sexual and romantic nihilists, they stop trying to navigate a world that they believe is actively working against them. They don’t try to change it or help it. They’re just left wallowing in their hatred and misery.

To some, it’s self-deprecating melodrama. I think it’s tragic. I even understand to some extent how certain people might look at the challenges before them, see how many forces are working against them, and not even try because the odds are so stacked against them. Whether or not that’s actually true doesn’t matter. This is their mentality and it’s a very damaging mentality.

It’s for that reason that the potential “solutions” some have set forth seem intent on either furthering that damage or exchanging one problem for another. One emerging “solution” comes in the form of something called enforced monogamy. It’s not quite what it sounds, but it still lends itself to a great many problems.

The logic, on paper, makes some sense. It posits that in a sexually free market, most of the women will only pursue the top tier of men. It works if you have the looks of Brad Pitt or the bank account of Warren Buffet, but for most everyone else, they’re left behind. As such, monogamy must be rigidly enforced and promiscuity significantly discouraged.

It could take many forms. People who have sex with one too many people could be taxed, fined, or jailed. People who refuse to marry someone could be required to do so. If someone doesn’t sufficiently perform they’re monogamous duties, then they’re subject to both condemnation and punishment. Whatever form it takes, the inherent flaws ensure this “solution” will only incur more problems.

Never mind the fact that human beings, as a species, may not be naturally monogamous. Never mind the fact that sexual monogamy is exceedingly rare throughout the animal kingdom. For the good of society and repressed incels, it has to be imposed and enforced. I’ll give everyone a minute to fume over that half-hearted effort at sarcasm.

In any case, this recourse requires that some segment of the population be oppressed to placate another. Historically speaking, that has never worked out. Sure, using the power of society to guide and/or micromanage sexuality might grant a little intimacy to those who wouldn’t otherwise have it. It will also significantly undermine the freedom and liberty of another individual.

It doesn’t just exchange one problem for another. Whenever society tries to micromanage peoples’ lives, it tends to collapse and not just because it fails the Boredom Filter. Human beings are complex and difficult to manage. Trying to manage the unmanageable is destined to end in failure.

While it’s doubtful that forced monogamy will ever gain favor in any society outside “The Handmaid’s Tale,” other less oppressive solutions have been put forth, relatively speaking. They largely center around legalizing sex work or hastening the development of sex robots.

While I’ve spoken favorably about sex robots and advocated the decriminalization of prostitution, I don’t think either would resolve the incel issue. In fact, I think it would make the situation worse.

Even if we all woke up tomorrow and discovered that prostitution was legal and sex robots were perfected, the incel phenomenon would still exist because those who identify as such would still feel like failures. Even if they had plenty of satisfying sex with prostitutes and sex robots, the fact they had to resort to those means would only affirm their failure.

On top of that, those working in prostitution who served them would probably be subject to stigma of their own. That’s on top of the stigma already associated with sex work. There would be a similar stigma on the manufacturers of sex robots or sex dolls, which has already drawn ire from sex-negative feminists.

In the end, not only will incels still feel angry and resentful, but those associated with this “solution” would have a reason to feel that way too. Given the breadth of that problem and the inherent flaws of the proposed solutions, is there any recourse that is both effective and tenable? I believe there is, but it’s not one of those solutions that’s simple, direct, and requires the passage or removal of a particular law.

The incel phenomenon was born of chaotic social issues that were further compounded by mass media and popular culture. Before solutions like prostitution and sex robots can even enter the conversation, the stigma associated with sex, both for the incels and those involved in sex work, must be confronted.

The idea that anyone who has too much sex or not enough sex deserves stigma is the primary driving force behind controversies surrounding sexuality. Whether it comes from uptight religious zealots or radical feminists, heaping stigma on someone else’s sex life is both damaging and demeaning.

Beyond confronting the stigma, it’s also important to educate those who identify as incels that it’s not entirely hopeless. They can still find love, sex, and intimacy. Part of that process, though, involves learning that they are not owed sex and they have to actually work for someone else’s affection.

That could come in the form of helping people develop better social skills. It could also come in the form of identifying those in the incel community that have legitimate issues with mental health. At the end of the day, they’re still people. Helping them should be prioritized over resenting them.

Re-shaping attitudes and teaching better social skills will be a slow, arduous process. People do have a nasty tendency to cling to their hate. However, it is possible to help someone overcome it. I believe most incels can be helped and are deserving of it. Only those who commit acts of violence should face such scorn.

This is not the kind of effort that one particular gender must take on. It has to be a collective effort, which I know will upset some who feel incels are an exclusive manifestation of toxic masculinity, a term I still contend is inherently flawed. We’re all still human, regardless of our gender. If some of us our suffering, then we’re still the one’s responsible for confronting it.

We can’t expect the incel issue to resolve itself. We also can’t expect those who identify as such to change just because others scorn, mock, or hate them. At some point, one side has to take a deep breath, be the adult, and confront the issue in a meaningful way.

Chances are it’ll get worse before it gets better. It’s also likely that both incels and those who despise them will hate dealing with the issues associated with them. However, that’s exactly why it’s so important to address. The longer a group of people remain at the mercy of stigma and self-loathing, the more suffering the world around them is likely to incur.

7 Comments

Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

A Compelling (And Balanced) Insight Into Open Relationships: A Review Of “Swing”

636039-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

When it comes to my love of comics, I sometimes give the impression that I’m overly narrow with my tastes. Given how much I’ve made my love of X-men, Wonder Woman, and Superman known, I wouldn’t blame anyone for believing my collection consists entirely of the kinds of superhero comics that big movie studios are using to rake in billions at the box office.

While I don’t deny that comics featuring mutants, aliens, and super-powered demigods make up a significant portion of my collection, there are a few other comics that stand out. I’m the kind of person who will go out of his way to look for something different every now and then, if only to take a break from seeing Batman fight killer clowns.

Most of the time, I don’t find anything that warrants more than a quick skim. Then, there are those rare, special occasions when I do find a comic that stands out and does it without resorting to superpowers, spandex, or ripping off Jack Kirby. Those books are as rare as they are special and I’m proud to report that I’ve uncovered such a title.

It’s called “Swing,” written by Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung with gorgeous art done by Linda Sejic. It’s not a superhero comic. It’s not a comic published by Marvel or DC. It’s a publication by Image Comics, a publisher known for supporting creator-owned comics and letting creators maintain the rights to their creations. It’s also a publisher that dares to tell stories about mature themes that would offend any Disney-owned company.

In other words, it’s the perfect place to tell a story about love, sex, and open relationships. Those aren’t just the underlying themes of “Swing.” They’re topics I’ve discussed on multiple occasions. I’ve even incorporated it into one of my books. How can a comic like this not appeal to me? Moreover, I feel like I’m uniquely qualified to review it, if only to determine whether the story deals with these themes in a compelling way.

If you’re looking for the kind of love story that involves tragedy, magic spells, or curses by evil witches, then “Swing” probably won’t appeal to you. If you’re in the mood for a love story that feels real, genuine, and overtly sexy, then this comic is for you. It’s a story that tries to be real by providing insight into a world that is still taboo and associated with one too many bad pornos.

The characters involved in “Swing” are not porn stars, though. They’re not exceedingly deviant or damaged either. Cathy Chang and Dan Lincoln are two healthy, affable, multi-layered individuals. Cathy starts off as a wide-eyed college student eager to start building a life of her own. Dan is grad student and aspiring writer. Their paths cross, they fall in love, and things evolve from there.

This isn’t a case of a student falling in love with a teacher or a teacher becoming infatuated with a student. Dan and Cathy come off as two functioning adults who develop a very healthy attraction to one another for all the right reasons. It’s the kind of romance that most people can easily picture unfolding in the real world.

That’s a critical element for the drama that later unfolds between these characters. By most measures, Dan and Cathy’s romance follows much of the standard model for romance. They meet, they feel attraction, they fall in love, and they immerse themselves in that passion. Yes, that passion involves sex, but never in an overly gratuitous way. The sex, in this case, is a product of the passion and not the end result.

Then, like many other real-world romances, that initial spark fades after life gets in the way. Cathy becomes pregnant, she and Dan get married, and they build a stable family life together that involves considerably less sex. According to traditional models of modern romance, this is where the story ends. However, this is where the story in “Swing” starts to escalate.

Cathy is not content to let stable family life define her love life. She wants to maintain that passion. She wants to still experience an exciting sex life. However, she and Dan just aren’t on the same page anymore. It makes for some awkward/hilarious moments, but it also helps establish that Dan shares those wants too. They both seek to sustain that passion, but they’re not sure how at this point in their relationship.

It effects them both and not just in terms of their sex life, although that does make for a few other awkward/hilarious moments. This is where polyamory enter the picture. Within their respective lives, Dan and Cathy aren’t immune to temptation. Dan attracts cute girls. Cathy attracts cute guys. They never cheat, though.

They make clear that they love each other. Resisting the urge to sleep with co-workers not that hard, but recapturing some of that passion makes it seem so much harder. They’re sticking to the script of what they think a married couple with children is supposed to be, but it’s just not working for them.

051

That’s when Cathy brings up the idea of swinging. It’s an idea that seems crazy and evokes plenty of mixed emotions in both of them. Again, the feelings come off as real. There’s uncertainty, anxiety, jealousy, and outright paranoia at times. Both of them feel it, but both of them also want that passion again.

Together, they start to explore the world of swinging. It doesn’t directly lead to the kind of decadent antics once reserved for the letters section of Hustler Magazine. Dan and Cathy’s journey is a bit bumpier than that, but never stops feeling sincere or genuine. Without spoiling the outcome, I’ll just say that “Swing” sets these two lovers on a path that’s both intriguing and sexy.

This comic achieves something remarkable, both as a love story and one built around mature themes. It presents both monogamy and polyamory in a way that’s balanced. Neither is overly glorified. The benefits and flaws of both are laid out for all to see. There aren’t any moral judgments or social agendas being pushed. It’s a personal journey between two characters with a shared desire.

It’s not just sex positive in how it presents sexuality. It’s positive in how it conveys romance, as well. The love Dan and Cathy share is healthy, mutual, and strong. The sexual component helps complement that. One doesn’t depend on the other, but one certainly helps the other.

The story in “Swing” does not attempt to redefine romance. Through Dan and Cathy, it reveals the inherent struggle two people have when they want to maintain the passion in their lives, but aren’t sure how. If there’s an underlying message to the overall story, it’s that the pursuit sometimes requires nuanced thinking.

 

Hawkins and Cheung clearly put a lot of thought and effort into balancing the romance, the sex, and the inherent kink that comes with polyamory. Thanks to Sejic’s masterful artwork, there’s an undeniable beauty to that balance. Whether you’re a fan of love, sex, or comics that aren’t afraid to depict female nipples, “Swing” brings something special to the table.

If I had to score this comic, I would give it a solid 8 out of 10. I can’t give it too high a score because the story is incomplete. That’s a given since this was just Volume 1 of “Swing.” At the same time, there were other parts of the narrative that weren’t as well-developed.

Dan and Cathy’s surrounding cast didn’t get much depth beyond Cathy’s mom. Dan’s backstory isn’t really touched on, even though his personality is nicely fleshed out. In addition, the pace was uneven at times, but never to the point of being confusing. As a whole, the flaws are minor and do little to detract from the finished product.

As a fan of comics, romance, and all things sexy, “Swing” really surprised me in the best possible way. Regardless of how you feel about polyamory or open relationships, there’s a good story here that’s brought to life with amazing artwork. There will always be a place for comics with superheroes in spandex uniforms, but “Swing” fills a special role that even the greatest superhero can’t hope to fill.

Leave a comment

Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, polyamory, romance, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

When Your Lover Uncovers Your Porn Collection (And What Their Reaction Reveals)

porn-addictive-1000x500

I talk a lot about taboos, double standards, and various gender quirks. I don’t just do that because it highlights significant disparities among people trying desperately to get along and/or make love to each other. I do it because it offers some fascinating insight into the conflicting mentalities that drive such conflicts.

A lot of those conflicts, however, are on a larger, more impersonal scale. A typical couple, be they heterosexual, homosexual, or something else entirely, can only do so much to impact larger cultural forces that they had no role in choosing, propagating, or subverting.

These forces, from our approach to marriage to the assumptions that guide our understanding of romance, usually only effect individuals and couples indirectly. We’re all somewhat at the mercy of what our culture has built for us and we can only do so much to guide it forward.

However, there are a few lesser-known aspects of that culture that we can influence on a day-to-day basis. One such aspects involves porn and whatever porn collection that you or your significant other might have, be it hidden or not. I’m sure just mentioning it has made certain individual’s tense for various reasons that I won’t state outright.

Regardless of how you or your lover feels about porn, it exists and it exists in a big way. It’s also a huge multi-billion dollar industry. The fact it’s so huge is a telling sign that both you and your lover have probably consumed it at some point. It’s also very likely that anyone claiming that porn is immoral has probably consumed it as well.

Despite this prevalence, porn is still immersed in taboos and quirks. I don’t want to focus too much on those, since I’ve already touched on a few. The ones I want to focus on have to do with how those in a romantic relationship react to it. That reaction, in many ways, goes beyond double standards and reflects something deeper about our concept of relationships as a whole.

Most people probably don’t need much imagination to surmise how their lover would react to their porn collection. Whether or not it’s a secret, there’s this underlying sentiment about someone in a relationship who consumes porn. That sentiment usually manifests in two scenarios. This is the first and probably most basic.

A woman casually walks by her lover’s desk. Their computer screen is open and so are a wide number of files. Curious, she takes a closer look, only to find out that there’s a sizable collection of pornographic videos on the computer. She’s utterly shocked at just how much content there is.

There are videos featuring extreme, hardcore scenes. There are videos featuring bondage, S&M, and various fetishes. When her lover returns, she is outraged. She sees this level of porn consumption as an affront to their relationship and demand that the files be deleted.

This isn’t just a basic thought experiment. This sort of thing does happen in real life. A part of what inspired this article were stories like this one where a woman kicked her husband out of the house after finding some porn on his phone. Granted, her reaction was extreme, but it reflects a similar sentiment.

There are those who, when they find their lover’s porn stash or just part of it, see it as an insult and an affront to their relationship. They see their lover’s desire to seek another sexual outlet as proof that they aren’t enough and their lover isn’t attracted to them anymore. For some, it can be fairly traumatic and for understandable reasons.

Now, I didn’t specify the gender of the person who voiced that outrage like I did in the scenario. I did so because I don’t want to generalize too much. From a purely anecdotal perspective, which is admittedly flawed, women are more angered by their lover’s porn consumption than men.

Again, that’s a generalization. It also says nothing about how homosexual or transgender relationships couples react to porn. I honestly had a hard time finding research to that effect. However, I found plenty that indicated how common porn consumption is among couples and how reserved many are to admit it.

That leads me to the next scenario, which isn’t as common, but is a bit more colorful. It involves a different kind of reaction for a couple that probably has a very different dynamic from the first, but that dynamic is key in understanding the implications.

A man casually walks by his lover’s desk. Their computer screen is open and so are a wide number of files. Curious, he takes a close look and discovers a sizable collection of pornographic videos. For a moment he’s shocked, but then he’s impressed at the sheer breadth of the collection.

There are videos featuring lesbian couples. There are videos featuring bondage, S&M, and various fetishes. When he confronts his lover, it’s awkward and a little funny. However, he’s also genuinely intrigued by this side to his lover and says they should talk about it so as to re-evaluate their outlook on their sex life.

It’s not nearly as dramatic, which is probably why it doesn’t make the news as often. Again, I was vague with the gender dynamics here and I’ll probably get in trouble for saying the person in the scenario was a man. I get it. That’s a general assumption fueled largely by existing cultural expectations.

Men are okay with porn. Women are a bit more sensitive about it. Not everyone is like that. Some women don’t have a problem with porn and even enjoy watching porn themselves. Some men don’t care for porn and are genuinely averse to it. Everybody has their own attitudes towards it.

That said, there is this prevailing sentiment that men are anxious about revealing their porn habits to their significant others and women don’t like the idea that their lover has a sexual outlet other than them. In both cases, there’s an anxiety over what this means for them and the relationship.

To some extent, porn consumption and learning that your lover consumes it undercuts the romantic script that we think we have to follow. Within that script, two people are in love. They only desire one another. They’re only attracted to one another. Anything that might diver that attraction must be a bad thing. Porn does all of that and then some.

In that context, it’s understandable why some would react harshly to their lover’s porn collection. It shatters the romantic ideal they once assumed. Suddenly, their love is not on part with Romeo and Juliet. Their relationship is not some epic romance. The idea that they’re still sexually aroused by other people makes it seem less special and less meaningful.

At the same time, such a reaction has more distressing implications. If someone is  disgusted by the notion that their lover is sexually aroused by something other than them, then that implies they somehow own their lover’s desires. They own their ability to have sex and be intimate. The idea of owning another person to that extent goes beyond love and into the realm of obsession.

In that circumstance, even a stray thought anyone has towards someone other than their lover is an affront. Given the many indications that humans aren’t entirely built for monogamy and the high divorce rate, this is wholly unrealistic and a little scary and it sets unreasonable expectations among couples that are bound to disappoint.

There are, indeed, certain cases where someone’s porn consumption is detrimental to a relationship. However, from a pure numbers perspective, those instances are the exception and not the norm. From a pure betting perspective, there’s a good chance that your current lover or future over consumes porn. How you deal with it will likely reveal the strength and/or weakness of your relationship.

Leave a comment

Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, romance, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, Uncategorized

Why Abstinence Only Sex Education Is Only Getting More Harmful

screen_shot_2017-06-06_at_10-20-47_am

There was once a time when it was possible, albeit cumbersome, for a parent to control the information and education their child received from the cradle up to and even a little bit beyond their high school graduation. Some even went further than that, attempting to control their children well into adulthood. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. I’m not a parent yet so I’m not in a position to judge. I’m just saying it was possible.

A parent could, for the most part, prevent their children from watching certain TV shows, seeing certain movies, or reading certain books that contained information and messages that they didn’t want them consuming. Sure, every now and then one of their kids’ friends might sneak some “illicit” information past their guard, but they could still exert a fair amount of control over what and how their kids learned.

Without getting too deep into the logistics, it’s safe to say that those days are either over or numbered. In today’s world of ever-increased connectivity, along with cheap smartphones and easy internet access, kids are capable of accessing an unlimited wealth of information that no parent can hope to filter.

In many ways, that’s a good thing. Both the millennial generation and the emerging youth in Generation Z are the most educated cohort of people to have ever lived on this planet. Given that level of education, combined with access to so much information, why do some parents still believe they can keep their kids ignorant about sex?

I don’t deny that talking to children about sex is uncomfortable for parents, to say the least. It’s just as uncomfortable for the kids too. I still remember how awkward it was when my parents told me about sex. I still love and commend them for enduring that awkwardness because it made me more informed later in life. Other parents, however, insist on taking the opposite approach.

On April 23rd, 2018, there was a nationwide effort conducted by concerned parents who didn’t approve of how their children were being educated about sex. They called it “Sex Ed Sit Out” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Rather than directly deal with the information their children are being taught, they seek to prevent their children from ever learning about it.

The fact they’re doing this in an era where any kid with a smartphone can look up detailed information about anatomy, sexuality, sexual orientation, and transgender issues is pretty telling. The fact this is being done with support of socially conservative, sex-negative organizations like the Family Research Council and the Liberty Counsel should also be a major red flag.

The effort, itself, was instigated by a North Carolina mother who called herself “The Activist Mommy.” She’s an extremely religious woman who espouses extremely regressive views on any form of sexuality that doesn’t fall in line with what popes, monks, mullahs, and rabbis deem moral. What set her off, though, was what she found out her kids had been learning in sex ed at their school.

It wasn’t just that they were teaching kids about contraception, safe sex practices, and the radical notion that sexual desires aren’t some disease that need to be cured or managed. It was also the idea that these programs had the audacity to inform children about LGBTQ issues relating to sexuality. It even had the gall to ask kids to think about and question how those issues effect them.

Assume that last paragraph was written with the utmost sarcasm, but that was a serious issue for these parents. This isn’t just about information that may or may not conflict with their preferred holy books. Some go so far as to call it “graphic, gender-bending, promiscuity-promoting sex education.”

They frequently throw around phrases like “the sexualization of our children” to get parents really uncomfortable. They treat such education as though they’re a how-to guide, complete with drills and a maintenance schedule. In reality, that’s not how the program works and anyone with an internet connection can verify that.

It’s still not enough for these parents, though. I don’t doubt they love their kids with all their hearts, but I think they’re seriously underestimating their ability to control both the inherent biology of children and the dangers of trying to preserve ignorance in an era where information is so easy to access.

It’s because of that same access that anyone can learn that abstinence only sex education programs don’t work. It doesn’t just bear out through data in peer-reviewed studies. Those programs even fail the basic tenets of common sense and logic. To prove this, just think of all the instances when not knowing about something made it not exist. Outside Freddy Kruger movies, that just doesn’t work in the real world.

Beyond simply being ineffective and a waste of taxpayer money, taking that same abstinence approach to LGBTQ issues is potentially more damaging. It’s one thing to tell children that having a strong desire to be intimate with someone is immoral, dangerous, and may doom their soul to damnation. It’s quite another to instill the notion that they’re somehow damaged for not having gender-based attitudes consistent with 50s sitcoms.

Like it or not, human beings are complicated, diverse creatures with a wide range of desires, attitudes, and identities. The idea that something as inherently powerful as sex can fit into the narrow scope of a 50s sitcom requires a gross misunderstanding of the chaotic, unpredictable nature of sexuality and biology in general.

Granted, this sort of repressive ideology is nothing new. Religious organizations have been protesting sex education in public school for years, favoring abstinence instead of any information that might hint that sex could involve something other than just two married heterosexuals making babies that grow into devout church-going tax-payers.

However, the rhetoric from people like the Activist Mommy is getting louder as gender-driven conflicts enter the conversation on top of the sexual components. It’s more than enough to get parents worried, outraged, and even a little anxious about what their kids are learning.

Whatever their sentiments, sincere and well-meaning as they might be, the abstinence approach still doesn‘t work. It was already ineffective in the era before the internet, as evidenced by the rates of teen pregnancy over the past several decades. However, that same inefficacy may be more damaging now than it was two decades ago.

To understand how, think back to what I mentioned earlier about parents being able to control what their kids learned in the past. Outside extremely restrictive religious communities, that’s just not feasible anymore. Today, just as during any other time period in human history, kids are going to get curious and/or horny. Unlike past eras, though, it’s easier than ever find the information they’re looking for.

That’s not just dangerous to the extent those kids learn things their parents don’t want them to know. It’s dangerous in the sense that there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet, especially about sex. That doesn’t just extend to the unrealistic depictions and expectations in the average porno either. It’s disturbingly easy to find bias sources of information.

Even if that information is accurate, there’s still more damage to be done by abstinence. Once a kid learns that information, much to the dismay of their parent, it’s hard to unlearn it. At the same time, it may also reveal to the kid just how much their parents have been lying to them on issues of sex, gender, and their own bodies.

Now, I get that parents have to lie to their kids every now and then, but some lies are more destructive than others. If the lie is too big or egregious, then suddenly that kid has a valid reason not to trust their parents. First, they say sex you can get pregnant by hugging someone. Then, they expect you to believe them when they say driving after doing tequila shots at a party is dangerous?

As a general rule, if keeping a secret from your kid involves something that can’t easily be uncovered with a couple internet searches, then they’re going to find out eventually. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to protect your kid from this information. If it’s out there and they’re curious, they’ll find it. That’s just the nature of the age we live in.

A child may or may not be capable of understanding sexuality or gender issues at a particular age, but most agree that it’s healthy for a child to trust their parents. Most people, kids and adults alike, can forgive small lies. For bigger lies that can claim natural, healthy desires are a disease, though, those are much harder to overlook.

For the parents to participated in this sit out, I hope they come to understand that at some point. Their children, which I’m certain they love with all their heart, are going to learn about sex, gender, and everything in between at some point. When that point comes and it’s too late, then the damage might already be irreparable.

Leave a comment

Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Joel From “The Last Of Us”

cc579d19ebf45fbc7dc3d7a8e58527e5-e1508672973350

For the past few years, it has become a popular pasttime to label certain elements of popular culture as toxic or “problematic.” Take any character, song, plot, role, or trope from any brand of media. Apply an excessive amount of scrutiny, distorting it as much as necessary along the way. In the end, some people will find a way to make it offensive.

It’s through that process that shows like “Seinfeld” can be called racist. Movies like “Crocodile Dundee” can be called culturally insensitive. Movies like “Big” can be called creepy. Even classic video games like “Mario” and “Zelda” can be considered sexist. Scrutinize it enough and everything becomes racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and culturally insensitive.

I find that whole process to be an exercise in trolling that does more to spark outrage than it does meaningful discussion. It’s the same process that created the idea of “toxic masculinity,” a concept I’ve gone out of my way to deconstruct on more than one occasion.

I don’t want to bemoan all the flaws and frustrations that occur when regressive attitudes mix with regressive agendas. There’s enough debate, discussion, and outright shouting going on in that field as it stands. Instead, I want to shift the tone of the conversation by going to the opposite end of the spectrum.

By that, I mean I’m going to do the opposite of highlighting something that some may find “problematic.” Instead, I’m going to cite something that I think is inherently positive from which we can learn. In fact, I’m going to try and coin a new phrase that’s more uplifting than some of the other buzzwords used by the regressive crowd.

I call it “noble masculinity.” It’s the idea that there are noble, admirable traits in male characters that are worth celebrating in the context of a larger story. Having talked so much about toxic masculinity and why I think it’s such a flawed concept, I feel it’s only fitting that I attempt to counter it with something more positive.

I know it’s popular to criticize and complain about male behaviors these days and, as a man, I don’t deny that we can do some foolish things. However, men are also capable of incredible acts of virtue. Those traits deserve more attention, if only to remind everyone that men can be more than outrage fodder.

There are a lot fictional male characters from movies, TV shows, video games, and comics that I could cite who embody positive masculine traits. Characters like Superman, John McClane, and even James Bond come to mind, although I’m sure there are some who would disagree with the last one.

However, in this initial exercise of exploring noble masculinity, I want to cite a lesser-known male character from popular, critically acclaimed video game that some have called the most riveting, emotionally resonant story-driven epic of the console generation. That game is called “The Last of Us” and the source of the noble masculinity comes from Joel, the grizzled, yet vulnerable male protagonist of the story.

For those who haven’t played “The Last of Us” or just don’t play video games in general, Joel may initially come off as a mix of old cowboy tropes and John McClane rip-offs. However, by following his story, he reveals a level of depth that includes instances of noble masculinity that men and women alike can appreciate.

Joel’s story is not built on prophecies, superhuman abilities, or dumb luck. As a character and a person, Joel is largely defined by a grit that’s uniquely masculine in many ways. At the beginning of the game, he’s not looking to become part of some larger struggle. He’s just a single dad, trying to make a living and provide for his daughter, Sarah. In world full of dim-witted father figures, it’s pretty refreshing.

Then, within the first 10 minutes of the game, Joel suffers the greatest loss any parent can endure. He tries to protect his daughter from first stages of a full-blown apocalypse, but ultimately fails. He ends up watching his daughter die in his arms. It’s a very emotional moment, one in which Joel’s pain is palpable.

That defining moment establishes Joel as a man who fights to protect those he loves, but is all too human and very much at the mercy of forces beyond his control. There’s only so much that he do when the world around him is falling apart. No amount of anger, lament, or sorrow can change that. He, as a man and a survivor of this apocalypse, has to find a way to cope.

While his coping skills aren’t perfect, as evidenced in many powerful scenes throughout the game, Joel’s grief helps drive him. It also lays the foundation for the emotional development he undergoes after he meets Ellie, his young female co-protagonist who becomes a critical part of the gameplay and the story.

I could probably write another article about Ellie and why she’s one of the most compelling female characters in modern video games, but in the context of noble masculinity, she’s very much a catalyst for Joel’s emotional journey. Her own story is remarkable, but her influence on Joel is where she really shines.

It’s not a case of a knight rescuing a princess or a female character trying too hard to be an equal to her male compatriots. In fact, Joel’s first impression of Ellie isn’t a good one. She comes off as an irritable brat with a bad attitude. Essentially, she’s the kind of immature teenager that guys like Joel go out of their way to avoid.

However, their stories soon become intertwined. They end up having to work together, rely on each other, and fight for one another in order to survive a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by zombies, toxic fungus, and military-enforced curfews. Before long, they establish a bond that brings out the best and worst of both characters.

For Joel, the best is reflected in those same paternal instincts that caused him so much pain and sorrow at the beginning. He comes to see Ellie as a surrogate daughter, of sorts. At times, he resists that and even gets upset when the idea is thrown in his face. In the end, though, he doesn’t avoid it.

As a result, Joel’s story embodies more than the love a father has for his child. It also reveals how willing a man is to form a bond with a total stranger, who is not even that nice to him in the beginning, and tries to protect them with that same paternal dedication. It doesn’t happen all at once. He even resists it at times. He still embraces it and all the tribulations that come with it.

That, more than anything, is the most important element of noble masculinity that Joel embodies. He’s not Superman, nor does he pretend to be. He’s also very aware of his own shortcomings, saying at one point that he trusts others more than he trusts himself. Most men are reluctant to acknowledge such insecurity, let alone reveal it. Joel doesn’t hide from it. If anything, he channels it.

It’s something that resonates with Ellie too. Throughout the game, she has opportunities to cut ties with him and go along with someone who might be better-equipped to help her. However, she choses to stay with Joel. Just as he comes to see her as a daughter, she comes to see him as a father.

The fact that he and Ellie go through this journey in the midst of an ongoing apocalypse makes their bond that much more powerful. It also requires that Joel push himself harder and confront the limitations that kept him from saving his daughter. Being a father made for great sorrow in the past, but it also made him stronger and more determined in the future.

That’s not to say that Joel doesn’t have his low points. There are moments where Joel does not come off as noble. Some even argue that his decisions towards the end of the game undermines his nobility. I would argue that it actually reinforces it.

When the world is already in the middle of an apocalypse and people are willing to sacrifice innocence for what they think is the greater good, then that’s when traits of noble masculinity become most critical. That’s when a father’s willingness to protect his child should be at its strongest.

That dedication still comes at a price. With a sequel in “The Last Of Us Part II” already in the works, it’s likely that Joel will continue to pay a price for his choices, however noble they might be. The fact that he still makes those choices and is willing to accept the risks reflects the challenges and strength that come with masculine drive.

Joel is probably not the greatest example of noble masculinity in all of fiction, but I would argue that his is the most relatable. He’s not perfect, nor does he pretend to be. He doesn’t have any capabilities that are impossible for other men to achieve. He’s a man who was utterly destroyed when he lost his daughter, but didn’t run from the chance to be a father again and to a total stranger, no less.

Flaws and shortcomings aside, I still contend that the noble masculinity that Joel shows throughout “The Last of Us” are far greater than any of the “toxic” traits that others may cite. In playing the game, it’s hard not to empathize with him or his journey, especially if you’re a parent. In appreciating his strengths, though, it shows that there is room for a brand of masculinity that anyone of any gender can admire.

6 Comments

Filed under gender issues, human nature, sex in media, video games

How To Do Romantic Sub-Plots Right (And Why Some Fail)

3586038c620fcc65ac400b9fc3bc86ca1

This will probably surprise no one who regularly visits this site, but I love romantic sub-plots. In many cases, they’re my favorite part of a movie, TV show, or comic book. I’ve made my love for romance in general fairly well-known, but romantic sub-plots offer a special kind of appeal.

Now, when I say romantic sub-plots, I’m not referring to the stories built solely around romance, like many of my novels. I’m referring to stories that are primarily presented as another genre, be it sci-fi, fantasy, or a blatant “Die Hard” rip-off, but include a secondary romantic story that runs parallel to the main story.

Sometimes, that story is subtle. Sometimes, it becomes a major catalyst for other parts of the main story. Sometimes, it just adds a little melodrama in between all the bigger, flashier conflicts. Watch pretty much any prime time show on the CW these days and you’ll see examples of every kind to some extent.

As much as I love these sub-plots, though, they can also be frustrating. For every romantic sub-plot I felt was handled well, I can think of five others that were horribly botched. On one end, you have the rich, balanced love story of Han Solo and Princess Leia in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. On the other, you’ve got the inherently toxic love story between Penny and Leonard in “The Big Bang Theory.”

There’s so much variety and diversity to romantic sub-plots that I could spend an entire weekend going through all of them. However, for the sake of making a more concise point, I want to focus on what makes a romantic sub-plot truly compelling. Regardless of genre, medium, or scope, a good romantic sub-plot can really enhance the overall plot.

Like every other sub-plot or storytelling tactic, though, romantic sub-plots are prone to all sorts of tropes, cliches, and traditions. Some are more useful than others. However, some can create obstacles and pitfalls that derail an otherwise promising romantic sub-plot.

While I don’t consider myself an expert on all the mechanisms that go into a good romantic sub-plot, I do know plenty of others out there who are far smarter than me and far more capable of explaining the subject in a more comprehensive way. They may not be experts either, but they know how to get the point across.

That’s where wonderful YouTube channels like Overly Sarcastic Productions come in. I’ve referenced it before in previous discussions about strong female characters, but it also provides other extensive breakdowns of various tropes and does it in a colorful, entertaining way, sometimes literally.

One such video in their Trope Talk series covers romantic sub-plots and the breakdown here is the best I’ve seen to date on what makes a good and not-so-good sub-plot. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you watch it. If nothing else, it should put some of your favorite and least favorite romantic sub-plots into a larger context.

There’s a lot of fast-talking, broad-based breakdowns of this trope, which the narrator freely admits she doesn’t fully understand. However, she demonstrates that she understands enough to point out what not to do when pursuing a romantic sub-plot on a fairly basic level. I want to go beyond basics.

The video singles out a few TV shows and cartoons where the romantic sub-plot falls flat, such as “The Legend of Korra” and “Castle.” In both cases, the sub-plot is very shallow in that it’s built entirely on the fact that a straight male and a straight female character work closely together. As such, they become romantically entangled.

Therein likes the most glaring problem, though. Just being two characters who work together is seen as sufficient to justify the sub-plot. As a result, there’s no effort to build meaningful chemistry between the characters. In some cases, there isn’t even an effort to establish whether they’re romantically compatible with one another.

This is probably the most common, not to mention the most annoying, problem that arises when romantic sub-plots enter a story. The sub-plot is given the bare minimum in terms of depth, relying on the audience to fill in the blanks as to why these two should be together.

This happens a lot in the superhero genre. Romantic sub-plots and soap operas are the cornerstone of some of the most iconic superhero comics, TV shows, and movies. One of the most epic examples, the Dark Phoenix Saga, is set to become a movie next year. However, I would argue that the superhero genre is most guilty of this common shortcoming.

Take, for instance, the first “Iron Man” movie and the romantic sub-plot between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. Never mind the fact that these two characters don’t have much of a romance in the comics. The first movie and the two successful sequels that follow do plenty to establish Tony and Pepper as the primary romance of the story. However, it does little to show why these two belong together.

The same thing happens with Thor and Jane Foster in the first two “Thor” movies. Unlike Iron Man, the comics establish a more robust romantic history between these two. The movies, however, do little to drawn from this history. They rely solely on the fact that Thor spends a little time around Jane, she’s attracted to him, and that’s all that’s necessary for the romance to unfold.

Again, it’s shallow in that it relies too heavily on the audience to fill in the gaps of chemistry and compatibility. For any functional romance, those gaps are pretty big. Just getting together is only a small part of that process and the story around it. Movies like “Thor” and “Iron Man” give the impression that just being around each other long enough is sufficient. These characters don’t have to actually work on their romance.

Compare that to the much more developed romances in the superhero genre, such as Barry and Iris in “The Flash” TV show. In that romance, just getting together isn’t the end of the story. It’s just part of it. Barry and Iris actually work, struggle, sacrifice, and even argue at times, but that’s exactly what makes their relationship so meaningful.

Outside the superhero genre, there are other ways the romantic sub-plot gets derailed in a way that’s more annoying than entertaining. I think “Friends” was one of the worst offenders with Ross and Rachel because almost the entirety of the sub-plot was built around them struggling to get together. Sure, the process of two people coming together can be compelling, but that can’t be the whole story.

Movies tend to struggle with it even more, but mostly due to logistical reasons. There’s only so much romantic development you can squeeze into a two or three hour movie. However, it can be done. Despite being brief and tragic, the sub-plot of Sarah Conners and Kyle Reese in the original “Terminator” movie showed that it is possible for a romantic sub-plot to be meaningful within those limitations.

Far more often, though, movies try to rush a sub-plot or outright force it. That’s part of what makes any romance hard to take seriously. In a movie like “Jurassic World,” where you have two very different characters in Claire and Owen, it really has to be forced because outside the plot of the movie, it’s hard to imagine these two having a meaningful relationship.

In some respects, that’s a good litmus test for any romantic sub-plot. If you can’t see the characters involved functioning outside the plot of the movie, then chances are the romantic sub-plot is fundamentally flawed. It’s easy to imagine iconic couples like Superman and Lois Lane, Cyclops and Jean Grey, or even Allie and Noah in “The Notebook” enjoying a functional relationship past the final credits.

Even for couples where it’s harder to picture them outside a conflict, it helps when a romantic sub-plot still puts in extra effort to make the romance believable. While this is a challenge in movies, TV, and comics, I’ve actually seen this handled a lot better in modern video games.

Romantic sub-plots are important elements of popular games like the “Uncharted” series. What makes that sub-plot effective, though, is how much time and energy is put into establishing why a man like Nathan Drake would be with a woman like Elena Fisher. It even goes out of its way to show how these two characters create a genuinely functional relationship towards the end.

While it might be a bit of a stretch, I would also cite the “Mass Effect” series that I’ve praised before in how well it handles romantic sub-plots. Now, it’s a stretch because the game is structured in a way where the player can choose a particular romantic sub-plot or choose to not have one at all. That makes the story a lot more fluid than a movie or TV show, but it still manages to create depth for a sub-plot.

That depth shows, regardless of which romantic sub-plot the player chooses. Whether it’s Shepard and Liara, Shepard and Ashley, or Shepard and Garrus, the game provides opportunities for depth and development. If you follow the sub-plot through to the end, the romance has genuine dramatic weight.

In the end, that’s the most important impact of any romantic sub-plot. When done right, it adds greater weight to the overall narrative. It creates an emotional dimension that goes beyond just achieving a goal or surviving a conflict. It fleshes out the emotions, passions, and desires of the characters involved.

Conversely, it can really disrupt the plot when done wrong. I’ve already covered how the worst love triangle in history derailed the X-men movies. Talk to any “Star Wars” fan and they’ll probably say the poor romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padme was the most disappointing part of the prequels not named Jar Jar Binks.

To some extent, a romantic sub-plot is a gamble. It stretches the odds, but it also increases the payout. When it fails, it can fail pretty spectacularly. When it works, though, it can make for some of the most dramatic, passionate moments in a story. As an unapologetic romance lover, I say it’s a gamble worth taking.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, gender issues, human nature, Love Or Obsession, Marriage and Relationships, movies, romance, sex in media