Vampires aside, last year's block-buster movie, Twilight, has provoked some interesting research. New research from the University of Missouri shows that the reason teenage girls have fallen hard for the Twilight book and film series has to do with its portrayal of a traditional, abstinent romantic relationship. In the series, vampire Edward Cullen doesn't want to bite his teen love interest Bella Swan, which means they can't have sex. Cullen is portrayed as romantic, protective, and most important, as relating at a far deeper level than mere physical attraction. He resists sleeping with Bella because he doesn't want to harm her. His desire to love and protect her causes him to take leadership, put on the brakes on their physical relationship, and control his sexual impulses.
Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communication who surveyed 4,000 Twilight fans, aged 11 to 70, at a fan convention in Dallas last summer, noted, "With teens, we actually found that they appreciated the messages of abstinence." Click and her co-author's research primarily address the reasons behind the teenage vampire craze. They discovered that many teen girls are attracted to the idea of love that goes beyond the physical. Click's colleague, Jennifer Stevens Aubrey believes the series is a "backlash to the ‘hooking-up' culture."
Click and Aubrey plan to publish their findings next spring in a collaborative book, "Bitten by Twilight: Youth culture, media and the vampire franchise." The media environment is saturated with teens in sexual relationships," says Click, "[Twilight] does provide something different for girls. I've had girls say to me: I'm going to wait for my Edward.' And they think that's really cool."
Take 18-year-old Twilight fan France-Renee Miron, for example. "Most boys now around our age, all they want is to get you in bed. They don't care about the romance part," said Miron, "In the book and in the film, (Edward) doesn't want to have sex. [His love] is really different." Miron's friend, Valierie Lefebvre, chipped in that the book shows that relationships can develop and grow without unmarried couples being sexually active.
Click observed that many girls interviewed felt relieved that Bella and Edward had to control their sexual impulses. "They liked that it was the man putting brakes on sexual activity. For them it probably highlighted the development of the relationship - the romantic relationship - between the two, instead of the sexual relationship."
Click and Aubrey's findings match the conclusion of Mike Farrell, a partner at Toronto youth research firm Youthography. In a 2008 Canada-wide study, Youthography surveyed around 500 teen girls ages 14 to 18 about 50 different "values" from current events to sex. They've been tracking these values for the past 9 years. According to Youthography, only a quarter of young teenage girls are interested in sex, while more than half indicated that they were more interested in marriage and having children.
"There are some fundamental things that haven't changed that much. And one of those, especially with girls, is the focus on a search for meaningful love that is hopeful, passionate, real," says Farrell, "Despite an increasingly sexualized youth culture, the desire for romance among teenage girls has remained."
I don't recommend the Twilight movie. I'm not a fan of the messages it contains. But I find it interesting that pop culture is starting to take note that relationships built on illicit free sex are unfulfilling, and that sex ought to be the consummation rather than the forerunner of commitment.
(Reference:"Lack of sex attracts teens to Twilight" study by Laura Stone, Canwest News Service, Ottawa. Published in the Edmonton Journal, November 19, 2009)
© Mary A. Kassian, Girls Gone Wise. Visit Mary's Website at: GirlsGoneWise.comMary Kassian, the founder of Girls Gone Wise, is an award winning author, internationally renowned speaker, and distinguished professor of Women's Studies at Southern Baptist Seminary.