The Jonas Brothers' upcoming "Happiness Begins" tour is a nostalgic flash of early 2000s pop music, Disney Channel's golden age, and trendy purity rings that successfully marketed sex to tweens by constantly reminding them not to have sex.
Nick Jonas recently shared his discomfort at the time, telling The Guardian, "What's discouraging about that chapter of our life is that at 13 or 14 my sex life was being discussed. It was very tough to digest it in real time, trying to understand what it was going to mean to me, and what I wanted my choices to be while having the media speaking about a 13-year-old's sex life. I don't know if it would fly in this day and age. Very strange." Undoubtedly it was strange; for a while in the 2000s we treated the topic of sex like a minefield that would detonate if we spoke of its reality. Thankfully, we seem to have gone from praising Disney Channel stars' manufactured wholesomeness to embracing frank depictions of puberty in all its disgusting glory.
From Big Mouth and Pen15 to Eighth Grade, media's depictions of teens figuring out sex, masturbation, and sexuality have taken full 180 turns from the shame-based silence and push for abstinence that dominated the 90s and 2000s. In reality, "The Rise and Fall of the Pop Star Purity Ring" was the result of a generally conservative political climate and brilliant marketing. Specifically, the sinking record company Walt Disney Records found their saving grace in marketing their stars' virginities as standout additions to the lust-addled pop music scene. The Muse noted, "The real reason puritanical sex ed managed to infiltrate Top 40 radio for a bizarre moment in the aughts had less to do with the actual personal beliefs of its stars and far more to do with the conservative political climate that helped create them."
Indeed, Nick Jonas, now 27 years old, has described his family as "incredibly religious" and recounts "a person in [their] church who at one point demanded that all the kids in the youth group put these purity rings on and make this commitment. So without a full understanding of what we were stepping into, we all made this commitment."
Additionally, while the Jonas brothers, famously lauded and mocked for their purity rings, believed in the token sentiment, no young teen wants the public to fixate on their sex life. "It was such a strange thing to a lot of people to wear these purity rings, especially as young men in a pop boy band," Nick added. "But I think when I'm looking back on it, although it was challenging to live with that, to be seen and have that attached to our name was very tough."
In fact, between 2007 and 2008 the use of the word "virginity" in news, blogs, and magazines saw a huge spike in popularity. Politically, there were powerful conservatives pushing abstinence and fostering a "purity panic" to maintain their influence over policies. Sara Moslener, professor of religion at and author of Virgin Nation, noted, "The purity movement was about conservative evangelicals keeping access to political power. And it was young people, sexually pure young people, who could best make that case." Consequently, abstinence-based sex education programs in schools flourished in the '90s, including organizations like Silver Ring Thing, which received over $1 million in federal funding thanks to President George W. Bush's 2001 Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program.
But how does that lead us to Big Mouth's celebrated depictions of awkward early sexual encounters, manifested onscreen as a lascivious hormone monster and menacing shame wizard? Well, studies prove across the board that abstinence-only education doesn't work. They're "not just unrealistic, but it leaves our young people without the information and skills that they need," one researcher concluded. We fail our young people when we don't provide them with complete and medically accurate information."
Big Mouth: Hormone MonsterGiphy
Big Mouth: Shame WizardNetflix
Also, the Jonas Brothers and other Disney darlings who launched purity rings to popularity, like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, and Demi Lovato, have all grown up. Some have gotten married. They have all had sex (a fact they've confirmed in what were probably not awkward interviews at all). Nick Jonas has reflected that the purity ring trend had the positive effect of showing him why sex shouldn't be taboo. He said, "I think it was a good thing. It gave me a really good perspective, to whereas now my main thing is about being OK with who I am as a man and the choices I've made, and I think everyone should have a good and solid conversation with either their parents or loved ones about sex and about what they want to do with their life, because it shouldn't be taboo. It's a big part of who we are and what makes us human, and if we can't address these things head on, then I think that it can really be challenging."
Today's buzzwords focus on inclusion and self-acceptance through body positivity and LGBTQ+ awareness, which are pieces of a cultural attitude towards sex positivity and away from shame-based abstinence. Sure, there's a risk of producing over-sexed media that could influence teens' behavior, but history shows that making sex taboo through abstinence-only programs have not reduced rates of teen pregnancy or STDs, so what's the danger? Media will always influence teens' behavior, no matter what. So, from showing that all genders experience crude changes to their hormones to depicting fumbling sexual experiments, series like Big Mouth and Pen15 show that sexual awakenings are awkward, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. The point is to subvert the history of shame surrounding sex talk, rather than obfuscating the fact with silence and using chastity as a brand. After all, it's 2019; haven't you heard—The Jonas Brothers like sex now.