Trigger warning: This article contains discussion of statutory rape.
Sexuality, toxic masculinity, privacy and social media — these are just a few of the many Gen-Z related themes depicted in HBO’s controversial teen series, Euphoria. Since the show’s premiere, many have praised the series for portraying these issues in a raw and unconventional way — straying far from the PG-13, surface-level story arcs seen in most of today’s teen dramas like Riverdale. However, many others have felt like some of the shocking and controversial scenes included in the show, specifically the ones featuring sex and nudity, are unnecessary and highly uncomfortable because although the cast is of age, the characters in these scenes are underage teenagers.
I strongly believe Euphoria gets an A+ for some aspects of its portrayal of today’s teens, especially its unflinching depiction of teenage drug addiction and toxic relationships. However, one of the show’s greatest flaws so far is definitely its take on sexual relations between adults and minors. In California, the setting of Euphoria, the legal age of consent is 18, and many of the underage characters on the show have had sexual encounters with adult men. Moreover, I’ve noticed throughout the series that whenever these sexual encounters happen, the show incorporates certain details in the plot that come off as blurring the lines of this illegal behavior (which hopefully, isn’t their intention). For example, Jules lies about her age to Cal so technically it’s not statutory rape… right? Rue says that although Maddy losing her virginity to a forty-something year old man might come off as “rape-y,” Maddy was the one “in control” so it’s technically not statutory rape… right? Kat is an underage cam-girl who has sex with multiple twenty-something year old men in her town and is exploring her sexuality so we can ignore the fact that it’s statutory rape… right? It’s been very uneasy and disturbing to watch the frequency of adults having sexual encounters with minors on Euphoria.
During the first episode, we see Maddy publicly have sex with a guy in a pool in front of everyone to get back at her boyfriend, Nate. Later on it’s revealed to us by Nate that this guy, Tyler, is twenty-two years old so he committed statutory rape when he slept with Maddy. One thing I thought was interesting in this scene was Tyler’s dialogue. When Nate states that Tyler committed statutory rape with Maddy, Nate tries to excuse what happened because he didn’t know or ask for Maddy’s age. Hopefully, Sam Levinson, Euphoria’s creator, included this to show the teens and young adults that watch this show the importance of sharing their age and asking for their partner’s age when it comes to engaging in sexual activity. However, this redeeming quality is quickly shadowed by Nate using the statutory rape to fuel his violent American Psycho-esque revenge fantasy against Tyler and blackmailing him. It all just comes off as Nate being more jealous that Maddy slept with another guy than Nate being concerned about the illegal sexual encounter, especially since so far it’s never been mentioned again.
In the fifth episode, it’s revealed that Maddy lost her virginity to a 40 something year old man on vacation when she was 14. Rue, the omniscient narrator, goes on to assure the viewers that it isn’t “rape-y” because Maddy was the one “in control.” But no matter what control Maddy may have thought she had—even if she initiated the encounter— no minor has the control in these situations because they are unable to consent. I think having Rue try to defend it under the guise of sexual empowerment has the potential to be dangerous and misleading to teen viewers. I’m sure that the show isn’t trying to promote Rue’s point of view, especially since Rue is a 17 year old high school girl who might have misconstrued this situation due to her own naivety towards consent laws. However, will every viewer — especially young teens — understand this?
— Amari Allah (@Wherever_I_Look) July 15, 2019
#EuphoriaHBO y’all gotta do better than this opening literally saying maddy was in control of a sexual encounter between her and a 40 year old and when she was 14 what the fuck
— kai (@_kstan_) July 15, 2019
Kat’s story begins with a very traumatizing experience. Her first time is recorded without her consent and sent around the school and on social media. Once Kat clears her name and tells everyone at school that the girl in the video isn’t her, she finds the video on PornHub and sees that it has countless views and hundreds of positive comments regarding her body. After seeing the video’s success, Kat is inspired to hone her sexuality as a cam-girl, and later on, she starts engaging in casual sex with men in her town. She also starts skyping with a man who pays her to humiliate him. While the themes of sexual empowerment and body confidence in Kat’s story arc definitely seem powerful, we have to remember that she’s an underage teen and all of her sexual encounters so far (excluding her first time) have been statutory rape. It’s dangerous to include sex positivity and empowerment in a storyline where the character is an underage teenager having sex with adult men. Also, glamorizing underage sex work of any kind is very dangerous, especially to the teens that are watching this show.
i love kat but she shouldn’t be camming underage… #euphoriahbo
— daryl (@starylize) July 1, 2019
In the first episode, Jules meets Grindr hookup, Cal, in a motel room. Before anything happens, Cal asks Jules her age and she tells him she’s 22 when in reality she’s 17. Later on, Cal finds out that Jules is a junior in high school. When Cal asks Jules not to say anything, the viewers are left to question if he’s more scared about his hidden sexuality getting exposed, or going to jail for having sex with a minor? But, I will give Levinson a little credit here because at least the adult does passively show that he knows his behavior is illegal. Yet, still, our question hasn’t really been answered so far. In the most recent episode, we see Cal frightened when his wife calls about the police needing them at the school, which turns out to be about his son Nate instead of his encounter with Jules. However, later on we see Cal with another Grindr hookup (who somewhat dresses like Jules) in his motel room. Even though they don’t have sex, it’s weird that he picked a Grindr hookup that dresses like Jules who’s underage. However, more on this situation is most likely going to be explored throughout the rest of the season.
Statutory rape, underage age-gap relationships, predatory behavior, and underage sex work are very serious issues that teens face today — especially with the popularity of dating apps and social media where they have access to virtually anything and anyone. A prime example of this is Ray Diaz, a man in his thirties, who recently was arrested for abusing his 17-year-old ex-girlfriend, and has been known to prey on underage and barely legal Hollywood teens throughout the years. However, there are better ways to handle these topics than what Euphoria has done so far. Characters’ actions and dialogue on the show don’t necessarily speak for the show itself, but they do have the power to influence underage teens watching the show. It’s alarming that all the underage teenage characters on Euphoria don’t really find sexual encounters with adult men inappropriate, but maybe that’s for a reason. Perhaps Euphoria is trying to show how eerily normal it’s become for underage teens and adults to engage in relationships and/or sexual encounters.
But I don’t know. However, what I do know is that sexual encounters between adults and underage teens should never be normalized, and should be called out for what they are—illegal! Fortunately, Euphoria’s first season isn’t over yet. In future episodes, they may include material in the show to effectively portray this behavior as illegal and inappropriate with serious consequences for the adults. But until that happens, viewers have the right to be very concerned.
Featured Image Via IMDb.