Catfishing and sexting, hooking up and snapchatting: when it comes to navigating sex and relationships, millennials are definitely, and defiantly, doing it their own way. Accordingly, this generation has its own cultural sexual touchstones. Yesterday’s Farrah Fawcett poster is today’s Kate Upton viral video; previous cohorts’ Leilana-and-Troy is now Bella and Edward; and this gallery will turn you on to 13 other seminal millennial points of reference.
New York City-based rapper and infamous album-leaking badgirl rapper Angel Haze became a sexual icon in 2013 when she came out as pansexual. (She defined the term as: "Someone who sees people as who they are and not gender.") The rapper also frequently namedrops forward-thinking poets such as Andrea Gibson and Joshua Bennett in interviews and released her own cover of Macklemore's "Same Love" in which she preached for gender fluidity. In addition to positing her own pansexuality, Haze also threw shade at the concept of "sexual labels" in general. That's a sentiment that's pretty common across the board for any young person with a Tumblr these days, but probably still considered "just a phase" by parents througout the universe.
"When I was in the third grade I thought I was gay / 'Cause I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight," begins "Same Love," Seattle rapper Macklemore's 2012 divisive ode to sexual acceptance. In the song, Macklemore imagines life as a gay rapper, and Mary Lambert drops in for the gorgeous hook. The track raised criticisms of gaysplaining but also struck a supportive nerve with legions of of young LGBT allies as it became a rare example of an explicitly pro-gay hit rap single.
When Bella Swan and Edward Cullen of the Twilight YA book and movie series finally slept together in Stephanie Meyer's 2008 novel Breaking Dawn, it was the night read (and then seen) around the world. Prior to that moment,the two characters, she a teenaged wallflower and he a 104-year-old vampire, had been doing little more than making out and casting googoo eyes in each others' direction. A Mormon, Meyer wouldn't let her characters bone until he put a ring on it. (Bella's finger, that is.) The scene itself is fraught with old-school scarifying about sex, mainly insofar as Bella blacks out, Edward destroys the bedroom, and she gets pregnant with vampire spawn. Not exactly a magical moment.
Football is still a stubborn bastion of old fashioned machismo, which is why it meant so much when Missouri Tigers defensive end Michael Sam came out as gay in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft in February 2014. Maybe Sam will be accepted into lockerrooms or maybe he won't (if he gets drafted), but the fact that he decided his sexuality wasn't something he had to hide was a defining moment. Was it a mere coincidence that not long after Sam's revelation, veteran center Jason Collins became the first out gay player to suit up in any of the four major professional sports when he hit the court for the Brooklyn Nets?
With episodes that feature HPV and the problem of sending accidental dick pics as plot points, HBO's Girls captures less-than-perfect millennial sex in all its alternately hyper-aware and unselfconscious glory. Lena Dunham's show follows four fumbling and relatively broke twentysomething ladies as they stumble through life in pseudo-creative class Brooklyn. It's often compared to its glitzier older sister show Sex and The City, but Girls' gratuitously nude, anti-climatic and no-strings-attached sex is a far and refreshing cry from from SATC's unrealistic, sneakily conservative and cutesy storylines.
Less a specific moment than a general phenomenon, catfishing flagged a pretty important loophole in online dating: Nothing is stopping anyone from lying like crazy. With more and more people meeting up online, how is anyone supposed to know if the person with whom they're communicating is who they say they are? Nev Schulman's 2010 documentary film Catfish, which follows a young man's ultimately fake relationship online, was an exercise in answering such a question, and gave the deception its name. Shulman's film also spawned a popular MTV show that follows online love-seekers as they learn they've been duped. Someone get these people Skype.
Who would have thought that one of the defining flicks of the 2000s would be about teen pregnancy? The 2007 movie stars the now-publicly out Ellen Page as a knocked-up teen who decides that rather than opt for abortion she will continue her pregnancy and put the baby up for adoption. Written by Diablo Cody, who'd blogged about her work as a stripper before turning to screenwriting, Juno sparked a shift in the coverage of teen pregnancy, with news stories of pregnancy pacts and television shows like Teen Mom humanizing, rather than demonizing, teen mothers.
American Apparel doubles as probably the most popular store for America's twentysomethings to buy their vintage-inspired, fast-fashion clothes and a purveyor of similarly vintage-inspired softcore porn, via the company's ads. Featuring barely pubescent-looking models posing scantily clad, often in some variation of a spread-eagle position, American Apparel advertising makes the those Nineties Calvin Klein porn-basement spots look positively wholesome. They've also become pretty much the gold standard for hipster hotness.
The double standards of sex on the silver screen were heatedly debated in 2010 when the romantic drama Blue Valentine, starring millennial heartthrobs Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, was released with an NC-17 rating. The scene that likely earned the emotionally raw movie its rating showed Gosling going down on Williams. Gosling cried sexism in regard to the rating, saying in a statement given to Movieline that, "The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario which is both complicit and complex." There's a reason beyond his good looks and raffish charm that he became a millennial sex icon.
There's no shortage of sexually explicit writing to be found these days, especially online, but writer Marie Calloway sparked a widely-talked about controversy in 2013 with her short story "Adrien Brody," in which the young narrator, named Marie Calloway, writes about sleeping with a well-known culture critic, cum shot included. The alt-lit writer's weirdly graphic and dispassionate account raised questions about how young people write about physical intimacy, and she became the posterwoman for a rising genre of disquieting and confessional sex writing.
The New York Times isn't exactly the go-to destination to get one's information on the youth of today, but the Gray Lady tried, unfortunately, to be just that in July of 2013 with an eye-rolling piece on college "hook-up culture." Though casual sex, it goes without saying, isn't exactly a new phenomenon, the Times piece was another addition to the growing library of old-school-paradigm thinkpieces on millennials. But to its credit, the story put a spotlight on the plight of college-age women and their apparent dearth of solid dudes.
These days a new class of hipster porn stars, are proving they can do more than just make it on the camera. With nice guy stud James Deen's performance in the Paul Schrader's 2013 film The Canyons, which followed ex-hardcore actress Sasha Grey's leading role in Steven Soderbergh's 2009 effort The Girlfriend Experience, it became clear that alt-porn stars have skipped over crossed into the art world, further entrenching the distinctly millennial notion that explicit sexuality can be exploited, without shame, in more ways than one.
The future is here: you can hookup with the swipe of a finger. Although online dating is old news at this point, what makes Tinder, an app that allows users to easily identify mutually interested partners, so wildly popular amongst millennials (and so fun) is that everyone plays it almost like a game, with its swipe as the most addictive feature. Whether users take it seriously or not, the app, which launched in 2012, sort of weirdly functions akin to IRL attraction, like scanning a room of faces to see who's hot or not. Just be careful you don't swipe a "Yes" when you really mean "Hell no."
Welcome to the Internet, where your hotness can go viral and make you an international sex symbol seemingly overnight. Kate Upton was already a budding supermodel when a video of her doing the Dougie at an Los Angeles Clippers game in 2011 landed online and was immediately seen by just about every dude in America. Since then, the ultra-buxom Upton has been on the cover of multiple Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues but also seen her fame skyrocket through a series of clips clearly designed to be spread, a strategy that reached its literal apex, and conceptual nadir, with a recent SI video of her jiggling in zero Gs.
In 2011, the city of Vancouver broke out in riots after the Canucks lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins. From out of the pandemonium, one breathtaking, iconic image emerged: the photo showed a young couple, later revealed to be Canadian Alex Thomas, and her Australian boyfriend, Scott Jones, laying on the street and kissing amidst riot police and smoke. The photo went viral, and become a symbol for the impassioned and myopic fearlessness of youthful love.