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The Toxic Legacy of the 00s and What We’ve Had to Unlearn About Sex 

Crossline Theatre (Kara Chamberlain & Natalia Knowlton) is a London-based female-led theatre company. Their latest play, Friday Night Love Poem, highlights the impact of the 00s misogyny and over-sexualisation of virginity on Millennial and Gen Z women. Currently streaming on demand until January 22nd. Find out more. 

“Nothing comforts anxiety like a little nostalgia” – Morpheus, The Matrix Resurrections 

As millennials, it’s been heart-warming to see the 00s make a comeback in fashion and social media. After a grim couple of years, how can we not daydream about velour tracksuits, MSN and studded belts?  

Unfortunately, the 00s weren’t just about camp fashion and emo music. The recent wave of 00s nostalgia has also resurfaced a much-needed reassessment of the rampant misogyny of the decade. Conversations about Britney Spears and other female celebrities have reminded us of the slut shaming, diet culture and obsession with virginity that dominated the 00s.  

Coming of age in a decade where women were highly objectified was traumatising on a collective level. Although the 2010s made feminism more mainstream, it didn’t get us out of the woods. It’s important that we reflect and learn from our past experiences.  

We spoke about some of the lessons we learned from coming-of-age in the ‘girl power’ era… 

Virginity is a social construct. 

The 2000s brought in a whiplash of pink sparkly ‘girl power’ and purity rings. Being a virgin was desirable, and Kara felt very confident about waiting. 

“But then I turned 18 and suddenly I was bulldozed by another pop culture stereotype: the spinster virgin. This type of woman was not a virgin by choice, but had ventured into adulthood (meaning gone to university) without having sex. She was an outcast, loser, and straight up prude. Suddenly I was asking myself a whole other list of questions, and the answers all led to: I have to have sex.  

That first time did NOT live up to my expectations, and it took years to unpack why I felt so dissatisfied. I had felt pressured into saying yes, not by my boyfriend at the time but by all the culture I’d been absorbing for years. If I’d been more in touch with my own needs and desires, I’d have felt more confident about making the right choice for myself.” 

You are a sexual being, not a sexual object 

The raunch culture of the 00s taught us that being desired by men was the key to a fulfilling sex life. Add to that the constant body shaming and limited access to quality sex education, it was nearly impossible to love our bodies, let alone explore them. 

Natalia had some very positive influences growing up, but still struggled to make sense of her own needs. 

“Even though I grew up watching Sex and The City and knew that women masturbated and had orgasms, I prioritised men’s pleasure over my own.  

I’ve realised with age that I’m not alone in this and other women have also gone through similar journeys. The saddest part is that we’ve mostly suffered in silence, feeling shame because we assumed there must be something wrong with our bodies if we’re not sexually fulfilled. 

All humans have the right to seek sexual pleasure and be the main character of their sexual fantasy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be desired or looked at, but it’s not the only way to be sexually fulfilled.”  

Unlearning heteronormativity 

One of the most toxic characteristics of 00s virginity culture was that it claimed that virginity could only be ‘lost’ through penetrative, cis-het sex.

Most millennials we’ve talked to have shared that queer sex wasn’t part of their sex education and they didn’t see much mainstream representation of queer sexuality.  

The toxic legacy of the 00s undoubtedly spreads to queer people who had to grow up seeing sex and pleasure as a luxury reserved only for straight people. By having penetrative sex framed as the ‘final destination’, other sexual acts are seen as just ‘foreplay’ or completely invalid. That narrow definition of sex was extremely limiting to everyone’s pleasure. 

Gen Z knows all this, so why are we still banging on about the 00s? 

Thankfully, the youth of today are miles away from where we were 20 years ago. It feels like real, tangible progress when we see the activism and conversations happening online and IRL.

The vocabulary to describe the experience of sex, sexuality, and gender has expanded exponentially, and it is easier to learn about who you are and what you want. 

So why are there still so many stories of inadequate first-time sex, peer pressure, and prioritising male pleasure? The words they use may have changed, but the media’s techniques remain the same.  

Maybe the ideal body shape is no longer ‘heroin chic’, but body goals like being gym fit or an hourglass shape are still forced on us by influencers, targeted social media ads, and celebrities.

We are still being told how to look, how to dress, and yes, how to have sex – even if there’s a little more freedom in the when, where and with whom.  

Millennials were the first generation to grow up with social contact and information in the palm of their hands. Now we have the ability to pass on how that impacted our younger selves and hope that it provides some much needed perspective. This is our time to keep pushing forward, so let’s celebrate the return of the bucket hat, shoulder bag, and low rise jeans without resurrecting the toxicity that underpinned an iconic decade. 

Brook is thrilled to be working with Crossline Theatre to shine a light on the very real issues that affect young people today. Friday Night Love Poem is an intricate look into the lives of three women across the years and their navigation of the complexities of relationships, sexuality, pleasure and consent.

School assembly, can see the back of three boys facing the front of the hall
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