“Twilight” and the Sexual Revolution

They say you think about it every seven seconds. Without it, the world would be desolate, save for the few organisms that can reproduce asexually. Sex is at the center of all life, so why is it so taboo? Why can’t we talk about it in public? Why is HBO the only channel that dares to show a boob? Why are young people, particularly girls, shamed and ostracized for wanting sex? Man’s biological desire and Evangelical sexual repression have been in constant and sometimes violent contention throughout written history. Countless works of literature, including the Bible, aim to make a judgement on the sinfulness or purity of sex. One influential and global example of this is the modern Vampire. Though this creature of the night had innocent folkloric origins, the contemporary Vampire is a metaphor covertly promoting sexual conservatism.

In fiction and folk tales, Vampires have existed in some form or another for almost as long as humans. Before they became a metaphor against human sexuality, the pre-vampire was invented with the intent to scare and entertain. Monsters such as the Lamashtu of Mesopotamia, Manananggal of the Philippines, and Mullo of Romania where created as folk tales, passed on for generations (Molina). These creations of the imagination did not aim to make a social statement. Their qualities were much more gruesome than seductive. The Lamashtu, for example, was described as having “the head of a lion, and the body of a donkey” (Molina). This creature obviously shares no similarities or connection with sex, even symbolically. These tales were as sensational in their time as “Twilight” was a number of years ago, despite their lack of allegorical meaning. In Romania, the story of corpses reanimating to take a snack break upon the living was so popular, the Queen began to push legislation forbidding grave tampering (Molina). Though these old folktales did not yet make a political statement, they were a global sensation, allowing their image to be taken by authors around the world all the while adapting and changing as the phenomena spread around the world.

Although the dawn of the contemporary Vampire can’t be pinpointed to one work of literature, many late nineteenth century works can be credited with some of the most revolutionary changes to the creature. Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula was among the first to create the metaphor between the mythical creature and sex. In his book, Vampires are seductive, so much so that while humans fear them, their deepest instincts fixate them on the creatures. Being bitten by a Vampire was impure, and would change you forever. These qualities along with others are shared with Victorian ideas of sex. One could not want sex, in spite of their instinctual desires, and participating in the act would change you by either poisoning your purity or leaving you with a sexually transmitted disease. Furthermore, more similarities such as the penetration of the bite and the trading of fluids draw sex and Vampirism even closer. The leading creature of the night, Count Dracula, also shared qualities with an individual who has a sexually transmitted infection, particularly one similar to Syphilis. The common symptoms of Syphilis and other severe STDs can usually be characterized by pale, almost translucent skin, dark nail beds, and elongated teeth because of the receding of the gums; these traits, now commonly known characteristics of the Vampire, make their first appearance in Dracula. Given that vampirism is a metaphor for sexual activity, how are we to be certain Stoker is critical of sexuality? Aside from the connection to sexually transmitted diseases, Stoker’s unique version of the Vampire is particularly unholy. For example, the modern vampire’s aversion to crucifixes was invented with the pages ofDracula (Molina). Aside from this and Dracula’s seductive yet sickly demeanor, sex and Vampires are shown to be similarly destructive in stories like Carmilla, which predates Dracula by 26 years. Carmilla used vampires as a metaphor for lesbianism, and it is implied that the violent death of the titular character is punishment for her sexuality (Meslow). After Carmilla andDracula, the path of the vampire has not wavered away from sexual metaphor, but instead refocused its target audience.

The seductive creature of the night has refocused its attention to young adults- particularly young women. This audience is also the target of purity rings, virginity sermons, and other religious and moral efforts to curtail teen sexuality. This is no coincidence. Stephanie Meyer, a devout Mormon and first time author, wrote the novel “Twilight” with the very same metaphor asDracula. Just like in Dracula, the vampire in Twilight seduces and romances a pure and innocent young girl. The vampire, Edward, knows it is “wrong” to bite his human romantic interest, but his instinctual desires provide an immense temptation for him. The parallel here is that young men know it is “wrong” to have sex, but their instinctual desires drive them to think and act against this notion of purity. Furthermore, in another undisguised similarity, Meyer included in her novel that infecting a human with vampirism was not morally wrong in one circumstance. That being the very circumstance that dispels the religious impurity and sinfulness of sex; Edward can infact morally bite Bella if, and only if, they are married. Despite these overt similarities, there are those who disagree with the idea that Twilight was a negative interpretation of sexuality. Scott Meslow argues that the novel goes against the past trend of vampiric conservatism. He claims that Twilight “[uses] the vampire not to push the limits of human sexuality, but to scale them back” (Meslow). His defense is that Edward and Bella’s relationship is not sexual, in contrast with the seduction and explicitly sexual nature of past vampire literature. However, the couple’s chastity is not a hint that Meyer did not intend to draw the metaphor, but rather a result of it. The relationship between sex and marriage is essential to the creation of the allegory. Instead of showing that sex or vampirism before marriage will have disastrous consequences, like in Dracula, Meyer shows that sex or vampirism is okay after marriage. Both are strategies to deter sex before marriage, just with different angles. The young women who are the most likely to read this book will almost certainly have heard Meyer’s message of abstinence before, but what makes Twilight unique is that the audience doesn’t know it’s being preached to. While some of the girls reading the novel may have attended a sermon or listened to their parent’s lectures on purity, Twilight creates an exemplary scenario that reaches them like no other method by showing them that romantic, devoted, handsome young men will love them if they retain their purity until marriage. This message is evident in Twilight regardless of one’s own position on the issue.

While changes have certainly occurred in the meaning of the vampire, the allegory that vampires have become is not inherently harmful to society. Personal religious and moral aversion to sex alone is not harmful. However, the point at which valuing your own personal chastity becomes judgement and damnation upon others is disruptive and antiquated. Educating young people about the dangers of unsafe sex is certainly a great cause, but making teens hate themselves for their natural desires is too far. If we teach boys and girls to value their health and well being instead of their purity, who knows, there may just be a vampire who will love a girl even if she’s already been bitten.

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