As a (mostly) unashamed lover of romantic comedies and teen movies, I have a particular affection for the frothy stories of the genre. When I watched the teen tearjerker Life in a Year (2020) late last year, I was actually quite stunned by what it had to say about love. Certainly, the movie has plenty of poorly-developed melodrama and contrived dialogue, and it celebrates several immoral behaviors as liberating exercises in truly “living,” but it also proffers what may well be some of the best images of love that I’ve ever seen in a teen movie. As the protagonist Daryn’s girlfriend Isabelle grows weaker and weaker from her cancer, Daryn puts aside his grand plans to secure acceptance into Harvard in order to be present to her in her final months. He shows a real tenderness as well as a remarkable maturity and a selfless commitment in his care for Isabelle. Conversely, albeit predictably, Isabelle, too, learns to give of herself by allowing herself to be loved.
Each year, colleges throughout the United States mark Valentine’s Day with the commemoration of Sex Week. Sex Week is a carnivalesque educational event, combining a how-to-guide to sexual pleasure with events celebrating sexual liberation. Sex Week functions as a kind of secularized liturgy, in which each year we both remember and celebrate the gift of sexual liberation—the freedom to do what and who we want with our bodies.