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Grace Van Cleef

Intro to Communication Studies

Cultural Criticism Paper


“Girls Get Horny Too”: Adolescent Female Sexuality in Big Mouth

In modern day America, middle school is universally considered to be one of the worst

parts about growing up. It’s confusing, sometimes scary, and often just plain gross. Media can

affect the way we process parts of our life. People still enjoy watching “coming of age” movies

even after they are adults. The combination of nostalgia and introspection provides us with a

reflection on who we were at integral moments in our development and how our experiences

shaped who we are today. However, media created for adults, depicting middle school, is rare.

This is a period of life which can be painful or awkward to remember and reflect on; however,

looking back at the most uncomfortable points in our lives can provide us insight into what

mattered and what didn’t, what still embarasses us, and what affected us the most.

Big Mouth is a Netflix aired cartoon television series created by Nick Kroll and John

Mulaney, who also voice several of the main characters. It is aimed at adults and designed to be

pseudo-educational, but mostly humorous. The show follows a class of seventh grade students as

they navigate puberty. What sets Big Mouth apart is it’s candid exploration of puberty through

the use of semi-fantasy, which can be easily implemented due to the animation style. Most of the

adolescent characters have “hormone monsters”, invisible monsters who follow them around and

encourage them to engage in all sorts of emotional, sexual, and generally hormonal behavior.

This, along with a few other imaginary constructs, serve as effective metaphors for the incredibly

confusing and temperamental ins and outs of going through puberty. Big Mouth emphasizes
themes of sexuality, parental roles, friendship, and romance, as well as touching on mental

illness, divorce, drug use, and gender roles. There are a wide range of male and female characters

with well developed and unique personalities, which can be rare for characters of that age. The

television show Big Mouth uses a diverse range of characters to perform a candid examination of

the way gender roles and sexuality are defined in adolescence and evolve over time, reiterating

time and time again the negative impacts gender stereotypes can have on healthy sexual and

emotional development, in youth and adulthood.

Missy is one of the female protagonists of Big Mouth. She is somewhat unpopular, since

she is socially awkward, nerdy, and bookish. She speaks with a slight speech impediment due to

her braces. Her parents are strict but loving, and she has a strong relationship with them where

she developed a lot of her interests and hobbies. Despite all this, Missy is still aggressive when it

comes to agency over her sexuality. In the very first episode, she asks one of the male

protagonists, Andrew, to dance with her at a school dance. This begins a whirlwind relationship

for the two of them that lasts throughout the first season and illustrates an important subversion

of typical representations of adolescent sexuality. We live in a society that usually implies that

sexuality is highly related to looks and looks alone and that only certain very specific body types

are “sexy” (Durham, 2007). However, Andrew recognizes that Missy is nerdy and awkward, but

he is incredibly attracted to her anyway, contrasting many of the messages being directed at

young people. This is especially important since it provides representation for people who can

recognize themselves in Missy, who likely felt uncomfortable and undesirable throughout their

middle school years.

Missy’s character is an honest representation of how budding sexuality can manifest itself

in young girls, especially shy girls. Missy is very smart and seems to have a frank understanding
of herself, but she is still naive in many ways. In the second season it is revealed that she has a

stuffed animal that she has been grinding against for masturbation since she was very young. She

doesn’t fully admit to herself that her actions are masturbation, and it is indicated that this is due

to shame over her desires. Even still, Missy fantasizes about Andrew and Nathan Fillion (a

famous actor), and by all means is portrayed as romantically and sexually charged, and not

apologetic about it. Even while maintaining Missy’s character as forward and frank when it

comes to her sexuality, the show uses Missy to explore the shame girls often feel surrounding

their sexual urges. Research by Durham (2007) states that “sexual double standards still exist by

which girls face condemnation and punishment for sexual activity while boys are celebrated for

the same behavior”. Missy’s parents shame her for being a “mons pusher” (grinding her hips

against him during seven minutes in heaven) with Andrew early on in their relationship. They are

forbidden to continue dating, and while Andrew wants to date in secret, Missy ends their

relationship because she “can’t control herself around him”. This illustrates how reactions from

others about otherwise healthy sexual behavior can influence how young girls police themselves.

Meanwhile, the show explores a parallel plot arc where Andrew becomes addicted to

pernography, showing that he truly cannot control himself. The whole joke of the episode is that

Missy barely does anything; she gets excited while kissing Andrew and grinds up against him a

little bit. However, once her parents discover this and react, she is so overcome with guilt that

she decides to end her relationship with Andrew, despite her ongoing romantic and sexual

attraction towards him. Andrew, on the other hand, faces no consequences for his lack of self-

control. However, he does not fully understand why Missy leaves him, and this actually

kickstarts his unhealthy coping through pornography. Through Missy and Andrew’s relationship,
Big Mouth makes an important point about what happens when outside forces restrict healthy

sexual outlets for young teens.

Jessi is the largest female protagonist in Big Mouth. She is proud of her gender, but she

mostly hangs out with boys, and she is best friends with the show’s male protagonists, Nick and

Andrew. She is smart, cynical, and bitingly sarcastic. Jessi’s character arc follows how a

relatively sexually and emotionally well adjusted adolescent might turn to harmful behaviors

reinforced by gender norms when faced with confusion and conflicting feelings. Initially, Jessi’s

character subverts typical representations of female adolescent sexuality by providing an

example of a young girl exploring her sexuality in a healthy way. Her hormone monster

illustrates that she experiences emotions just as intensely as the boys in the show, albeit in a

different way. She also tries masturbation and has her first kiss in very charming, realistic, and

age appropriate ways. However, the show uses Jessi to candidly explores the theme of parental

roles and parental conflict in adolescent development. Jessi’s mom, Shannon, is in a loveless

marriage and has begun to cheat on her husband with another woman. Shannon’s character is

another representation of female sexuality in Big Mouth. Many parts of Shannon’s character arc

are only implied, but the show heavily suggests that she has made bad choices because she

wasn’t happy, and faces a lot of backlash and shaming for behavior she knew was wrong but felt

was necessary. When Jessi finds out her mom is cheating on her dad, her behavior rapidly

changes to something quite different. Research indicates that we often fall back on harmful

narratives to guide us in times of conflict. When life feels chaotic, it is helpful to rely on scripts

to provide the course of action that seems to make the most sense, whether or not it is truly the

best. The gender narrative indicates that men should be dominant, aggressive, and controlling,

while women should be submissive and need men in their lives (Wood 2013). Jessi begins to act
out sexually and emotionally. She starts hooking up with a male character, Jay, who’s known for

being aggressive, sexist, and constantly aroused. Eventually, the two of them run away together,

in direct response to a fight Jessi’s parents have. Jessi and Jay’s relationship perfectly illustrates

how even independent, well-adjusted women can rely on the gender narrative in response to

confusion and chaos in their lives. The gender narrative also logically follows to slut shaming

behavior. If women live to serve men, a woman taking autonomy over her sexuality is not looked

highly upon. Several times, Jessi lashes out against her mom in ways that clearly come from a

slut-shaming ideology. She harbors a lot more resentment against her mom for cheating on her

dad than she does against her father for never giving up weed or contributing to his household or

marriage for years. Jessi is not blamed for her anger towards her mother; it is clear that the

creators of the show included it neutrally, as a natural response. However, it is another example

of the gender narrative becoming a fallback for Jessi when she is faced with a confusing and

upsetting situation, that being the end of her parent’s marriage. As Jessi becomes more unhappy

with her home situation, she continues to hold slut shaming attitudes not just against her mother

but against other characters in the show as well, specifically Gina.

Gina is a character who is pretty much exclusively used to explore the problem of slut

shaming, especially among adolescents who have all sorts of different body types. Gina gets a lot

of attention very suddenly when people realize she’s one of the first students in the grade to

develop breasts. However, she sits alone at lunch; everyone is too intimidated to talk to her. Nick

gets some tips on how to talk to women, essentially encompassing just listening to them and

responding to what they say. He uses these skills to start a conversation with Gina, and finds that

she is funny and genuine. They begin an innocent and happy relationship. They soon make out

and Gina allows Nick to touch her breasts. Nick tells Jessi and Andrew, which leads to Jessi
telling a popular girl in a moment of jealousy, and suddenly, a positive exploration of adolescent

sexuality turns sour when everyone starts calling Gina a slut. Girls are frequently painted as not

having autonomy over their own sexuality. An analysis of representations of female sexuality in

Seventeen magazine found that real life examples of sexuality among young girls are often

presented negatively, even as those girls are simultaneously sexualized. A story in one issue

included statistics on the number of girls who reported regretting their first kiss, first time giving

oral sex, or first time having intercourse. Even further, another issue “quoted girls who lamented

that their sexual encounters with boys had ‘changed our relationship’ so that it ended; ‘hurt my

friendship’ because the girl developed a reputation as a slut; and ‘destroyed my self-esteem’”

(Durham 2007). These kinds of ideas in magazines aimed at adolescents, with a lack of positive

alternative, create an environment in which sex is viewed as something that has negative

consequences, that young women should avoid. The dichotomy between the high levels of

sexualization among young women and the social consequences of how they take agency over

their sexuality is highlighted in Gina’s plot arc. Certainly, the negative consequences of sex

described in Seventeen are almost exactly what are illustrated as happening to Gina. However, in

Big Mouth, the emphasis is on the unfair double standards being placed on her. The show never

once paints Gina as unreasonable or overly emotional. She has emotional reactions to her

bullying; she gets very angry at Nick and very upset when everyone starts calling her a slut.

However, the focus of the show is clearly on analyzing how all the young people involved, not

just Gina, navigate their feelings surrounding the situation. Some characters, like the popular

girls, clearly have some level of jealousy. Most of the boys in the show do not engage in the slut

shaming, but still sexualize Gina in a way that contributes to her social isolation. Jessi feels

extreme guilt for sharing the private information with the popular girls in the first place. And
Gina, of course, feels anger, shame, regret, and loneliness, but also a drive to justify that there

was nothing wrong with what she did in the first place. The eventual subversion of her claim to

her own sexuality is painted as entirely the fault of the people around her, not her own. In this

way, Big Mouth explores female adolescent sexuality in a way that is realistic to societal norms,

but challenges the perspective that might usually be used to view sexual behavior among young


The rise of social media means that social pressures and constructs of sexuality are being

exposed to children at younger and younger ages. Understanding how sexuality manifests in

adolescence and how gender roles impact that can help us understand how to best help young

adults to mature in the healthiest way possible. Big Mouth explores gender roles and sexuality

candidly in a way very few pieces of media have attempted with children that young, but it’s

realistic to how being 12 and 13 years old is and therefore shouldn’t be ignored. Big Mouth

challenges and subverts typical representations of adolescent female sexuality time and time

again. The diverse, well-developed characters provide someone for every viewer to relate to. Big

Mouth repeatedly asserts that we should allow young people to explore sex and sexuality at their

own pace, with minimal intervention. This aligns with current gender theory and makes the point

that outside intervention, whether it be from misled parents, media, or society at large, only has

negative impacts on the sexual and emotional health of our youth.


Durham, M. G. (2007). Sex and Spectacle in Seventeen Magazine: A Feminist Myth Analysis.

International Communication Association: Annual Meeting, Feminist Scholarship

Division, San Fransisco, CA, May 24-28, 2007. School of Journalism and Mass

Communication Publications.

Wood, J. T. (2001). The Normalization of Violence in Heterosexual Romantic Relationships:

Women’s Narratives of Love and Violence. Journal of Social and Personal

Relationships, 18(2), 239-261.