18 to Life on the Offense of Casual Marriage

[Image from tv-eh.com]

Thanks to my Netflix queue, I discovered a series that really made me think about the shows I watch, and had me side-eyeing not only the CW, but any major network that market shows to teens.

18 to Life is a 2010 series that centers around the lives of two teens who choose to get married because of a dare, and their lives together as they fare the seas of married life. The show only lasted two seasons in Canada, and had even less airtime State-side. It faced a slew of criticism in its short run in the States, all of which got to me for several reasons.

When it aired in the States, 18 to Life‘s home was on the CW, which is known for consistently pushing the envelope when it comes to anything, especially teen sex. In several TV shows, there have been threesomes, a “fake rape” trope, sexual assault, the infamous “waking up married” trope, and other instances of sex that really had no purpose other than to get people interested.

As stated before, 18 to Life had two teens that choose to get married because of a dare, as opposed to getting drunk one night and waking up with rings on their fingers, or because they’re pregnant, or an unlisted and unrealistic circumstance that only happens on TV. Unlike its US conterparts on the CW, the show didn’t glamorize sex; it presented sex as a commonplace activity, as the three main couples in the show have healthy sex lives and do not use intimacy as leverage to get their way. The sex isn’t so in your face that it’s the main premise of the show, but it’s there and implied.

Most of the criticism that I’ve read about this show was how strange it was strange to see two teens jump into marriage headfirst, and it’d be less shocking for them to have casual sex.

Let that one sink in for a bit.

Casual sex, which is such a taboo alone in our country, let alone in media, would have less shock value than two teens deciding on a whim that they should get married. What does that say about the way teen shows are today?

Marriage, as we’ve seen in debates and have been socialized to believe, is heralded as a sacred binding between two individuals. However, a TV show that depicts teens getting drunk and waking up married is considered less weird than two teens getting married on a whim? Really now?

One review commented on how the show was hard to watch because of “Tom and Jessie’s casual discourse on sex.” (x) Well, of course they can talk about sex casually. They’re married. They’ve known each other for years, and they’re comfortable with each other, so their dialogue regarding their sex lives is going to be like that. This shows how sex has been glamorized in our culture – it’s so “magical” and “sacred” that one shouldn’t be able to talk to their partner (or in this case, husband or wife) about their sex lives so casually on television! Sure, CW can show three teens engaging in a threesome because of a “college bucket list” (lookin’ at you, Gossip Girl), but God forbid a couple talk openly about their carnal pleasures. America thinks it’s too weird to see two teens act like adults.

18 to Life stars Michael Seater (Life with Derek, Derek Venturi) and Stacey Farber (Degrassi: the Next Generation, Ellie Nash) as Tom Bellow and Jessie Hill-Bellow.

Both seasons of 18 to Life are available on Netflix for instant streaming.


  1. I like where you’re going with this! I’d love to see a more personal, op-ed piece on the subject.

    • Carina Browder says:

      Haha, maybe! I don’t think I’d be able to write on the glamorization of sex without sounding like I’m shaming someone. I’d have to work on that. But thanks!

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