Explain Like I’m 35: What Is a Puriteen? (March 5, 2023)

Innocence? The internet has never heard of her. All screen addicts are one surreptitious search or mistaken scroll away from seeing something NSFW, which may or may not be of the mentally scarring kind. The terrifying variety of Rule 34 is never far away, and plenty of people are comfortable with oversharing every aspect of their personal lives for the sake of the views.

By this token, we might expect the younger generations to be the most unbothered yet. Surely nothing is taboo anymore, just varying levels of cancellable. Not true! There are a subset of Zoomers out there who are, simply put, massive and unapologetic prudes. 

Thanks to the likes of Twitter and TikTok, the young person that some have dubbed the puriteen is on the rise. Wiktionary defines a puriteen as “a teenager or young adult […] seen as sex-negative or moralistic”. For the most part, it’s not a self-described label. The word is often used by those who are older and/or baffled by the sheer bizarreness of certain youthful opinions. 

From one perspective, their demands are reasonable enough: they don’t want nonconsensual exposure to potentially distressing content. However, how this tends to be expressed is nothing short of deranged. The most controversial topics are sexual ones, and they have inspired some truly insufferable discourse cycles recently. 

People suggest that all intimate scenes in TV and movies are inappropriate, and should be banned, or that parents should never have sex under the same roof as their children. It’s much rarer to see those expressing these opinions have a similar distaste for depictions of violence, but the whole thing is still an unsavory mix of purity culture and the more demented aspects of growing up online. 

It’s fair to say that this phrase isn’t always used in good faith, but it’s also an understandable reaction to being confronted with such wild takes. The whole thing is probably a good argument that teenagers and grown adults should use completely separate internets. The furore surrounding the effects of cancel culture is never-ending, and it rarely seems to make much progress. We only have to look at the sheer number of awful people that have somehow had fully fledged,  post-cancellation career renaissances to see that. 

With things like this, maybe it’s understandable that some of Gen Z are lashing out. Also, they’re just plain young. Still, it makes for some ongoing arguments that are brain rotting enough to warrant a slightly cringey word to summarize them. From the looks of things, they aren’t going away any time soon.