If there’s one lesson young women everywhere learned from John Hughes films it’s this: Don’t give a boy your underpants. Ever.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, director John Hughes, the master of some of the most influential teenage drama films of our, or at least of my, generation — Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — died last week of a heart attack at age 59.

Hughes created a world run by teens (do adults really matter when you’re a teen, after all?). There was less sex farce and more true sexual angst than we see in today’s teen sex comedy/dramas (American Pie anyone?). He had a way of captivating that fleeting period (of course, at the time, it feels it will never end) when your emotions in all their overly dramatic, roller coaster glory completely dictate your entire life.

He reflected the hierarchy of teen social life — cool people rule, geeks are outcasts, the girls always went for the yuppies or the bad boy while the nerdy-but-nice boys were left on the sidelines.

But he also exposed the vulnerability of this hierarchy and cracked teenage life open to show us what it was really about, that is, a bunch of insecure, inexperienced, sexually curious young people jostling for social position and acceptance. Without making it too realistic, which would just be depressing (watch the documentary Kids, and you’ll know what I mean).

After all, no teen in real life would say what Andrew McCarthy’s preppie rich-boy character, Blane, says to Molly Ringwald’s character, Andie, a girl from the “wrong side of the tracks” in 1986’s Pretty in Pink: “You said you couldn’t be with someone who didn’t believe in you. Well I believed in you. I just didn’t believe in myself. I love you. Always.”

By making teenage life more exaggerated, funnier, and more entertaining, Hughes’ allowed us to shudder at the pain but ultimately to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Which is perhaps why it is still so satisfying to watch these films as an adult (something the movie channels obviously understand given how often they air them). As a teen, you’re too busy being a sexually confused, angst-ridden, insecure teenager to really appreciate the perspective he offered.

As an adult, you’ve made it through to the other side. You realize that, as adults, the pretty girls, the bad boys, the nerds and the geeks all end up on a more even playing field. And that, as much as your parents tried to tell you and you refused to believe them, it really was just a phase.

Though I still wouldn’t give a boy my underpants.

• Prostitution among the chimps? Read more in Josey’s Sexcetara blog at www.metronews.ca/blog

– Josey Vogels is a sex and relationship columnist and author of five books on the subjects. For more info, visit www.joseyvogels.com.

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