Bish review of sex education in TV and film

TV Review – Sex Education Show Series 5 Episode 2

Review by Team Bish member Lucy Cate

Another week, another episode of The Sex Education Show. This time round the focus was on male puberty, random statistics from their ‘Great British Sex Survey’, a look into the lives of a couple who both have visual impairments, the moment of conception and the usual *hilariously awful* interwebs education for parents and *embarrassingly cringy* parent/child confrontations about parent’s first sexual experiences.

Once again, the show touched on numerous different issues related to sex and appeared to try and be inclusive by featuring a section on being blind and visually impaired. Anna Richardson also makes a point of mentioning that they surveyed ‘men and women, old and young, gay and straight’. There is still a lot more room for improvement here and unfortunately, even with this slight space created for diversity, the show does not explore deep enough (or in the gay/straight case at all [or bisexual even – Justin]) into these topics.

The show encouraged the pupils in York to ask questions about sex – which is great, although I’m not sure that a booth with a camera (twinned with the potential to be broadcast to the nation) is the best way to go about finding out what questions the pupils most urgently wanted or needed answering.

The show’s short and snappy answers to questions like “who has a bigger sex drive, a boy or a girl?” and “do all girls bleed the first time they have sex?” frustrated me as the answers were so vague (even inaccurate) and led to more unanswered questions (what scientific studies? Do the minority of studies suggest that libido is equal between men and women? Do some studies that suggest women have a higher sex drive? Both? What is libido anyway? What may have caused different results? What does it matter? How might this affect me? What is the ‘hymen’? How can it be ‘broken’? [The Hymen is now called the Vaginal Corona and it doesn’t ‘break’, for more see here – Justin, Bish.])

What irritated me the most was that they didn’t encourage the pupils or the viewers to critically analyse any of this information at all and instead they appeared adamant that there is generally a right or wrong answer to some of the questions, rather than offer a bit more context.

The show seems to create more questions than answers. This may not be a problem for some people who are able to use the show as a springboard for discussion and who can explore the relevant issues further with parents/carers/teens/partners etc. This however will not be the case for a lot of people and I feel The Sex Education Show could do more to address the people who are unable to speak to anyone about issues related to sex by having a space on the show to inform the audience about services that are available to them.

OK, so the show is less than an hour long and I have no idea how they could make it so that the show answered questions in more detail AND feature all the other stuff, although I would suggest getting rid of some of other content and replacing it with more in depth answers.

I am not sure about what to make of the ‘live model’ approach to teaching the pupils about male puberty, although Richardson could have done well to keep her inappropriate and unnecessary ‘waheys’ to herself. The choice of models could have been more diverse too (three white guys who looked very similar and the crudely pointed out ‘black one’ really doesn’t cut it in a lesson on diversity when it comes to the male body) – all four of them looked around the same height and weight and there was no mention of circumcision – an issue I would have expected to have been covered in the “thorny” subject of the penis.

One of the pupils did say that he found that he’d gained a better understanding of what others look like and is now not so bothered about what he looks like, so perhaps they were diverse enough to make the point although I’m not convinced the point was made well enough for many others going through male puberty who look vastly different to the models. [Additionally there was little or nothing about the huge subject of emotional changes through puberty or even acne – Justin, Bish].

I found the part of the show dedicated to educating parents on the interwebs to be hilariously out of touch with young people. Richardson felt it necessary to show a group of parents the charms of Chat Roulette, Omegle and TinyChat, along with the information that one of the sites has a 22% UK ‘pervert rating’, then went on to tell them “not tryin to freak ya out or anything!” and offered some utterly useless advice on how to protect your children whilst they’re on the internet. I say utterly useless because it centred around restricting access via laptops and family computers and absolutely none of it took into consideration that many teenagers have mobile phones with cameras and internet access and if they don’t, then it’s likely their friends will.

Also, like Jacob mentioned last week, we don’t need to be shocked by what is on the internet to understand the internet, porn and the potential dangers for people under 18 years of age. A lot of us have funny (not gravely terrible) stories from school times when we first saw shocking/gross/sexual content on the internet. Not all young people will have seen or even wish to see this kind of material, but a lot of underage people will want to and choose to access these sites and there is not much that can be done to prevent this.

We do need to be talking about this in contexts that are helpful to both parents and young people and doesn’t cause hysteria. Relevant knowledge is power and parents and young people need to know the facts about how using these sites can be dangerous in contexts that are of genuine concern (for example the fact that the law considers images and videos of a sexual nature featuring anyone under 18 years of age as child pornography is definitely an issue that everyone needs to be educated about, not the frenzy inducing ‘pervert’ statistics.)

The next part of the show featured a couple made up of a man and woman who both have visual impairments talk of their lives as individuals, how they operate as a couple and spoke a bit about their sex life. Hearing them speak about how joking a lot and being goofy was a turn on was refreshingly real and great to hear on television. The focus was then shifted to the cliché topic of positions and the Kama Sutra, which again, the couple dealt with sincerely and helpfully, by describing and laughing at a difficult position and going on to say how they tried it, laughed and then just did something else that they actually enjoyed.

Great stuff – I personally think that there is not enough encouragement from television, magazines or books on sex to do what actually turns you on instead of keeping up with whatever 70% of the rest of Wales is doing, let alone any mention for anyone who isn’t ‘abled’ to enjoy a sex life.

The programme could have benefited by focussing on the couple more or on another relationship where the people involved were enjoying the sex they are having, or even enjoying their lives to the full without sex. Unfortunately Richardson cut them short and added in her usual patronising tone “I can’t believe that story, against all the odds, they found each other and ended up having a brilliant relationship and great sex?!?!?” _

Way to make the most powerful part of the show gimmicky and tokenistic.

The surprise meet up for some of the male pupils of the school to speak with their parents about sex was uncomfortable to watch; most specifically the mother and son conversation, in which he asked her when she lost her virginity. Absolutely the most cringe worthy moment in the show. Indeed, “what was that all about?”

The show wrapped up with a ‘unique fieldtrip’ to an IVF clinic – which although it was interesting and relevant from a scientific perspective, the show could’ve done without it and instead focussed on the building upon the positive topics it began to embrace.

Overall I felt that in trying to be inclusive it still managed to be overwhelmingly exclusive to a white, heterosexual, ‘abled’ audience. Too much information and ideas packed into an hour left me feeling genuinely perplexed at times and I found it difficult to keep up with the fast pace of the show. The Sex Education Show still has a long way to go before it can truly claim to be tackling the complex issues regarding ‘sex’.


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