Bish review of sex education in TV and film

TV Review – Sex Education Show Series 5 Episode 1

Review by Jacob Mirzaian, member of Team Bish

(Read Jacob’s own blog here)

The Sex Education Show, which aired again on Channel 4 for the premier of it’s 5th series tonight, almost has it’s heart in the right place, one day it might get there but at the moment I really think it’s selling young people short.

This week’s show seemed to just hit a number of bases in short items each of which touched a quick talking point before going onto the next one, a format pretty much adopted by the show as a whole, like a documentary version of twitter! “#Naked bodies in a school” “Parents watching #shockporn” “Mother-daughter first time you had #sex etc convo” “Disabled folk have sex life” “pictures of sexually transmitted diseases #sti” though you might get even more than 140 seconds on one segment! Awesome!

The naked women in the school hall of Redborne Upper School were there to illustrate how our bodies change as we grow older, and particular notice was given to how the size of people’s hands are proportional to their feet, which while it might sound bizarre, was presented as an encouraging image, saying that we’re all different, bodies change, don’t be scared of it etcetera.

This is a part of sex education that rarely seems contentious in regard to teens. It’s rare that anyone will hear in sex education “you should feel uncomfortable about your bodies changing” but it is the implication we can get from teachers who are WAY embarrassed about having to teach a subject they’re not up on. Plus, there was nothing about the emotional changes that come with puberty and the time of so many transitions.

So, after the students look at naked people for education, the adults watch the porn that the Sex Education Show thinks they need to see to understand the internet. Maybe it really is tantamount to those youtube videos that help make shockporn popular; the reaction videos! Unwittingly or not I think it’s happily taking part in and benefiting from the same culture in which most teens experience the gruesome stuff.

Shockporn is the kind of material, that rushes round the internet because people are tricking/daring each other into watching it. It often contains something unusual or taboo among the viewers: vomit, faeces, bestiality, close-up genitals doing something wierd, violence or sometimes just free-loving old people having consensual group sex. [And this is different to the kind of porn that young people may watch for sexual pleasure – Bish] Youtube reactions where you see people’s faces the first time they watch a piece of shockporn really capture what it’s all about, discomfort, and laughing at discomfort. “This is disgusting, I don’t like it, but I want to know what’s out there” could be said by both young people in defence of watching it in the first place, and the parents describing what they’re doing in that segment of the show, there might not be all that much difference!

We don’t need to be shocked by porn, however, to tackle the issues it presents. We need to understand what it is, who might be suffering in its production, how it might influence how we perceive sexuality and be able to happily step back from it and think about it and move on.

One of the two segments of the show I liked the most was of the disabled couple openly talking about their sex lives and somewhat normalising the existence of the disabled people having sex. The voices of people with physical disabilities rarely heard as a generality but what I most liked was these people as a couple of people; they were really positive and comfortable and relaxed speaking about sex. The show does well to give their relationship a stage that is not interfered with much, which might not be found pretty much anywhere else on tv. I found the guy, one of the few adult male figures in the show, to be someone I might like to have looked up to.

Evidently this did need to keep within the boundaries the show draws, of monogamy, long term commitment and heterosexuality, while there are plenty of disabled people enjoying more casual sex, who speak of the benefits of the right break up at the right time, and have relationships as queer as can be!

The second of those segments I liked most was the mother-daughter conversations. I can’t value more the bridge building between generations [for example this from Scarleteen ], not necessarily just parents but in my life generally, it is incredibly validating to learn to get beyond the boundaries we had to learn as kids between adults and children, the understanding we get from speaking on a level is so very important, and not to my knowledge necessarily typical.

When Anna Richardson follows the segment with “See, parents really do know best”, it seems to do that “hey parents we got your backs” thing but most annoyingly it’s massively excluding. Many/some parents, we must admit, can be very unsupportive and that isn’t uncommon. If we want for people experiencing a much more complex relationship with parents to be allowed space in these discussions we have to at least act as if they exist. Pretending everyone has exactly the same happy-clappy lives, pushes a lot of people deeper into the dark.

Of course there’s a great scene where we watch young people checking out STIs under the microscope and photos of infected genitals. Which is perhaps not the newest idea in the book. There’s also little evidence showing it actually works, and it does seem to make sex pretty off-putting, hard to handle and give a lot of people nightmares, but not necessarily the language nor the confidence to deal with those risks, that exist in all sex, and can be reduced using safer-sex methods.

It’s not unlikely that you’ll get an STI at some point, and it’s not necessarily something you did wrong, there are ways of reducing the risk but not eradicating them, the risks are something that are a part of life for everyone enjoying sex and it needn’t carry the “this is a punishment for having sex” element that shock tactics seem to imply.The best part of my viewing was tracking the thoughts on the show through twitter. @thesexedshow also got involved with twitter discussions and challenged tweets that were offensive, which was really great to see.

It’s a shame that good insight and discussion, however, is more likely to be had about the show, than in the show. The Show itself opens conversation on issues, but then only plays around with what they think the groups most likely to flame them want to hear, and very little else. I wasn’t disappointed and I never would expect it to be ground-breaking. There were those few good moments to take away. It is as much of a mixed bag as sex education as a whole has always been for us; good and bad, awkward with hints of what might really help and all kinds of other people’s agendas: but now, for our own good, why not just expect better?

*Team Bish, a crack squad of young people who have volunteered to help make Bish better.

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