Channel 4’s latest show ‘The Joy of Teen Sex’ sparked quite a reaction from viewers, I thought I’d look into this relatively new concept of television Sex-Ed. Shows about ‘Sexperience’ are becoming a regular feature in our TV guides, sprawling full-frontal genitalia, hetero/homosexual intimacy, and sex-toys all over our screens. Straight-talking professionals encourage teens to discuss their sexual experiences whilst teaching them the importance of safe sex. But are these programmes heightening teen awareness of good sexual health, or simply sex itself? And why has it been left up to television to tackle the subject of Sex Education?
I’m sure you won’t object to me saying that underage sex has, and will always happen. The show’s survey revealed that 74% of today’s sexually active 14-17 year-olds, had had a sexual experience under the age of consent. With the media’s fixation on sex and ‘sexiness’ – who’s doing who and how? – It is inevitable that young teens will develop some sexual curiosity. And so, if we are exposing teens to these glamorised images of sex, shouldn’t we also show them the real ‘ins and outs’? Channel 4’s programme does exactly this; it is bold, honest and frank, forcing the 40% of sexually active teens to face up to the risks of unprotected sex.
The show confronted teens with nauseating images of infected genitalia in effort to get them to consider their current behaviour. Shockingly, the Teen Sex Survey carried out by the programme, revealed that 42% of teens today are having sex without condoms. What’s more, results from The Observer Sex Poll (2008) showed that 41% of those sexually active aren’t even worried about STDs. As one girl on the show admitted, the main concern surrounding unprotected sex is pregnancy. Although this is clearly a key issue, the health-advisers on the show stress that it is not the only one. As the programme states, Britain now has the highest rate of STIs in Europe.
One-to-one sessions with doctors help teens to understand the long-term detrimental effects of un-safe promiscuity. However rather than discourage and patronize teenagers about sex, the show provides teens with titillating sex-tips to prove that safe-sex can be just as fun. The Channel 4 programme acknowledges that teenagers are having sex. Sexpert Ruth Corden believes that ‘we can’t pretend it isn’t happening – we should embrace it, and face it head on’.
It is this attitude that is lacking in homes and schools today. Unsurprisingly, 25% of teens feel that sex is not properly discussed at home. Sex Education has become a subject that both teachers and parents seek to avoid. Of course, it can be an embarrassing and awkward conversation, but it is necessary for young teenagers to learn the facts about sex. Worryingly, more than a third of teens say that they rely on friends, the internet, magazines, and even porn to teach them about sex. These highly unreliable sources are partly to blame for Britain’s STI figures, endorsing heat-of-the-moment wild sex, without incorporating the consequences. 81% of The Observer Sex Poll also felt that the government should spend more money on education and information policies on HIV and other STDs.
So, if at the moment, schools and parents are neglecting their responsibilities to educating young people about sex, why shouldn’t television take the opportunity with these shows? Agreed, some images can be quite explicit, but they are of real bodies; not the manufactured, hard-and-shiny figures of those in the media. Channel 4’s programme is a great approach to Sex Education, addressing the teen population in a direct yet un-confrontational way. I can see why such shows stir up controversy, but the beauty of TV is, if you don’t like what you see, turn off!