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Young people talk sex on screen

Posted on 27 January 2020 by Georgia

We recently talked about sex in films aimed at teens with our Youth Advisory Panel. We wanted to know if our classifications matched with our young people's experiences.

We kicked off with clips from popular series. We watched Big Mouth, Pretty Little Liars, Rick and Morty, Riverdale, Sex Education and Euphoria. We also used clips from films Blockers, Dude, Duff, Easy A, Lady Bird, and Sex Tape.

The comments are insightful and interesting. We had a great discussion about the difference between scenes of realistic and not so real sex.

Lady Bird and Blockers had first time sexual encounters which included the “awkwardness” of life. Things went wrong such as a character getting a nosebleed and that made the clips seem more like real teen life. But sex in series like Dude and Riverdale was unrealistic. The group said realistic depictions of sex could be helpful for young people, especially those who have seen unrealistic depictions of sex in porn.

All kids see unrealistic depictions of sex in pornography. Seeing a realistic depiction of sex lessens some of the harms they’ve already been exposed to

Sex in animated comedies Rick and Morty and Big Mouth made some of the group worried about younger teens and children watching them. Animations would appeal to younger kids but then again some of the jokes would go over their heads. They also noted verbal abuse in these shows could see some young people mimic it in real life.

“It’s a cartoon so would appeal to children. If Netflix recommends it they’ll click on it straight away even though it is definitely too inappropriate for them”

Several people talked about gender, consent and relationships. The panel noted that in Sex Education a straight sex scene was explicit but a gay sex scene took place off-screen. They felt that Blockers displayed an equal gender balance: “everybody gets a say in what is happening and how far it will go”. They felt that all of the clips were good examples of consensual sex.

There were a mixed range of views when it came to nudity. Some people felt that without a warning any depiction of genitalia could trigger some sexual assault victims. Others felt that nudity only required a warning when it was sexualised, or in a sexual context. Everyone agreed that “butts are fine”.

Young people are wary of the way in which films shape young people’s attitudes, norms and perceptions of sexual realities. They are also concerned how this can affect their siblings, peers and younger counterparts.

Our classifications weren't off the mark but this rich conversation will be one we keep in mind as we make decisions that impact on what young people can watch.

Georgia works at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not necessarily represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

A stylised image of a person with a skateboard. Superimposed on it is the text, "Consensual and realistic depictions of sex give parents a good opportunity to talk to their kids".

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