Sex Life

Sunday, January 13, 2002 by

After Taboo, BBC2 looks ready to set the switchboards red hot with complaints from affronted viewers about Sex Life, particularly the first instalment: “Kids”. Perched in the 10pm slot on a Sunday night, this documentary promised us a look at the growing knowledge that British kids have of sex.

The choice of a class of 11-year-old Mendip schoolchildren as a subject was not as illogical as it first appeared – the filmmakers seemed to be making the point that children’s knowledge of sexual activity was now extremely widespread, even amongst such a relatively young age group. The choice of children used as an example, and the programme itself, was almost akin to a huge neon sign proclaiming: “Look! It’s going on all over the country – even here!” The “it” that the programme seemed to be focusing on, was not so much the act itself, but the know-how the kids seemed to have of it at a frighteningly young age.

In between scenes of the children watching cringeworthy sex education videos and appearing at turns fascinated, disturbed and repelled, we were treated to some statistics read out by Sue Johnston (whose matter-of-fact narration suited the programme brilliantly). Most of the statistical information was obvious stuff: “the younger that people start having sex, the more they regret it”, “30% of boys and 24% of girls have had intercourse by the time they are 16″. They were the kind of revelations that might once have made shocking TV on – say - World in Action 20 years ago, but which today seemed somewhat hackneyed. The programme was far more interesting in its portrayal of today’s attitudes towards sex from the point of view of the kids themselves, than it was in supplying other information.

While a class of children about to leave the relatively “safe” environment of their primary school for the big wide world of secondary education may seem a strange group on which to base a documentary, this film spoke volumes about peer pressure, gender roles and the sheer awkwardness of growing up. At this primary school, as in the outside world, there were two camps – those who were popular and those who were not. Robert was so popular that he should really have thought about carrying a big stick around with which to beat away his numerous female admirers. According to Robert, all a wannabe popular boy needed to be part of the élite, was to be “tough and daring”. He seemed to have missed out “an irrational liking of Limp Bizkit” which blared out at every available opportunity.

As Robert and his cronies gave a particularly poor performance of the aforementioned Bizkit’s Rollin’ in the school playground, the far more sensible girls fought back with a rendition of Here and Now by Steps. This juxtaposition of kids emulating adults (with the exception of H of course), only served to highlight their sheer smallness, and struck a poignant note. Helena (not popular), once lambasted in a sex education lesson by Robert as “boring … ‘cos you don’t want to do nothing [sexually]“, started off the programme as a beacon of sanity. By the end of it she had acquired Harry as a boyfriend – it was a little hard to believe that she actually wanted to go out with him though, as he looked about six years old. In the end, the pairing provided them both with some kind of status – they were still uncool, but they were “going out”.

These statistics which cropped up every now and then against a red background – red for sex, obviously – were actually a little perfunctory and the film would not have suffered as a result of their removal, yet they clearly served a purpose in the eyes of the programme makers who seemed to include them in an attempt to make the programme appear more respectable or factually based. Overall this was insightful and at times unsettling television which gave the unflinching and honest views of children, without seeking to question them as so many other programmes might.


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