We’ve brought back Asked & Answered for a special love-themed edition, brainstormed by Kerensa and Emma. To quote Kerensa, “we thought that February would be the perfect month for this as it is the so-called month of love (and all that crap),” and the editors agreed!
So for each Friday in February (and one Friday in March), they’ve concocted a TV question related to love, sex, and romance for our writers to answer. The answers will be enlightening and embarrassing in equal measure. We hope you enjoy, and feel free to reply to the question with your own answer in the comments!
This week’s question is: Which TV show filled in those answers that sex ed or the birds and the bees chat with your parents left out?
Emma: Australian soaps are the source of my first crush and thanks to how much Neighbours and Home & Away I consumed at a young age, they are also responsible for learning some of the facts of life. These aren’t necessarily always the right facts of life and pregnancy scares after having sex for the first time were standard fare. One story that sticks out and not in a good way is from Neighbours; one character got pregnant and decided to have an abortion, her boyfriend got hit by a car on the way to the clinic to stop her and subsequently died. His ghost appeared to her and said that everything would be okay and she ends up keeping the baby. Abortion is obviously a hard topic for TV to cover, but linking it with the death of an adult is pretty disturbing when you’re 9 years old. Soaps of course cover a lot of adult conversations and I’m not saying they shouldn’t cover it; it was just hard to understand when I was eating my dinner with my family (Neighbours aired at 5:35 on BBC1).
This is more serious than I intended so I will end this with something a little more lighthearted and say that Dawson’s Creek taught me that boys sometimes self-complete at school, well at least Pacey did.
Julie: As a parent myself, I know I’m going to be expected to have “the talk” someday with one or both of my children. It’s the way things are done, and it makes sense that kids should get this information from the people who are raising them and not from their friend Trevor at school or from The View. But as the childhood recipient of one of these parent-spawn sex talks, I have to say, it still haunts me. There’s something not right about kids having to hear this stuff from the two people in the world they’d least like to imagine having sex. Maybe this should be, like, a godparent requirement. Anyway.
I got the old “bird penis/bee vagina” speech from my mom back in middle school, but it was very mechanics-heavy and very abstract. It still didn’t quite sink in that these were things people actually did, that they were things people really wanted to do, and there were distinct ways of going about doing them. My friends weren’t having the sex, nobody I knew was having the sex, and I refused to believe that my parents or anyone their age was having the sex. Even on TV, where people were definitely having sex, it didn’t quite sink in for me what was happening. I knew Sam Malone was a dirty dog, but I didn’t quite grasp what that meant. I knew I wasn’t allowed to watch the tawdry Three’s Company, but I wasn’t sure why not. Sex-on-television didn’t quite come into reality (pun intended) for me until Seinfeld. From Seinfeld I learned about birth control and masturbation. I learned that someday I might want to be on the lookout for something called “the swirl” and a guy who could perform it. Most importantly, I think I learned that sex was an okay thing to talk about with your friends. In diners. In broad daylight.
I don’t have a good response to this. My parents never gave me a talk (my mother gave me a book instead, and my father was not the kind to do so), and those sex and health ed classes were always opaque but menacing, walking on the side of scare tactics instead of information so as not to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities (it’s the South, what are ya gonna do?).
So I guess the best possible response I can offer is Ally McBeal. Why my mother let me and my sister watch the show is beyond me sometimes, but in its kooky, occasionally racy way, the show instructed me on fetishes (so many fetishes), issues of objectification both within the characters’ inner-universes and within society, and sexual dynamics. It may not have explained the full mechanics of sex (though I’m sure it did that, too), but it certainly explained the struggles within sexual cultures, which was (and is) probably just as important.
Cameron: I lucked out with some really good sex ed classes during my puberty years, and I never really had a chat with my parents about the subject.
But there is one thing I didn’t know, one tiny fact that I’ve never really been able to dislodge from my brain: that a majority of women defecate during childbirth. Like, A LOT. Scrubs is the show that dropped that little nugget of knowledge into my brain, and like so many other things that show taught me regarding the human body, I was never the same after that.
Kerensa: I watched a lot of shows with my parents that many kids weren’t allowed to watch–Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and later in my teen years Sex and the City with my mom and younger sister.
We never got awkward discussions–merely shooed out of the room or our eyes covered when things got too “racy.”
I was a pretty late-bloomer when it came to anything sex-related but the show that stands out the most for me when learning about sex was MTV’s Undressed (a show I believe Andy was also a fan of). Undressed was a late-night “soap opera” on MTV but was basically softcore porn plots with pretty people (including babes such as Christina Hendricks and Adam Brody!) who wore matching underwear sets instead of nothing. But it was pretty daring in its talk about sex–tackling everything from coming out, oral sex, three-way relationships, proper condom usage–so much so that when my mom caught me watching it I was banned. Even though I’d still watch, waking up after everyone had gone to sleep and turning down the volume as low as I could. While I still didn’t get sex (still don’t), Undressed helped fill in some of the blanks.
Andrew: So my parents most definitely never gave any bit of a birds and bees chat (and, coincidentally, the day I got this e-mail I got a text from my sister making this very point while she watched the Parenthood episode featuring said discussion). My parents were also fairly protective of what I watched- I was never allowed to watch The Simpsons growing up and, despite living away from them for the past 7 years, I’ve only seen one episode in my life. They only had HBO for a few years when I was young, but I remember them referring to the show as “Blank in the City,” to prevent my sister from embarrassment. So it took me a bit of time to come up with this.
The answer is probably complex and involves multiple parts (the idea of liking someone more than a friend from The Wonder Years rerun of Winnie telling Kevin she likes-likes him, the actual anatomy probably more from movies) but if there is one show that informed me about sex it may have been Ally McBeal. Now, I don’t think I was allowed to watch Ally McBeal, but my bed time (I was only 9 when it premiered after all) was also later than 9pm, and since Ally McBeal was on Fox, even with its adult content it had to air at 9. So I could see some of it, and I could hear some of it. Look at episode descriptions of the Ally McBeal at some point- besides the dancing babies and the unisex bathroom, just the first few episodes of the first season featured Ally being fired for filing a sexual harassment suit, another main character being arrested for solicitation, and a transvestite prostitute client. It may not have been a good show (or it may have been. Like I said, I only semi-watched.) but it certainly taught adolescent me some things I did not (and perhaps should not) know.
Whitney: There wasn’t any one show that filled in any gaps specifically, for me it was more that a whole variety of “very special episodes,” teen dramas, and Friends innuendos that made up my knowledge of the birds and the bees. I never got “the talk” from either one of my parents; instead they opted with assuming I could figure it out while interspersing conversations with the usual “respect yourself”‘s or “don’t be stupid”‘s. So in that respect, the show that I most identified with when it came to first times and getting in trouble was Gilmore Girls. Lorelai and Rory had a relationship similar to my mom and I where things didn’t need to be explicitly stated when it came to dating because there was the underlying assumption that everyone involved was smart enough to figure it out, and that I was a pretty good kid in general.
So when Rory and Dean innocently fell asleep after the Chilton formal, didn’t make it home until dawn, and all hell broke loose town-wide because who knows what went down in that dance studio, I could relate more with Rory than other teen drama characters who make poor decisions and learn from them. The fact that “I’m a good kid” doesn’t always cover your butt in a misunderstanding in this area definitely struck me as news. When Rory eventually slept with Dean years down the road, and only after he was married to someone else, it helped me understand what a lot of shows don’t emphasize at all. How mature you are after you sleep with someone is just as important as how mature you think you are before that happens. And no conversation can really bring that concept across quite like Amy-Sherman Palladino can.