Netflix shouldn’t be a place for sex education

Influence of sexually explicit scenes in movies

Sex Education seizoen 3 releasedatum op Netflix bekend | MAN MAN
a scene from Sex Education season 3

If you have spent any time browsing through netflix for new shows or movies, you would have noticed that the portrayal of sex scenes is becoming more and more prominent in media. Though there are no formal studies regarding the increase of sexual content in media since 2005, as a consumer of media I have realised that shows, movies, and music are increasingly becoming desensitized with the portrayal of sex. Growing up in the pre-netflix days, movies and shows I watched were very much limited. We would watch the Harry Potter series as family or Korean entertainment shows on one Korean channel we had access to on our Polish cable TV. Now, how we consume media has changed dramatically. It is common for every family member to have their own computer or at least a smartphone where they can watch content of their choice, and with the rise of netflix the choice has become unlimited. Kids and early teens now don’t have much restrictions on what they watch anymore.

In my late years of highschool, me and my friends talked about how early people are becoming sexually active now, and how hook-up culture is becoming more and more normalised even amongst underclassmen. This was not just us being boomers talking about how different “kids these days” were, it was in fact true that the age of sexual engagement was becoming younger and sexual activities are becoming riskier (e.g. having multiple sexual partners, not using contraception, etc) than ever. 

However, the issue with this is the fact that sex scenes in media is extremely unrealistic and often problematic. Most sex scenes still portray heterosexual couples, alpha male-submissive female relationship, and lack in diversity, giving off a message that sex is supposed to look a certain way and nothing else. Sex scenes are spontaneous and often intertwined with violence, lacking emotional connection with rare mentioning of pregnancies, STDs, and contraception. 

Although the media is becoming rapidly more casual about incorporating sexually explicit scenes, actual sexual education is not progressing fast enough. Students and even adults don’t have proper resources where they can openly discuss their sexual concerns, and it is still a taboo for a lot of cultures to do so. Even personally, I’ve never had a sexual education class in school where I learned practical information, but instead we were given a heavy list of STIs and STDs to memorise which I don’t even remember half of today. As a consequence, people turn to movies and shows, even pornography in order to find answers. 

Especially for adolescence, these consequences are even more prominent. As younger viewers are more likely to have a harder time differentiating between the screen and reality, and because they have less sexual experience to know that sex scenes are unrealistic, they are more likely to be influenced by the media. Studies on the Influence of Exposure to Sexually Explicit Films on the Sexual Behavior of Secondary School Students in Ibadan, Nigeria shows that 56.3% female students and 26.5% male students affirmed that being exposed to sexual contents has influenced their sexual activities. 

Between the age of 10-15, the desire for novel and intense stimulation peaks. This is called “sensation seeking”, and it can even last until your early 20s. Due to the peak of hormones, teenagers are more likely to make less rational decisions in their sexual activities. When exposed to sexually explicit content during these times, teenagers and young adults are more likely to be influenced by it. Teenage years are when sexual identities are being formed and having unrealistic expectations can harm adolescents’ sexual health for the rest of their life.

So what now?

Although one can argue the freedom of expression in media as an art form, I believe content creators are in some way responsible for the possible side effects it causes, especially to younger viewers. Exposure to sexually explicit movies and shows itself is not the problem, however it is necessary to address the fact that most of them are exaggerated and should not be taken literally. One of the creative solutions tackling these problems is the Netflix original Sex Education, where diverse and realistic sexual concerns are portrayed in a realistic manner.