Sex Education: From Bridgerton To Now

Bridgerton is possibly the most talked-about show of 2021. It came onto Netfilx on Christmas Day 2020 and has since been watched by 82 million households. The series follows Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) as she enters high society in the hope of finding marriage. There she meets Simon, the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) and begins a complex relationship with some iconic sex scenes.

The sex scenes in question are revolutionary for period dramas as there is a much greater focus on female pleasure. Particularly with the sexual awakening of Daphne which began with Simon introducing her to masturbation.

It was seeing Daphne’s lack of sex education that got me thinking. It is understood now why women knew nothing about sex in the 1800s, but Bridgerton exposes so many problems with today’s approach to sex education.

In 1943 the first guidelines were put in place around sex education, but the development of it continues to be too slow. 

The “talk”

Like Daphne, for most of us, our sex education begins with the excruciatingly awkward “talk” with our parents which only really tells us how awkward it is to discuss the birds and the bees with parents or careers.

Lady Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) begins the talk saying, “I have put this conversation off for as long as I can.” Which I’m sure a lot of parents relate to. She goes on to describe sex as “rain soaks the field in Autumn, and in Spring flowers grow.” The scene is filled with awkward tension, Lady Bridgerton stumbles over her words, not able to meet Daphne’s eyes. All while Daphne listens, trying to de-code what her mother is saying.

That scene resonates with so many young people today because we all went through it. The “talk” hasn’t changed since the 1800s, which shows just how much the sex education system continues to let both men and women down. 

Sex education classes

Unlike Daphne, after the talk, young people today receive sex education classes which are supposed to tell us everything we need to know. Of course, they never do.

My first ever sex education class began with us having to say all the other words for “penis” to “get the giggles out.” God forbid someone mentions the vagina. We went on to do a mind map of the different forms of contraception which, whilst interesting, was also terrifying. Contraception was portrayed as the women’s responsibility. That is definitely not true.

And that was the end of my formal sex education. Walking out of those classes I felt even more confused and vowed to never talk about sex again because they were the most awkward set of lessons ever. 

Girl talk

Much like Daphne relied on Rose to properly fill her in on sex, I relied on my friends.

However, I was also lucky to be growing up with sex-positive YouTubers (thank you Hannah Witton!). I, like many others, knew nothing about feminine hygiene spending years thinking that discharge wasn’t normal (it is), that you shouldn’t put soap down there because it would somehow cause you damage (you can and there’s even vagina soap now). I didn’t even fully understand the female anatomy apart from the fact that I have a uterus.

My sex education failed on giving me a basic understanding of my body. 

Female masturbation

One of the best things about Bridgerton is Daphne’s discovery of self-love and how the show celebrates that.

Male masturbation is an accepted thing, a normal thing for them to do. But female masturbation, well that is widely considered as un-ladylike and something no woman should have any interest in doing, and if you do you better hide it.

Just this month Zoella (aka Zoe Sugg) had her website removed from the GCSE syllabus because she posted a review of sex toys. This was because the content was deemed “unsuitable” for students aged 14-16. In response, Zoe wrote that “it worries me that they think 16-year-olds aren’t exploring their own bodies, doing this with someone else or know what a sex toy is.”

She is completely right, in a world where you can find out anything online and be exposed to unhealthy or unrealistic examples of sex and relationships. The most important thing to do is to give people an education that will prepare them, help them feel comfortable in their own body, and know their boundaries.

The backlash Zoe got shows that we still have a long way to go to get good sex education for women. 

Representation

A major gap in Bridgerton was the lack of LGBTQ+ representation and that is also present in sex education. At my school, we didn’t cover anything about same-sex sex. The only real teaching we got about LGBTQ+ came from my very cool year 10 and 11 RE teacher.

The gap in LGBTQ+ sex education is perpetuating stereotypes and allowing discrimination to continue. Although the government is changing the sex education system, there is still a lack of clarity around LGBTQ+ education. The guidelines state that schools are “free to determine how they address LGBT specific content” and that it should be done so at a “timely point”. There isn’t a definition for timely point, so in theory, some schools could put off LGBTQ+ sex education for as long as possible because it isn’t “timely.” Therefore students are still missing out. 

In the changes to the education system, parents are still allowed to remove students from sex education classes until they are 15. By 15 they have already missed out on a lot of sex education. When it is your education you should have more control. If a student wants to take part in sex education classes that is up to them to their parents. To break the cycle of bad sex education we need to have students in those classes otherwise any changes made are redundant. 

Steps forward

However, there are some good things to come out of these changes. Unlike Daphne from primary school students will be taught about what makes a healthy relationship and that includes friendships. There is also a greater focus on consent and staying safe online. That is vital especially as more and more stuff is happening online due to COVID-19. Yes, young people tend to know their way around the internet very well as they are growing up with it, we shouldn’t neglect to make sure they know how to use it safely. 

Daphne’s sex education (or lack of it) shocked me because it reminded me of my sex education which was incredibly poor. Things are slowly changing, as a society, we are understanding of different sexualities and we are finally realising the importance of sex education. We have come a long way since the 1800s and hopefully, sex education will continue to improve.

Words by Orla McAndrew


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