I've received a response to to my comments about The Joy of Teen Sex from Channel 4's spokesman.
Dear Mr Welsh,
Thank you for contacting Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries regarding THE JOY OF TEEN SEX.
We are sorry to hear that you feel the programme proliferates unhelpful myths about sex and that you think we should reconsider the format and tone.
While the programme respects the decisions of individuals in regards to how they conduct their sex lives, it also has to deal with modern sexual relationships. The fact is that many young people in today?s society do not wait until marriage to have sex. Therefore, the purpose of the programmes is to say, if you are going to make the decision to have a sexual relationship with someone, this is the kind of information you should have knowledge to. The purpose of the programme is not to encourage young people into sexual relationships, it is to provide them with information that they should know about, such as contraceptive options, STI?s, pregnancy and personal hygiene.
Nevertheless; please be assured your comments have been logged and noted for the information of those responsible for our programming.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all feedback from our viewers.
Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries
I'm disappointed, but not surprised. It reads like more like a press release than a true response, but I'm not so egotistical as to believe that one complaint merits a personal response (okay, I am, but I'm at least grounded in reality. Mostly). The first part simply regurgitates the last part of my comment that seems intended to prove that my complaint was read but actually suggests they only read the end. The second part looks like it was copy-pasted from the "official" response to complaints about The Joy of Teen Sex, i.e. it's intended to mollify the Daily Mail claim that the programme will turn Britain's chaste youth into strumpets. Which was not my concern at all: I didn't mention marriage, I never suggested young people shouldn't have sex, and I agreed that providing information about sex to young people is important.
But the prepared response is not only intended for a different complaint, but it's fundamentally dishonest. Consider the following claims:
"The programme respects the decisions of individuals in regards to how they conduct their sex lives"
Then why the slut shaming? And what is the purpose of the wretched opinion pieces of that Victorian harridan, Billie JD Porter? Why doesn't she present any facts, instead of an unpleasant diatribe against unconventional sexual activity from the perspective of a smug fashion journalist? Why does she need to initialise her name? Is there another Billie Porter on Channel 4's rolls? Why not just call herself JD Porter? Why wasn't a professional sex educator involved instead? How old is she anyway? Her hideous Myspace page claims she's twenty one, this article claims she's eighteen! Why is her blog so ugly? ARRRRGH?
Next claim: "The fact is that many young people in today?s society do not wait until marriage to have sex".
The statement is undoubtedly true, but irrelevant. I didn't mention marriage once. I actually believe that sex before marriage is not only permissible, but necessary to ensure compatibility. What I did say is that sex must be considered in the context of the individual person's own experience and life situation, their emotional and personal state, and should not be viewed solely in the technical sense with no regard to the nature of the relationship between partners. It's one thing to demand a blowjob from a stranger in a nightclub: it's quite another to ask it of your girlfriend of two years who is still a virgin and finds the thought repulsive.
"The purpose of the programme is not to encourage young people into sexual relationships."
But by presenting sex as universal, it suggests that anyone not having sex is an exception that must be explained, not a valid choice in itself. It adds to the pressure on young people to have sex early because it takes as its default the position that all kids want sex, and want sex more than anything else in their lives.
"The purpose of the programmes [sic] is to say, if you are going to make the decision to have a sexual relationship with someone, this is the kind of information you should have knowledge to [sic]"[I assume they meant "knowledge about".]
Then why discuss vajazzling (did I spell that right?) a practice I have somehow never heard about despite being nearly twenty-six and a Guardian reader? A practice that is a deeply troubling reflection of the power of consumerism in sexual health? Is it really something that anyone about to engage in coitus for the first time needs to know about? I'm not saying young people wouldn't be curious- God knows I'm a little intrigued why anyone would do such a thing to their body. But surely it should be a lower priority than, say, contraception. Or exposing dangerous myths about pregnancy. Or making sure that young men know whether their foreskin retracts properly (not that I'm bitter).
For that matter, if the goal is to help young people make decisions about sex, why did their solution to "a lack of confidence" in young woman include buying frilly underwear? Was it to increase their confidence by having women with established body issues appear on national television in their briefs? Or was it to video a fruity twenty-year-old acting coy in her pants?
"[The progamme seeks] to provide them with information that they should know about, such as contraceptive options, STI's, pregnancy and personal hygiene."
It doesn't provide information, it provides baseless statistics about how 63% of young women want to be glamour models or vague statements about how 60% of young people are concerned about porn without providing any evidence where these stats have come from.
Being unemployed and with nothing better to do, I have naturally sent another email in response to Channel 4's, er, response:
Dear Ms. Carter,
Thank you for replying to my concerns about The Joy of Teen Sex. I appreciate you taking the time to respond to the comments I made.
Unfortunately there seems to have been a misunderstanding about the nature of my concern, for which I can only offer my apologies: I must have been ineloquent in expressing them. Your response seems to imply that my concern was based on the supposition that young people should not have sex before marriage and that your program was encouraging irresponsible promiscuity. I can understand why this may be so, as I've no doubt you have received such comments from some of your viewers, as well as certain corners of the media, but please be assured that I do not agree with them. As I originally stated, I am a great admirer of Channel 4's bold and daring approach to programming, and dearly wish to see more on the subject: I have already recounted my own personal experiences with the failure of British sex education.
My concern is not with the mission of The Joy of Teen Sex, but with its efficacy. I simply do not believe that it is presently able to respond to the concerns of young people about sex. I believe it presented a narrow definition of intercourse and denigrated young people who chose to engage in particular practices. I believe it encouraged the stigma surrounding sex instead of challenging it. I believe it supported the myth of universal teenage promiscuity when it had an obligation to denounce it. I believe, in short, that it does young people a disservice and is further evidence of the failure of British sex education. Put simply, I both expect and demand better from a broadcaster that I greatly admire.
If the purpose of the programme is not to encourage sexual relationships, it should not release unreliable statistics stating the majority of teenagers are sexually active. If the purpose of the programme is to provide information about sex then it should provide useful, factually accurate information, not reiterate tabloid myths about the aspirations for young women to be glamour models. If it wants to convey information that young people should know, it should prioritise information that is relevant, useful and likely to keep them safe, not peddle stories about vaginal decorations. If it wishes to take into account modern sexual relationships then it needs to cover the full range of sexual relations, both heterosexual and homosexual, polygamous and monogamous, long-term and short-term, mainstream or underground, without judgement or comment on the validity or morality of their actions. If it wishes to boost the confidence of young people, it should consider the reasons behind their social discomfort, not parade them in their underwear on national television.
Please send this email to whomever it may concern, along with my regards.
Thank you again for your time and patience.
I'll update again if there is another reply. In the meantime, I recommend reading Reni Eddo-Lodge in The Guardian's breakdown of some of the problems with The Joy of Teen Sex, as well as Dr Petra Boynton's observations.