But for those of you with no intent of watching Glee, here’s a quick run-down of the episode’s features so that we’re all on the same page:
It becomes painfully evident (via one of Brittany’s fantastic one-liners) that the kids in Glee club have had almost no sex education and are pitifully unprepared to navigate a sexual adult world. So, Mr. Shue invites Holly, a substitute teacher who had a stint as glee director when Mr. Shue was sick earlier in the season, to come and teach a lesson for the club, while inserting some sex education into the mix.
The New Directions Glee Club is indicative of so many high school students across the US, who, because of poor sex education policies made by the Bush Administration and general squeamishness by educators and administrators themselves, have had almost no access to formal sex ed. Even for those who have had classes- who know the basics of how to put on a condom and “how babies are made”- that education has been woefully inadequate at addressing the real concerns about teen sexuality. Glee points that out in humorous ways, like Brittany thinking she’s pregnant because a stork has built a nest outside her window, or Finn, who thought he got Quinn pregnant by cumming in a hot tub where they were sitting, but the basic point is still there. Teens have NO IDEA what sex means physically, much less emotionally or socially, and it takes a daring person (teacher, parent, whoever) to break out of their shell and share it with them.
And while I wouldn’t call Holly’s approach (singing a song about sex, and then telling the kids that “When you sleep with someone, you’re sleeping with everyone they’ve slept with”) is terribly comprehensive, it does show that there are ways to bridge the generational divide and get at least the basic message across to kids. Plus, it’s another place to throw in a great song.
But what really impressed me about this episode of Glee was the way sex education was brought home for Kurt and his Dad. After Kurt’s friend Blaine mentions to Kurt’s dad that Kurt isn’t seeking information on his own about sex education and will likely make bad choices in future because of this, Kurt’s dad steps up to the plate to give his son “the talk.” And Glee’s producers, rather than taking the easy way out and cutting the scene as they sit down at the dinner table for serious discussion, see the scene through to its conclusion. Kurt’s dad not only has reading material for his son, but also a heartfelt explanation about how sex means something emotionally, and that it’s important to take care of your body and your mind when it comes to sex.
Now “the talk” Kurt received was far from perfect by my standards- it reinforced gender stereotypes about the difference in how men vs. women think about sex, it solidified the social opinion that sex should only be with someone you love, and it didn’t really mention anything about the different ways that people express intimacy (Kurt’s dad mostly spoke with the assumption that all parents have- when your kid is having sex, they are “having sex” and not any other form of physical closeness, which is why, I believe, people are still so dumbfounded about lesbian sex). But I still think this episode was groundbreaking, and that overall, the explanation that Kurt’s dad gave was a very good example and a fantastic starting point for everyone watching.
Thing is, even if Glee didn’t cover all the bases about sexual education, it did open the subject up for dialogue (which we all know I’m so fond of). Like Rhianna’s S and M video, Glee might not have changed minds or practices, but it elevated the issue at hand to a new level of public consciousness. Sex ed IS STILL SOMETHING WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT, and that was really what Glee aimed to get across, for which it succeeded eloquently.
And I have the perfect example of WHY it’s still so important to talk about. This article in New York Magazine details the progression that youth growing up in the social networking age are taking towards adult sexuality.
“If eighth-graders today are spared the indignity of having to first learn about sex by watching a middle-aged health teacher roll a condom over a banana, having the web for a teacher comes with drawbacks, too. Consider that a single Google search of the term “sex ed” turns up, among other—more useful—information, a picture of a naked woman, the areolae of her nipples barely obscured by what appear to be Skittles, which run in a single-file line down to her nether region.”
It is widely cited that the age of first exposure to sexually explicit material is 11 years old, and right then, as students are entering middle school, reaching the cusp of puberty, and dealing with all the ups and downs of life as a teenager, that they now have to negotiate a whole new world with unfamiliar rules and boundaries. The article focuses mainly on teens’ use of new social media (like posting racy pictures on facebook and using Chat Roulette) to explore the uncharted territory of sexuality.
It affects both young men and women in different ways- but the findings echo many of the old-guard anti-porn arguments: that the internet is making men violent, more likely to rape, and more likely to reject a woman who doesn’t have the porn-star body that they’ve grown up viewing.
“This is the paradoxical fear of many heterosexual 14-year-old girls: that the Internet is making boys more aggressive sexually—more accepting of graphic images or violence toward women, brasher, more demanding—but it is also making them less so, or at least less interested in the standard-issue, flesh-and-bone girls they encounter in real life who may not exactly have Penthouse proportions and porn-star inclinations. (“If you see something online, and the girls in your neighborhood are totally different, then it’s, um … different,” one 14-year-old boy tells me.) This puts young women in the sometimes uncomfortable position of trying to bridge the gap. “
This is the first online phenomenon that I personally haven’t grown up with, and it is a little frightening. It was one thing for me to come of age in the era of the internet- I was exposed to many of these same things- porn sites popped up on my browser accidentally (and then not-so-accidentally), and I went searching in some interesting places for information. But facebook was only for college kids, and Chat-roulette not even a fantasy yet. I didn’t have the ability to consider my sexuality through these mediums, whether or not I had the desire to do so.
But the fact of the matter is that these social mediums are out there, and kids are growing up and taking advantage of them. WHICH IS WHY it is so desperately important to keep the conversation going between parents and kids, older siblings, and younger siblings, those who have been over the hurdles and come out with more knowledge and a strong sense of sexual self helping those who have just begun to discover themselves. The passing along of information, of moderating and offering commentary on the crazy things the internet hosts is crucial to making sure teens understand how they fit into an increasingly complex set of sexual situations.
And Glee is one step along a winding path that brings these divergent perspectives together to create a better understanding of our society’s sexual welfare.