Two videos were pulled this week from the Australian government recently published sex education resource for schools.
The government published the Good Society resource in mid-April, which consists of over 350 materials including videos, digital stories and podcasts to teach respectful relationships in schools. The two deleted videos were widely criticized by politicians, sex educators and sexual assault support groups for missing the target of sex education.
One clip, showing a couple on a movie set that looks like a retro dinner party, aims to teach consent through the metaphor of a milkshake. After a young man rejects a young woman’s milkshake, she smears the milkshake on his face, saying the phrase “Drink it all!”
The scene is followed by somewhat confusing diagrams of a soccer field with a voiceover explaining ideas about shared decision making.
I am a visual culture researcher interested in how information about sexuality and relationships can be effectively communicated to young people. I have compiled several examples of sex education videos that better meet the needs of young people.
What works in sex education?
The milkshake metaphor in the Good Society video is confusing because it is meant to teach sexual consent, but never mentions sex. It also does not explain what the metaphor represents.
Young people already see an explicit and distorted portrayal of sex in pornography. Usually boys start to watch around the age of 13 and girls around the age of 16. Thus, it seems outdated to produce sex education resources that do not directly talk about sex.
Research shows that plain language is best for teaching young people about sexuality and relationships.
The Good Society resource attempts to use humor to engage audiences. Studies show humor can be an effective strategy in public health campaigns. however, sustainable behavior change is based on easy-to-understand messages, a feeling that the information is personally relevant to the target audience, and a sense of self-efficacy (the individual knowing how to act on the information they see).
Read more: Not only are some of the government consent videos weird and confusing, but many reinforce damaging gender stereotypes
Because the Good Society resource was confusing, the humor was also confusing. And the video failed to create a clear sense of personal relevance and self-efficacy.
Here are the videos that work best.
Australia – rhinos and astronauts
The Practical Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships was developed by expert sex education researchers at the Australian Center for Sex, Health and Society Research (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University.
The resource includes a series of humorous yet straightforward animated videos dealing with sex, pornography, relationships, consent and gender.
A video for grade 9 and 10 students illustrates sexual desire and consent using a couple of astronauts and then a couple of pirates.
While these depictions may seem as confusing as the milkshake metaphor, the metaphors in these videos are clearly explained. And the use of familiar language gives a sense of relevance. The narrators of the videos speak directly to young people:
“You’re 14, 15, 16… there’s a lot of shit going on,” says one narrator.
“It looks like electricity,” says a male narrator when lightning bolts are fired at a boy’s head.
“It’s a metaphor for everything that’s going on,” replies the narrator.
The designs are informal and attractive, unlike the soccer field diagrams used in The Good Society resource.
The video ends with a series of questions teens can ask themselves to assess whether they feel comfortable in a situation. Clear advice helps create a sense of self-efficacy.
Read more: Not as simple as ‘no means no’: what young people need to know about consent
Another video, with the same two narrators, discusses the stereotypes that women and men have to struggle with. He uses a rhino as a metaphor for sexual desire, with a man and a woman at the top.
The male voice says, “I’m the guy, I’m supposed to be ‘oh yeah, can’t wait to put his pants on.'”
Then the female voice says, “And I’m the girl, I’m supposed to be ‘uh, I don’t know, uh, I’m not sure uh…'”
Explicit caricature of Sweden
Scandinavia is known to be at the forefront of progressive sex education. the low rates of teenage pregnancy in Scandinavian countries (Norway and the Netherlands have some of the lowest teenage rates in the world and Sweden is about a quarter of that of Britain) are regularly touted as proof of its effectiveness.
In Sweden, a animated video produced by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education follows four teenagers receiving an unexpected lesson from a substitute teacher.
As they ask the teacher questions, many topics are covered, from the appearance of genitals to respect in relationships and STDs.
The animation includes a scene where two of the students try to have sex, but struggle with condoms and nerves. The scene feels very real and would be relevant to the experience of many teens.
Gay and lesbian storylines are incorporated into the narrative, making them relevant to a diverse audience. The fact that the story is animated allows for more explanation, without going into the realm of pornography.
The video is subject to an age limit, but can be viewed on YouTube.
New Zealand Pornstars
Although not part of a school education program, the New Zealand government campaign, Keep it real online, aims to help parents navigate digital security. A video shown on television is a good example of how humor can be used effectively to tackle sensitive topics.
In the clip, two pornstars visit a mother, saying her son is watching them on every device possible. What makes the video great is its ability to be funny and engaging. And at the same time, it allows the viewer to identify with the shocked boy, who is told pornstars would never act like this in real life, and with the mother, who realizes that he is. time to have a frank conversation with her son about sex.
Read more: Sex education can counter what kids learn from porn, but some teachers fear backlash when tackling ‘risky’ topics
The humor is disarming, but the lesson is clear: Porn is scripted and performed by actors, and shouldn’t be seen as real life.
And then there’s the cup of tea
And finally, there’s the well-known video that explains consent through the metaphor of offering someone a cup of tea. Again, this clearly identifies the metaphor at the start and goes through the idea of asking someone to have sex, but instead replacing sex with tea. If you ask someone if they want a cup of tea and they don’t know if they do, the video is for you
you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – and this is the important part – don’t make them drink it.
It is essential that sex education be suitable for adolescents who must not only navigate sexuality and relationships, but also deal with the proliferation of pornography and technology.
If we are to teach teens about sexual consent, we will have to talk about sex and not milkshakes.
Learn more: Young people crave a good sex education. I found a program in Mexico that works fine