'How To Have Sex' exposes the grim gender gap for virginity, sex, and the teen holiday experience

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A young female and a young man cheers integrative cups connected a nighttime out.

Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) and Badger (Shaun Thomas) successful "How to Have Sex". Credit: Film4

Content warning: This characteristic discusses intersexual assault.

It was meant to beryllium nan "best vacation ever" but it ended up being a euphoric yet devastating life lesson. 

Molly Manning Walker's Cannes Film Festival breakout How To Have Sex takes audiences connected a sizzling, searing travel to Malia, Crete, connected a tumultuous girls trip. Three teenage champion friends Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake), and Em (Enva Lewis) person vanished their exams and are taking nan Cretan municipality by large wind successful a blur of hedonism and newfound independence. But what ensues amongst nan food vessel cocktails and sticky nightclub anthems is simply a tussle pinch toxic friendships and nan nuances of intersexual battle and consent. At its core, nan movie weaves a acheronian but important communicative of female sexuality and pressure.

How To Have Sex encourages post-watch conversations astir problematic gender and intersexual dynamics, peculiarly for young people. Walker's movie highlights nan harsh opposition betwixt nan perceived acquisition of nan "lads" and “girls” holidays, and really they are some portrayed successful celebrated British culture. As a rite of passage, it is known arsenic a travel taken by young women and men during schoolhouse aliases assemblage property – often a first solo travel abroad, moreover much often an excuse to rustle disconnected steam, statement and research sexually. 

Two teen girls hug connected a dancefloor pinch their eyes closed and smiling.

Em (Enva Lewis) and Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce). Credit: Film4

When we watch films astir “lads holidays” — deliberation The Inbetweeners, American Pie, The Hangover, 22 Jump Street — they're mostly lighthearted stories of young men connected their quest to "get laid", an experience, for amended aliases worse, that's often trivialised successful comparison to nan darker undertones of How To Have Sex and its female leads' experiences.

The movie is simply a chilling revelation of really intersexual pressures tin manifest otherwise for men and women — popular civilization represents men having a laughter arsenic they navigate their sexuality, while women are often put successful danger. This portrayal is not an mishap — it reflects nan acheronian broadside of this travel for women. One successful 16 U.S. women knowledgeable forced aliases coerced intercourse arsenic their first intersexual acquisition successful their early teens, according to a study, while a U.N. Women UK investigation recovered that 97 percent of women aged 18-24 person been sexually harassed.

How to Have Sex highlights nan gender spread successful position of early intersexual experiences

Three young women giggle together.

Skye (Lara Peake), Em (Enva Lewis), and Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce). Credit: Film4

For sexologist and narration therapist Madalaine Munro, this highlights a gender spread erstwhile it comes to inherent information wrong early intersexual experiences, and really it has go normalised. Clinical scientist Dr. Sarah Bishop adds that nan lighter portrayal of antheral intersexual experiences “trivialises antheral intersexual exploration, often without addressing nan consequences aliases complexities involved.”

Walker’s investigation while making nan movie revealed astonishing attitudes towards consent and intersexual battle successful younger generations. In an question and reply with Empire, she described “mind-blowing” pre-shoot workshops pinch teens during which immoderate girls expressed views that veered towards victim blaming. When nan accumulation squad asked their attraction group to publication a segment of intersexual battle from nan film, "they’d beryllium like, 'I don’t spot immoderate issues pinch this scene,'" Walker said, pinch 1 subordinate saying: "Girls person to deterioration amended clothes. They person to protect themselves and not get drunk." Victim blaming aside, it's clear that young women are absorbing societal messages that nan onus of preventing intersexual battle falls to those astir vulnerable. 

Conversations request to beryllium had astir nan vulnerable consequences of unfortunate blaming, peculiarly amongst women successful female relationship groups.

The head described How To Have Sex arsenic "the benignant of movie we request correct now… 1 we’ve needed for a long, agelong time". Conversations request to beryllium had astir nan vulnerable consequences of unfortunate blaming, peculiarly amongst women successful female relationship groups.

"When nine teaches women to beryllium competitive, dismissive, and weary of each different it adds to nan deficiency of information each female inherently feels,” Munro explains. "It besides creates a subtle communicative for women normalising mistreatment — that it is OK to beryllium treated poorly by some men and women. This makes unit against women much vulnerable because they consciousness isolated successful it, and they can't spot others for support while going done traumatic events."

The movie navigates nan nuances of consent onscreen

A teen woman looks profoundly superior astatine a party.

Credit: Film4

The movie besides dives heavy into nan nuances of consent, arsenic protagonist Mia (played to perfection by McKenna-Bruce) encounters aggregate intersexual assaults from a “lad” her friends meet and statement pinch connected nan Malia strip, Paddy (Samuel Bottomley). She's depicted saying “no” repeatedly, past “yes” successful 1 instance, pinch clear antagonistic and uncomfortable assemblage connection passim each of nan interactions, causing nan spectator to deliberation profoundly astir what consent genuinely is, and really it cannot beryllium binary and must beryllium continuous. More than that, consent tin beryllium withdrawn astatine immoderate shape – and Tara’s acquisition onscreen brings attraction to this often overlooked fact. Here, we spot that “giving in” and saying “yes” aft saying “no” many times beforehand does not needfully count arsenic consent. 

“We are witnessing a modulation wherever consent wasn’t spoken astir successful nan mainstream possibly a decade ago, truthful arsenic a nine we are catching up pinch learning astir consent,” Munro says. “For many, nuances successful consent whitethorn beryllium profoundly misunderstood because we are surviving wrong an infrastructure which wasn’t built to recognise them.” She adds that “consent acquisition astatine schools is truthful important, to thief children and teenagers understand really to find their ain yes aliases no, and besides really to process personification else's no.”

"For many, nuances successful consent whitethorn beryllium profoundly misunderstood because we are surviving wrong an infrastructure which wasn’t built to recognise them."

The pressures astir damaging trivialisation of “virginity” is besides explored, pinch Tara’s friend Skye threatening to retired her intersexual inexperience successful a crippled of Never Have I Ever. She tells Tara, "if you don’t get laid this holiday, you ne'er will," perfectly demonstrating nan toxic competitory constituent of intersexual find and experimentation, and really adjacent unit influences and exacerbates it. It brings attraction to really problematic “virginity” is arsenic a conception – aft all, it exists arsenic a socially constructed thought wrong a patriarchal building to devalue women, including Tara and her friends.

It encapsulates nan onus that is applied to one’s first intersexual experience, and nan measurement this tin warp our expectations to a vulnerable degree. Bishop advises that discussions astir virginity request to displacement from judgement and shame to 1 that focuses connected “personal prime and autonomy”, adding that stories onscreen should picture “a scope of experiences and situation stereotypes”, starring america to a much realistic and inclusive portrayal of virginity. This should thief to dismantle harmful narratives, but earlier these conversations tin shift, nan antagonistic quality of nan position quo has to beryllium highlighted.

Two teen girls guidelines wearing achromatic dresses successful a takeaway shop.

Credit: Film4

In nan aftermath of her intersexual assault, we spot Tara run successful silence, incapable to put into words what happened to her. She speaks of really “strong” Paddy is, really he "knew what he was doing”, but nan vocabulary of battle is ne'er used. It’s a heartbreaking illustration of nan request for amended acquisition astir this subject, truthful that young people, whether they are victims aliases not, tin definitive themselves astir and telephone retired this behaviour.

“From a psychological perspective, activity acquisition is captious to thief group create nan affectional and cognitive skills basal for knowing consent, building patient relationships, and reducing nan stigma astir nan issues,” Bishop says, adding that a deficiency of acquisition increases nan likelihood of assaults occurring owed to group being unaware of what constitutes intersexual unit and abusive behaviour.

"For immoderate women, this behaviour tin beryllium truthful normalised that they whitethorn not moreover realise that it is maltreatment until they spot it connected nan screen."

Munro adds that this soundlessness and deficiency of connection aft battle is portion of a larger image that involves deficiency of barriers to resources for victims – authorities investigation successful January 2023 saw a simplification successful condemnation rates crossed home maltreatment (2.1 percent) and rape (7.2 percent). As good arsenic pushing, campaigning and insisting connected amended activity education, instigating these important conversations done film, TV and different mediums is crucial.

“When consent and unit is portrayed connected screen, it tin springiness a sound to women who whitethorn not consciousness they person one. It whitethorn thief them to understand nan effect of what they person been done successful a much accessible way,” Munro says. 

“For immoderate women, this behaviour tin beryllium truthful normalised that they whitethorn not moreover realise that it is maltreatment until they spot it connected nan screen."

How to Have Sex makes plain nan value of men holding different men responsible

A teen boy pinch bleached hairsbreadth and a cervix tattoo of a lipstick people looks concerned.

Badger (Shaun Thomas). Credit: Film4

Another immense conveyance for alteration erstwhile it comes to intersexual battle and unit against women is exploring really men tin thief successful preventing and challenging it – and How To Have Sex depicts this important rumor perfectly. Alongside Paddy, we person nan dubiously named Badger (played by Shaun Thomas), who forms his ain relationship pinch Tara and intelligibly holds suspicions astir imaginable sinister behaviour from his mate. But, significantly, he says thing to effort and extremity it. He comforts Tara, sure, pinch anemic comments astir really agelong he’s known his friend — arsenic if relationship long negates nan harm and his complicity.  

Tackling this tricky dynamic, and nan value of men holding different men responsible for their actions, is 1 of nan film’s biggest achievements. 

“Engaging men and boys is very overmuch portion of nan solution to ending antheral unit against women and girls,” Rebecca Hitchen, caput of argumentation and campaigns astatine nan End Violence Against Women Coalition tells Mashable. “Women consistently opportunity they want men to telephone retired unacceptable views and behaviour amongst their adjacent groups, and to beryllium adjuvant bystanders. This intends naming problematic behaviour erstwhile you spot it, confronting your ain ideas astir masculinity and sometimes intervening successful harassment and battle successful safe ways.”

Munro insists that portraying nan effect of men not holding different men accountable connected surface is important, showing nan effect of enabling and perpetuating abuse. “The modular of what is socially acceptable past changes, arsenic we spot pinch outdated perceptions of consent, maltreatment and violence,” she says.

Tackling this tricky dynamic, and nan value of men holding different men responsible for their actions, is 1 of nan film’s biggest achievements. 

One of Walker’s halfway missions pinch How To Have Sex was to radiance a ray connected nan “gap successful acquisition astir consent” – she has done this and more, isolating shadowy corners of sexuality and holding them to nan light. Munro calls films for illustration this “pivotal for bringing conversations astir consent and intersexual pressures forward”.

“When we look astatine aged romanticist comedies, immoderate of nan behaviour normalises nonconsensual, harmful behaviour,” she says. “So films and stories that talk consent and intersexual challenges tin thief group to place things that we subordinate to but whitethorn not person words for.” 

Hitchen adds: "We’re still a agelong measurement from shifting nationalist attitudes to sex, and it’s important that this is tackled not only done acquisition and nationalist campaigns, but successful celebrated civilization for illustration films, TV shows, books, nan media and beyond, which drives a important portion of what we find acceptable and really we collectively deliberation and behave.”

How To Have Sex, and films for illustration it past and present, tin guidelines beardown alongside different run methods to alteration really we speak astir sexuality and assault, and really they are navigated successful nan future.

How To Have Sex is now showing successful U.S. cinemas. This portion has been republished for nan release, primitively tally pinch nan UK merchandise successful Nov. 2023.


If you person knowledgeable intersexual abuse, telephone nan free, confidential National Sexual Assault hotline astatine 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), aliases entree nan 24-7 thief online by visiting online.rainn.org.

UPDATE: Jan. 18, 2024, 1:18 p.m. EST This reappraisal is being republished arsenic portion of Mashable's 2024 Sundance coverage.

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