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  • Ella Noonan

How TV Can Shape Our Understanding of Sexual Consent

Shows like Sex Education and I May Destroy You are paving the way in a journey to a clearer definition of consent. Gone are the days of excuses like ‘blurred lines’, and in will come a generation who knows exactly what the deal is.

TRIGGER WARNING: this post discusses themes of sexual assault, consent, and rape.

Having grown up watching films from the early noughties laced with the sexualisation of teens, and what would now be considered wildly inappropriate sex-fuelled jokes. Take the widely loved and iconic Legally Blonde, where Elle Woods’ slimy ex, describes her as looking like ‘a walking felony’. What’s now considered a joke in bad-taste, was once aimed to be a compliment of sorts. The normalisation of this incredibly suspect humour, is something that has desensitised generations to the idea of being sexually inappropriate.

In comes a new era of television, that starts to put this right.

Michaela Coel’s, I May Destroy You took the nation by storm due to its harrowing relatability and accuracy in depicting the many forms of sexual assault. On top of this, it raised an evident need for something that starts such an important discourse. It’s been described as uncomfortable, and whilst the protagonist’s story is one that’s deeply distressing, I think the most uncomfortable thing for a lot of viewers, is the realisation of what constitutes rape or sexual assault. This is where we need more content that steers the narrative away from creepy shadows that lurk in the alleyways; and instead in the direction of instances we’ve been brainwashed into letting off the hook .

Whilst our existing conceptions aren’t to be entirely disregarded, it’s only a small proportion of what’s actually happening. It’s the really cool ‘older guy’ you meet when you’re 15, the secret stealthers (removing a condom without consent), and the ones who have you saying “yeah I just gave in, in the end”. Until we stop pushing the trope of the bogeyman who creeps around dark corners, and thinking this is the only monster we need to steer clear of, people will continue brushing everything else under the rug.

Netflix’s Sex Education, is also a prime example of a show that starts to ingrain important messages into the heads of a younger audience. It’s the teen high-school drama, meets coming of age handbook, that helps fight the taboo surrounding sex, whilst demonstrating how it can be safe and consensual. One episode in particular tells the story of a girl on a bus falling victim to a man publicly wanking himself off. Something we’re programmed to cast aside, as nothing more than a weird old man, when in actuality it can have real implications on the victim’s everyday life.

So essentially, as we start to see more within mainstream TV, showing concise messages that go beyond ‘no means no’, there will be less of an uncomfortable taboo surrounding figuring it out. Once the awkwardness is removed, people can start to have open, and honest conversations, setting clear boundaries and expressing what is or isn’t okay, before it’s too late.

I may destroy you came from a place of all too many women (and men) having experienced something they shouldn’t have. Instead of victim blaming, it’s time we started teaching those who are in the wrong. This, means eradicating the rape culture we are so often desensitised to in the everyday media we consume. By weaving consent into films/tv, as often as they used to (still often do) sexualise teenage girls, we’ll be on track towards shaping the way for younger people – so that it’s not too little too late.


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