TV UK, 9 September

No Sex, Please – We're Teenagers: spunky teens meet Christian do-gooders.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

No Sex, Please – We’re Teenagers (BBC2, Tuesday’s at 9pm) was heavily trailed with eyeroll-inducing adverts featuring spunky teens prancing about in t-shirts emblazoned with the programme’s title, while a narrator explained that they had all been challenged to give up sex for five months.

Five months – can you imagine? Presumably this was brought down from a rounder six months on humanitarian grounds. Leaving aside the questionable hardship of such an ordeal, though, the grating thing is of course the assumption that all teenagers are having sex in the first place, an assumption that is no doubt common enough in playground bullshitting sessions, but which might not quite capture the full reality of the teenage experience.

While many teenagers will have watched the opening episode with sulky bemusement, however, clearly many others are sexually active, and if anything the programme probably gave an unduly bleak presentation of their experience. Nearly all the kids taking part claimed to have had sex for the first time while too drunk to enjoy or even remember it, and in general teenage sex was portrayed as an unthinking and sordid habit.

Enter two wide-eyed and comically ‘street’ Christian youth workers, offering not fire and brimstone nor even Christian modesty, but a ‘romance academy’ to teach the kids that truly great relationships don’t have to involve sex. The kids were also told that you don’t have to drink alcohol to do ‘crazy things’ – one of the youth workers assured them that he did crazy things all the time, a fact evidenced by his choice of clothing. The programme is basically about the peculiar clash between the exaggeratedly sexual culture of the teenagers and the unworldliness of the Christians, who are nonetheless determined to present their message within the terms of that teenage culture.

The Christian youth workers came across as genuinely well-meaning people, and the programme gently teased rather than mocking them overtly, but when they took the kids to Florida to experience the more full-on American abstinence movement, things changed. Suddenly the kids went from being dysfunctional ‘problem teenagers’ to normal, healthy British kids standing up to the crazy American fundamentalists. I swear I could hear ‘Rule Britannia’.

The highpoint came when the group was confronted with an American pastor who insisted they shouldn’t have any kind of physical contact with someone unless they intended to get married. ‘Why get on the first step unless you want to go to the top of the stairs?’ he asked. This metaphor backfired badly. ‘You have to take it one step at a time’, said one girl. ‘If you don’t like it you can always come back down’, said another, quite reasonably. The pastor wasn’t used to this.

Next week’s episode stays in the USA, where the kids are asked to join the ‘silver ring thing’, and no doubt that’ll be a wheeze. For all the entertainment value, though, this is actually much less interesting than a proper investigation of British sexual mores would be. But of course the format doesn’t lend itself to that. Far too much is taken for granted in terms of attitudes to sex, and the producers are clearly more interested in engineering embarrassing situations than exploring contemporary morality. This is ‘reality TV’.

The youth workers said they wanted to use the programme to change lives: and we’re supposed to think their attitude to teenage sex is naive?

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Topics Culture


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