Sex has always been portrayed in TV, movies and shows, but it’s changed over time to educate people about sex.
In a time when sex education varies between different states and local school districts, TV shows and films are filling in the gaps for some teens and young adults.
In 2018, a Healthline survey of more than 1,000 Americans found that only 33% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 reported having some form of sex education in school.
And a 2020 study from the Journal of LGBT Youth found that a majority of gay and lesbian college students “expressed that their formal sex education was lacking and that they sought out or received information from other informal sources to supplement their learning.”
Those informal resources included internet forums, popular films, music and TV shows.
When it comes to television, teen dramas like the long-running series “Degrassi” has been paving the way.
Since 1987, when “Degrassi Junior High” first debuted, the franchise about students at a Canadian junior high and high school has highlighted the issues of teen pregnancy, abortion, STDs and sexual assault. In 1992, the U.S. Department of Education even developed a sex education curriculum that used episodes of “Degrassi” as starting points for classroom discussion.
“Degrassi” now spans five different series across three generations of viewers and represents teens and families of various cultures, as well as varying sexual and gender identities. Its newest iteration is slated to debut on HBO Max in 2023.
As “Degrassi” served almost like the blueprint for sex education in teen dramas, a series for older viewers, ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder,” made history with its own advocacy for safe sexual health within the LGBTQ community.
The series centers on a group of law school students and their professor. And in 2018, it became the first network primetime series to highlight pre-exposure prophylaxis, more commonly known as “PrEP,” a medication that reduces the risk of spreading HIV.
The series’ discussion of PrEP, as well as the representation of a character living with HIV, was praised by organizations like GLAAD and Greater Than AIDS for the way it educated audiences without stigmatizing the issue.
“How To Get Away With Murder” ended in 2020, but sex education in TV has continued.
Today’s teen dramas like Netflix’s new “Heartbreak High” or the critically acclaimed and aptly named “Sex Education” are poking fun at the limitations of real-life sex education in schools, while advocating for honest and informative conversations about sex, consent, body positivity and healthy relationships.
“Sex Education” tells the story of the son of a sex therapist who gives relationship advice to his peers. Both critics and health experts have praised the show for its informative humor and nuance about the realities of sex. The fourth and final season of the series is expected to be released next year.