Streaming video is rapidly displacing traditional over-the-air broadcast and Pay TV in American homes. Seven in ten U.S. households (69%) now access streaming video on demand (SVOD) via Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
Americans streamed 42 billion hours of Netflix in 2015, accounting for about 6% of a typical household’s television viewing; and 61% of U.S. consumers rate their streaming video service as more important than their smartphone data plans, landline telephone, and print or digital news subscriptions. For many young people in America, watching television now means streaming a program or series over a web-connected device.
Because of the growing importance of streaming video as a means of accessing and enjoying entertainment media, the Parents Television Council is adding a regular feature to our blog, looking at and evaluating streaming video from a parental perspective.
Many parents would never even consider a subscription to HBO or Cinemax because of the risk of unwanted exposure to explicit sexual content and nudity that these channels are known for; but no doubt many of those same parents do subscribe to Netflix.
The appeal of Netflix for parents is understandable: No commercials and a large catalogue of child and family-friendly entertainment available on demand. But no doubt many Netflix subscribers are either unaware of or underestimate the significant risks and downsides, particularly if you have teens in the house.
For the last couple of years, the Parents Television Council has been sounding the alarm on teen-targeted series like 13 Reasons Why, which glorifies suicide and has been linked to a spike in Google searches on how to commit suicide; and Big Mouth, which sexualizes pubescent children in disturbing ways. The streaming service recently added Sex Education, a new UK-produced, teen-targeted series that features frank discussions about sex, explicit depictions of sex and nudity, and something more that even HBO and Cinemax rarely show: male genitalia.
Kelly Lawler, writing for USA Today observes, “It’s not a particularly groundbreaking setup for a show on the streaming service, which unlike broadcast networks is unencumbered by FCC regulations. Netflix luxuriates in the risque, from sex and profanity in House of Cards to violence in Marvel’s The Punisher… In contrast to premium cable channels like HBO, streaming services (especially Netflix and Hulu) are actively courting teen and pre-teen viewers. And with some programming, they’re doing so by being as filthy as teens themselves can be in real life.”
Even before the opening credits of the first episode roll, viewers see two high schoolers having sex; the girl’s breasts are fully exposed, and she asks her boyfriend, Adam “Do you like my tits? …Do you want to come on them?” In the following scene, viewers are introduced to Otis — a socially awkward teenage boy whose mother is a sex therapist – who pretends to have masturbated by putting lotion in a wadded-up tissue and leaving a pornographic magazine open on his bed. This, apparently, is to satisfy his mother’s expectation that he should be masturbating. Otis’ home is filled with erotic art, sculptures of phalluses and sex toys; as well as a changing rotation of his mother’s lovers. He is deeply embarrassed by his mother, and no one, except his best friend, knows what she does for a living until he is “outed” by Adam, who circulates a clip of Otis’ mother in an instructional video stroking a plastic phallus and describing, in graphic terms, how to make a man climax.
Adam, we later learn, suffers from performance anxiety because of the reputation he has earned for being well-endowed and the pressure of being the headmaster’s son. He takes Viagra so that he can climax during sex with his girlfriend. Otis and Maeve, the school “slut,” find him hiding in a bathroom stall with a large and painful erection caused by the Viagra. Otis counsels him through his problems, and Maeve hits on a money-making scheme using Otis’ preternatural knowledge of sexual problems and pathologies.
And so it goes for this series: wall-to-wall, beginning-to-end, non-stop depictions of or discussions of sex in the most explicit and graphic terms. Adam drops his pants in front of his peers during lunch so they can all see his genitals. The camera zooms-in on his penis and scrotum between his legs from behind. A short video clip on Otis’ television shows a woman rolling a man’s testicles between her fingers.
If ever a series was designed purely to appeal to the prurient interests of the viewers, this is it. If ever a series was produced for nothing but shock-value, this is it. If ever a series was without any redeeming value, this is it.
Despite all the pseudo-scientific psycho-babble layered-in to make Sex Education seem weighty and serious, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s really just a teen-targeted vehicle for nudity and explicit sexual content.