Staging the conversation: The Family Sex Show
The Family Sex Show is as revolutionary as it sounds. It’s an all-singing, all-dancing, all-accepting way to make an important point: we need to talk openly with children about sex, love and relationships.
Billing itself as fun and silly – a chance to “laugh at the oh-so-serious & painfully awkward subject of sex” – The Family Sex Show is entertaining and educational, aiming to encourage self-acceptance and confidence in children and adults. With its playful song-and-dance numbers and sincere monologues, it works.
There are songs about consent (“Our bits belong to us”) and the clitoris (“Why can’t I find it?!”). Katie introduces herself with: “I live in a fat body.” Amelia, who’s blind, talks about the first time she “spoke my truth: that I like different people and I don’t mind what body they come in”. In one transfixing scene Mark the redhead lifts Kimberley from her wheelchair and they do a slow, delicate dance, finally spinning around then coming to rest on the stage, their arms in parallel.
The Family Sex Show acknowledges everyone’s awkwardness; its honesty is liberating. About heartbreak: “Things go wrong and people don’t always like you back.” About how difficult it is to override social conditioning: “All the grown-ups in the world get scared talking about sex.” Brilliantly, someone rotates a sign saying “sex” on one side and “relationships” on the other.
Because Outspoken Sex Ed is in the business of encouraging parents to talk openly with their children about sex and relationships, show creator Josie Dale-Jones consulted with us on our approach to changing the sex-ed conversation. The Family Sex Show – amplifying that conversation through creativity – is structured around workshops run by the sex-positive organisation Sexplain. Dale-Jones and her team are now developing wraparound activities to brief parents on the show’s themes beforehand and engage families afterwards.
At the post-show discussions – chaired by ex-Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner on 19 and 20 September at the Incubator Ideas Festival in Bath – Dale-Jones explains that she wants children to see The Family Sex Show not in school but, as the name implies, with someone they trust so they can then to go off and, over time, discuss the impressions it made.
And they do talk. Parents report that seeing the show provides great common ground for ongoing conversation. What resonates for the young people is that the characters lar around, are vulnerable, don’t present themselves as authorities. “It was brave that they took off all their clothes just to help us learn,” commented one child. Another said: “I love the silliness because it’s like with me and my friends.”
It also makes a massive impact seeing such diversity, tenderness and frankness onstage. One audience member says that she sometimes focused on the BSL (British sign language) interpreter as a way to manage the strength of her reactions. A man who’s taught biology for 20 years says that he was almost in tears – this show, he reckons, needs to be seen by thousands of children.
The audience responses are rapturous:
“It’s like Pixar meets Sesame Street meets Flight of the Conchords”
“I’d love to see it with my kids”
“I’d love to see it with my parents. Some people can’t talk to their parents even as adults”
“Anybody of any age can watch this. It’s so accessible”
“It’s a leveller of generations – I didn’t know some of this stuff!”
“We are all products of awful sex ed, so it’s instructive for everyone”
“It reminds you of the fun about sex”
“We wanted to put pleasure at the forefront of the show,” agrees Dale-Jones. “We want to take people to new places. You might like some things, you might hate some things – but mostly we want to take you with us.”
We are definitely along for the ride.
The Family Sex Show was presented on 19 and 20 September at the Incubator Ideas Festival 2019 run by The Egg at the Theatre Royal Bath. To find out more about the show, email email@example.com