Colette Sheridan: Why 'Normal People' should be compulsory for young people...

There's been outrage at nudity and sex on Irish TV -  whey are people going to grow up? So says Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Colette Sheridan: Why 'Normal People' should be compulsory for young people...
Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in a scene from Normal People.

YOU would think that in the 21st century, after all the nation has been through when it comes to sexual mores, that we would now be over sex.

You would think we would be capable of watching depictions of it in popular culture without resorting to ringing Joe Duffy.

But there are still some folk who get exercised about nudity and sex on TV, even when it’s consensual and tasteful.

When are they going to grow up and quit the outrage?

Granted, most of us are pretty much blasé about sex on the telly, although we wouldn’t fancy watching it with conservative parents, moulded as many of them were in the teachings of the Catholic church.

Quite what the clergy thinks of the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel, Normal People, with its sex scenes, I don’t know . But really, they should relax because, judging by this drama, the kids (of legal age) are all right.

Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is clearly asked for her consent before she has sex for the first time. And Connell (Paul Mescal) uses a condom. What’s not to like?

But you’ll always get a few throwbacks, reminding us of less enlightened times, when the accusation of ‘fornication’ being shown on TV is made.

A recent caller to Joe Duffy’s Liveline used that ‘F’ word while another caller was critical of the TV series for being “like something from a porno”.

Come off it. Wouldn’t you much rather your teenage children watch Normal People than hardcore porn?

The TV drama is notable for depicting sex in all its tentative awkwardness as the young couple negotiate their intense physical and emotional relationship.

Pornography, on the other hand, which is reportedly viewed by 82% of boys from about 12 years of age upwards, is used to learn how to interact with girls.

How utterly depressing and demeaning. You won’t get respectful requests for consent here. Instead, teenage boys and young men can have a warped and confused idea of consent as a result of watching pornography.

Just because a girl doesn’t emphatically say ‘no’, doesn’t mean she is willing. She may be drunk, which should preclude sexual activity. There are so many shades of uncertainty.

Some time ago, Mr Justice Michael White said that he had dealt with four cases in which “young children have committed the most serious offences” starting with “exposure to pornography on smartphones”.

Counsellors report incidents of children who mistake porn for real life, with terrible results.

A scene from Normal People, the series is currently running on RTE.
A scene from Normal People, the series is currently running on RTE.

It’s perfectly normal for young people to have sexual curiosity. But there should be nothing normal about viewing sexually explicit and often violent material.

Porn generally denigrates women and this can have catastrophic outcomes for impressionable viewers. It does nothing to foster healthy sexual relationships between couples.

A smartphone can be an entree to a dark, exploitative world which normalises degrading sex. But it’s hard to resist children’s requests for these devices.

The Tanaiste, Simon Coveney, has said that the ease of access to online pornography is “a worry for every parent in the country”. He said that “the days of self-regulation of the internet are over”.

Should Ireland block unrestricted access to porn? Would that even be possible, given the onward march of technology?

Whatever about the difficulty of blocking porn, parents and maybe teachers should have conversations with children about what they’re absorbing when they watch it.

The constant availability of women for sex is one of the myths peddled in porn. There is also the harmful message that women like men who are forceful and maybe even violent.

Perhaps Normal People should be required viewing for teenagers?

While there were the few callers to Joe Duffy that thoroughly disapproved of the sex scenes in the series, the majority of callers didn’t have any objections to it. And why would they?

Once you get over the fact that teenagers have sex, you should be encouraged to see Normal People as depicting sex that is part of a loving consensual relationship.

The chemistry between the pair is tangible. Very little happens in the series but it’s often what is unsaid that resonates with the viewer. We can read the body language. We know what the characters are thinking by their facial expressions and sometimes faltering conversations.

That we should praise the series for depicting sex in a responsible way shows that we have for the most part grown up. Apart from the terminally outraged, we have come a long way.

Nudity on TV, never mind sex, was strongly objected to back in the bad old days. Readers of a certain age may recall the hysteria over the appearance of a naked woman on an episode of the RTÉ show, Spike, in 1978.

The nude was posing for a life drawing class — behind misty glass. Not even art could excuse this shocker!

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