When is sex not sex? When it’s agenda, by Corisande Pick
The new touring show by This Egg theatre company (premiering in Bath at the Theatre Royal on April 30th and touring to the Tobacco Factory Bristol and to The Garage, Norwich as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Arts Festival) bills itself as a “fun and silly about the painfully AWKWARD subject of sex”.
However, a closer look at the website, and especially the “educational materials” attached, suggests an agenda that is not so much silly as sinister.
Who Is It For?
This is a show in which, notably, some of the cast will strip naked in from of the audience.
So it’s an adult show, right?
The first thing encountered on the site is a blurb describing the show, interspersed with speech bubbles giving quotes by audience members. The second quote (“Anybody of any age can watch this. It’s so accessible!”) is attributed to ‘audience member’.
Which audience member? It can’t be The Family Sex Show, because that’s still in production and nobody outside the cast has yet seen it. At best, it tells us that the theatre company made another show once, which one person said was for anyone, but this isn’t that show.
The quote comes above the actual age recommendation for the show: 5+
That can’t be right
I’m afraid it is.
Parents thinking of taking their 5-year old to a show that explores “boundaries, pleasure, consent, queerness, sex...” and which ‘contains nakedness’, are invited to click through to see still photos of the performance.
Only there aren’t any. In their place, a message that they are not ready.
Similarly, we’re advised “if knowing what happens in the show might make you more comfortable, a pre-show document will be available from 28th April” .
The day of the first performance.
What exactly is going on here?
The company claims the show is “a response” to the National Curriculum on RSE (Relationships and Sex Education). Elsewhere, they say they want the show to be “an alternative” to it, to “replace” it, and to “riff off it”.
The show certainly differs from the advice in several ways.
The National Curriculum guidelines for 5 - 11 year olds emphasise building healthy relationships with family, friends and others. There’s a great emphasis on respecting each other, respecting boundaries and empowering children to set them. The focus is on the child’s developing ability to say “no” for themselves, in social contexts, before (at 11+) moving on to sexual boundaries.
By contrast, the Family Sex Show talks about “using pleasure to explore consent”.
If that means anything other than “try it and see if you like it” (a standard technique used to override a person’s boundaries), it means consent to the thing that might (or might not) “give pleasure” is already assumed. Because until the thing is actually occurring, the issue of pleasure (or its opposite) doesn’t arise.
It’s also a common trope, when sexual abuse is reported, to claim it wasn’t abuse if the victim enjoyed it (or appeared to, or if they were unable to indicate that they did not enjoy it). This puts the onus for stopping abuse on the victim.
In child sexual abuse, in particular, one of the burdens survivors carry is that of blaming themselves & feeling that something in them was what “attracted” the abuse —rather than the reality, which is that abusers constantly seek out opportunity and access.
In contexts where sexual abuse alternates with physical or emotional abuse (particularly likely when CSA occurs in the family), victims may even feel relief when the abuse is sexual. It’s the “at least I’m not being beaten” syndrome.
Way down on the FAQ’s appears the question “Will I be able to leave?” To which the answer is “of course!”
It goes on to say that if you do leave, you should come back in again, or come to one of the Family Sex Show workshops.
Why? Because if you leave “too early” - ie leave when you want to - you might leave with “misunderstandings”.
"Something that feels uncomfortable enough for you to want to leave might mean you miss out on the good bit that’s coming, honest.
This is not how you empower people to withdraw their consent when they want: the power that makes consent meaningful.
This is not about respecting boundaries - this is about overriding boundaries. It’s about trying to reframe refusal as “misunderstanding”, with a dose of patronising “you don’t realise how creative we’re being here.”
By then way, apologies to Chris Morris if we’re actually leaking the next series of ‘Brass Eye’ by mistake.
Back to the show
Suppose someone in the audience feels deeply uncomfortable. Mindful of this advice, though, she grits her teeth, reminds herself that it’s “creative”, and hangs on for the good bit, the bit that will dissolve away her “misunderstanding”.
And it doesn’t come.
What then? She consented to stay, didn’t she?
As they say of victims of domestic abuse - often in fatal contexts - “she could have left”.
And now consider a family: parents & kids (5+, remember). One of the children feels uncomfortable. The parents remind him it’s creative. Who gets to decide whether to leave or to stay? What power does a five-year-old have to set their boundary if an older sibling or parent thinks it’s fine?
And now consider a family where abuse is already happening, or where a groomer is moving towards Child Sexual Abuse.
How to ensure silence & compliance, allay suspicion, teach your intended victim and those around them that there’s nothing wrong with it, that ‘everybody does it’?
Tickets to the show!
Workshops? What workshops?
There is no information on what these workshops consist of, or who they’re aimed at (presumably children 5+) or what vetting or safeguarding procedures are in place, or what training and accreditation the workshop leaders possess.
They want to “respond to” the National Curriculum on RSE. No, they want to “replace it”. Or “riff off it”.
How do they know what needs replacing?
Are they educators, child psychologists, experts in children’s development...?
Um... no they’re not. They’re theatre arts graduates.
And they are quite clear that what they DON’T do, as a theatre company, is work in education.
So clear they say it twice, under two separate headings: “Is This Theatre in Education?” (Answer: no it isn’t) and “Why is it… not in schools?”
Why is it not in schools?
“There are a few difficulties with making TFSS a schools performance.”
One of the difficulties is that the entire company would have to pass safeguarding and vetting.
Oddly enough they don’t mention that.
Also: no RSE lessons involve the teacher and other unrelated and unvetted adults getting naked in from of a class of 5-year olds. They don’t mention that either.
Instead, they go on to say that if they worked in schools they’d “probably have to follow a government syllabus of some kind”.
Probably? Don’t they know? My own experience with Theatre in Education is long past: but no: we did not have to “follow a syllabus”. We developed a show that was age-appropriate, around a topic the syllabus covered indirectly. .
They don’t do the show in schools, - where there’s a statutory duty of child protection, professional training in safeguarding, and vetting of adults who interact with the children - because “a lot of the time schools (and their teachers) don’t feel equipped to teach this topic”.
The arrogance and recklessness of this is astonishing.
So they don’t know, and don’t care to find out, what’s going on in schools, feel that schools and teachers aren’t up to the job anyway, but want their show to REPLACE the curriculum?
Because they’re all people in the cast who feel they have stories to tell - the show is “stories... based on the performers’ own personal experiences”.
And at least some of them, adults, are happy to talk about and act out stories from their own sexual experiences.
In front of children.
Yikes! At least it doesn’t get any worse.
Here’s where it gets worse. The website, embellished with cheery pop-up graphics, is intended to be an informative educational resource, perhaps for parents, perhaps for children, to “explore further”. It includes a section of “Stats and Facts” and a “Glossary, produced by the official-sounding “School of Sexuality Education”
These are remarkable in a number of ways. There is way too much to go into line-by-line, so I’ll group them around ways in which they are problematic.
Both the glossary and “facts and stats” are full of distortions. For example, both repeat the lie that “until 1967, it was illegal to be queer in the U.K.” This is nonsense: a straightforward lie. The terms “queer” or “queerness” have never appeared in U.K. law.
What WAS illegal in England & Wales until 1967 and until 1980 in Scotland and 1982 in Northern Ireland, were sexual acts between consenting adult males. Male homosexuals - men sexually attracted to men - had their sexuality stigmatised and prosecuted.
Which makes it odd that the glossary doesn’t find room for the term “homosexual” at all.
It’s even odder that the first of several repetitions of this lie comes, in the glossary. under the term “dyke”.
Lesbian sexual acts have NEVER been illegal in this country. Ever. (An age of consent, 16, was first established in 2000).
There are a number of stories as to why sexual acts between women were never illegal (most apocryphal: it’s not true about Queen Victoria refusing to sign an Act that mentioned lesbianism into law) but underlying the omission was a patriarchal ignorance about female sexual pleasure, and a sense that it wasn’t “really” sex if it didn’t involve a penis.*
And here it is again! Subsuming women’s experiences and history into that of a male default, and erasing the history of gay men’s struggle for liberation in one go. All wiped out and rebranded as “Queer”.
A “dyke,” by the way, like “lesbian“, is defined as anyone who identifies as one.
Well, at least it can’t get much worse
Here’s where it gets much worse.
The glossary and the “facts and stats“ consistently lie about sex.
Don’t get me wrong: they are mostly accurate (or at least I’ll take their words for it) about a vast range of sexual acts, from BDSM (introducing kids as young as five to the concept of sexual pleasure through causing pain), “playparties” and “pegging” to “outercourse” and “frottage”.
I’m just surprised “scat” and “age-play” didn’t make the cut: what held them back?
There are so many of these that when you see terms like “Aisle” and “Foyer” and “Green Room” you find yourself wondering what fresh euphemistic hell this is - and then click through and find the glossary also includes words for talking about the theatre, and aisle & foyer & green room mean what they mean elsewhere.
But the lies are about human bodies and about sexual attraction. Which you would think - for a show “about bodies” - would be something to get right?
No. We have the usual unscientific nonsense like AFAB (assigned female at birth), giving the entirely false idea that sex is assigned by doctors when in fact it is observed and recorded well before birth.
We also have the elision of both sex and sexuality into the inconsistent concept of “gender”.
In the glossary, the entry for “gender” begins “Gender is a construct, which means it is given a definition (which can change) by society.”
Great! No problem with that. Change your gender as often as you change your socks!
But then it goes on to say “someone’s gender relates to who they know they are in their minds.”
This is closer to what one might call “gender identity”, a term that seems to have vanished from view along with the clownfish: could it be that revelations about the founder of that term’s calls to destigmatise paedophilia have made it toxic? Or is it because keeping ‘gender’ as vague and ‘inclusive’ as possible is an advantage to some?
Going by these definitions, gender is a social construct, but it’s also in your head?
Plus, of course, we don’t know what’s in people’s heads. We have to infer it from people’s actions and from their words: what they tell us about themselves and what they actually do.
And - relevant to safeguarding again - when people lie about themselves, we don’t usually realise it until their actions give them away and they do harm.
And then, the glossary helpfully adds, “you can use whatever words around gender that might work for you.”
Well: no. You can’t. Not if you want to communicate. You need words that you can understand and that will be broadly understood by others, for everything.
For example, if you want to communicate your discomfort or distress at unwanted sexual behaviours, indicate your consent or lack of consent, and be understood by others, you need words which will be understood.
The What? That Dare Not Speak Its Name
One word they could benefit from using ‘around gender’ is ‘sex’.
Because all their definitions of sexualities and sexual orientations are defined as attractions to ‘gender’.
Which, given that gender is either a social construct or an idea in someone’s head, is a bit improbable.
In particular, this erases homosexuality. Not only does the word not appear, but “gay” is defined as “attracted to people of the same gender”. Does that mean attracted to people with the same “social construct” as you? People with the same “idea in their heads”?
And this is connected to the definition of “identify”, which specifies “if you identify as gay, you are gay.”
Given the numerous “genders” also in the glossary, the chances of meeting someone of “the same gender” must be very small.
And of course “transgender” is defined as “people who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth”.
To appreciate how circular this is, put the definitions of gender into the sentence above.
Transgender people “don’t identify with the [social construct made up by people, that can change] they were assigned at birth”.
Or, transgender people “don’t identify with [who they know they are in their minds] they were assigned at birth”.
It’s all nonsense, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s confusing, dangerous nonsense aimed at children aged five and up.
As Marx and Engels wrote, talking about the impetus for ever-expanding capitalist exploitation to dissolve all social norms and relationships and sell them back to us as commodified parodies of themselves, “All that is solid melts into air”.
The glossary accurately defines misogyny - “hatred of or prejudice against women” - and then performs a magic trick by making some of the commonest expressions of misogyny vanish into thin air.
So we have ‘gender-based violence’ (violence based on an idea in people’s heads?) and ‘gender-inequality’.
And how shall we fight “hatred or prejudice against women?” Well, not with feminism, the movement for the liberation of women. This is defined by them as working “for the equality of people of all genders”.
Working for the equality of all people is known as “humanism”.
At least they’re anti-misogny
But they aren’t. Having defined misogyny, the glossary then enacts and normalises it with the word TERF. It’s glossed as a neutral term for “A person who excludes the rights of transgender women from their work on women’s rights”.
Anyone who has followed the behaviour of Trans Activists will know that the slur “TERF“ is used exclusively for women, and is probably the most current verbal expression of misogyny around. It is used to tag women as acceptable targets for violence.
As Mr Justice Julian Knowles, High Court Judge, said in the case of Miller v. College of Policing (2019) “It is a derogatory term used by those who seek to deplatform those who hold different views”. These views, as an employment tribunal established (Forstater v CGD, 2021) established, are legally protected.
So why is a glossary for a show and company that claims to want “equality” and “looks forward to a future without shame” endorsing a derogatory, misogynist term that seeks to shame women out of expressing their legally protected views? Who does this serve?
Far down on the FAQ’s page comes a question about the show that anyone who’s read this far must be wondering about: “Where Does This Sit With Safeguarding?”
It’s worth looking closely at what’s going on here.
They begin with
“An interesting question...” (ellipsis theirs).
Yes: ISN’T it just? How about answering it? Or showing how the show fits with the framework of safeguarding in which adults working with children have to be trained? How about telling us what training in safeguarding the cast have received?
No: they don’t do that.
They go on to say “in our society (UK), talking about sex isn’t normalised. And if a child does talk openly about sex, we are trained in safeguarding that this might be a red flag...”
There’s no indication they are trained in safeguarding at all. They do, further down, link to the NSPCCs guidelines, but don’t seem to have read them.
They continue by giving themselves a pat on the back: “One of the aims of the Family Sex Show is to promote safeguarding.”
Hmmm: if that were so, perhaps they’d be able to answer the question “How does this sit with safeguarding?” without this throat-clearing and obfuscation.
“It has been made with the aim that informing young people about their rights and their bodies is a key aspect in sexual violence prevention”.
As we have seen, the show in fact tells lies to children about their bodies, misinforms them about the history of gay rights and for women’s rights, and denies women the right to name reality and set boundaries without facing abuse.
But if you can overlook the blithe hypocrisy of it all, I agree that giving children the language, information and the space to express concerns helps prevent... what? What do they think safeguarding is preventing?
“Sexual violence” says ThisEgg.
Many forms of abuse, including sexual abuse, take place with no discernible violence. Grooming itself can be viewed is a series of activities designed to prevent an abuser needing to use violence to get what he wants (though it’s always available if needed).
The ignorance shown here is both astonishing & frightening.
And they immediately go on - not to tell us what safeguarding is - but to offer a series of examples of what safeguarding IS NOT, as well as demonstrating how not to inform about safeguarding.
They continue: “Knowledge of sex and sexuality wouldn’t on its own trigger a safeguarding concern.”
Wouldn’t it, though?
The National Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children thinks differently.
In the section on possible signs a child is being abused or groomed it lists the following: “Problematic Sexual Behaviour”, defined as “developmentally inappropriate or socially unexpected sexualised behaviour”.
This is aside from more harmful inappropriately sexualised behaviours, including children sexually abusing their peers.
What is and isn’t “developmentally inappropriate” is, obviously, not entirely objective. But I think most sane people would think a five-year-old suddenly discussing “pegging” and describing the penises of adult performers, was “developmentally inappropriate”.
Indeed the NSPCC lists “sexual interest in adults” as another warning sign for possible sexual abuse of children.
But continuing on their track of talking about safeguarding while demonstrating how not to do it, ThisEgg launches into an “example”, not of safeguarding, but of how to dismiss a safeguarding concern - if a child has bruises, the responsible adult asks, and the child says they fell in the playground.
End of story, according to ThisEgg: “Therefore these answers may not require further action”.
This is an astonishingly ignorant approach, and totally at odds with NSPCC guidelines, which are clear about the difficulties abused children have about opening up.
Abused children, like other victims, may make excuses, have a cover story, and - especially with sexual abuse within the family - may feel obliged to lie to protect the abuser.
The NSPCC recommendations include building trust with the child, keeping a diary about everything disclosed, speaking to others, talking to a helpline councillor.
ThisEgg recommends accepting the first plausible excuse, and moving on.
Paedophiles & Groomers, Book Your Tickets Now
If a child discloses inappropriate sexual knowledge - they give “knowing about vulvas” as an example, but may also be telling the other 5-year-olds about pegging or bondage, or some of the other adult sexual behaviours advertised in the glossary - this is what TheFamilySexShow’s FAQs instructs concerned adults:
“These statements might warrant open, follow-up questions”. (It’s worth noting they give no examples, not even bad ones, of what these open follow-up questions might be).
And then, the kicker:
“A response from the child such as “I saw the Family Sex Show at the Theatre” would be a reasonable response they were not in fact at risk”.
This is not how to do safeguarding: this is how to evade safeguarding concerns, how to dismiss possible disclosure, how to shut down and gaslight victims.
Sexual abusers groom their victims and potential victims, but they also groom everyone around them, especially adults who should act as gatekeepers. This gives adults excuses to look the other way, to ignore victims’ disclosure, to wash their hands of the responsibility of looking too close, while the abuser continues with impunity.
There are, always, far more people willing to turn a blind eye to abuse than there are actual abusers.
And here is a theatre company, funded with public money, that’s giving them a perfect excuse.