Girls and boys come out to talk

Gerard Kelly

LIVING AND GROWING: LOVE TALK. Channel 4. Mondays. 11-11.15am. To October 20 Age range: 11-14.

Of all the problems associated with discussing sex with teenagers, the most intractable must surely be getting them to talk about it free from the sneers of peers or the censure of adults.

The solution devised by the makers of this programme is to bank on the maturity of the girls, segregate five of them in a studio with a curiously restrained Gaby Roslin and let them react to the attitudes of the snigger-prone opposite sex. The boys, at least in the first four programmes, are interviewed individually in filmed snippets, answering such questions as "What do girls want?"; "What do boys want?"; "Who makes the first move?" and so on. Under this format, adolescent boys prove to be surprisingly candid ("I'm a virgin"), unsurprisingly vulgar ("She's worth a squirt"), and vulnerable ("The first day I came out as gay I got abused 14 times").

The girls in the programmes, who appear a few years older than the target audience, are positively world-weary in comparison: "I liked the guy, I'd had a few drinks and I asked him out"; "I don't know where guys get the idea that girls aren't interested in sex."

Throughout, Ms Roslin is at pains not to appear too judgmental, though at times the smile flashes and the teeth grit.

After supplying us with what they think girls look for in boys (emotional commitment, sensitivity, personality, money and the odd muscle) the boys unhesitatingly provide us with the type of women they would like to date (Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Pamela Anderson, Naomi Campbell).

After discussing what the sexes think of each other and themselves, and how to manage intimacy or the lack of it, the series deals with some of the consequences of sex: sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. The programme is adept at not steering the discussion to any one conclusion. Abortion, adoption, keeping the child, for instance, are explored as options, each equally valid. The only emphatic conclusion is that if people choose to have sex, they must make sure it's safe.

This is a captivating series. I know a number of thirtysomethings who would benefit from seeing it, let alone teenagers. The only points I would make are that the ingenious gender apartheid that allows so much frank exchange would be difficult to replicate in a classroom where everybody knows one another.

"Remember," Gaby intones at one point "everybody is different, and who and what you find attractive is your choice." I can only dimly recall my first sex education lessons, but I'm pretty sure Sister Immaculata didn't put it quite like that.

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