31 Jul 2017

BANG! Episode 1: The Birds and The Bees

From Bang!, 11:00 am on 31 July 2017
The Birds and The Bees. Illustration by Pinky Fang.

The Birds and The Bees. Illustration by Pinky Fang. Photo: RNZ

With the release of new podcast series Bang! Melody Thomas reflects on making the series.  

When you spend six months talking about nothing except sex, a few things happen.

The first is that the topic becomes absolutely normal. Or at least your recovery time after that initial embarrassment is significantly lessened.

In the past few weeks I’ve hit the streets to ask strangers how ‘The Talk’ went down in their households, ventured into a high school to quiz students on sex education, called an old primary school friend to explore an incident from our childhood we never addressed… and last week my mother and I talked at length about her intimate experiences.

Not only did I live to tell the tale but I actually feel better for it. Despite the fact that the whole reason for making this series was to normalise these kinds of conversations, I live in a constant state of surprise at just how fast the process is. 

A portrait of Bang! producer and presenter Melody Thomas, wearing headphones and carrying a recording device.

Bang! producer and presenter Melody Thomas. Photo: RNZ

And that normalisation is contagious. As the weeks go by I have noticed friends and family start to open up and share their experiences. Even strangers move quickly from shocked to open book - sometimes they almost seem relieved at being given permission to share this stuff without judgement. 

Is there anything besides sex that is so widely practised and so resolutely ignored? Where does the shame come from? In episode one of BANG! I speak with Sex Therapy NZ’s Mary Hodson about ways to talk with young children about sex - but I started the interview by asking her about this. 

“I think it probably stems back to…. 2000 years of religious domination of human sexuality, particularly female sexuality… Women died in child birth, poverty was extensive… and if a girl got pregnant and had a baby she may not even survive. There were good reasons for controlling sexuality,” she says. 

The contraceptive pill became available to New Zealand women from 1961 - though unmarried women would have trouble accessing it for the next decade and until 1989, it was illegal to discuss birth control with people under 16. Slowly but surely, we began to acknowledge that sex was about more than making babies, but decades on we still struggle to talk about what else it is for. 

A close-up shot of a couple holding hands.

Holding hands Photo: Melody Thomas/RNZ

There is an argument to be made for the fact that sex is a private matter that does not need to be discussed in public. But through my conversations with young people for this series it has become apparent that a lot of the time, they aren’t getting the information or guidance they want from educators and adults.

We saw this play out in public recently when teenagers marched on parliament calling for more comprehensive sexuality education in high schools, following revelations that Wellington College students were caught ‘joking’ about rape on Facebook. In BANG! we again hear young people asking explicitly for changes to be made.

And yet the official word from Education Minister Hekia Parata is that the matter is, "first and foremost a parental, family and whanau responsibility”.

And of course part of the responsibility does lie with parents and whanau. Even where sexuality education in schools is comprehensive, lessons about consent and safety, sexuality, gender roles and the importance of reciprocal, empathetic relationships are quickly undone when those things are not modelled within families or society at large. But expecting parents to know how to have those discussions when most have no experience in talking about sex is a big ask. 

And this is where we hope to be able to help, even if just a little. Through exploring the experiences of New Zealanders from childhood to old age, as well as asking experts for practical tips and historical context, BANG! aims to help facilitate conversations that many want to be having but just don’t know where to start. 

Episodes of BANG will be released every Monday from July 31st on iTunes and other podcast apps, and will air on Wednesdays in Nights with Bryan Crump after the news at 8pm from August 2nd.  In addition, at 8:30pm every week Melody Thomas and an expert in that week’s topics will be live in the studio answering listener questions. To ask your own download the RNZ VoxPop app now and wait for the prompts.