Normal People showed how well all TV shows should handle consent

It gives an example of healthy sex that our sex ed classes never did

The argument around consent is brought up, rehashed and re-emphasised constantly. And yet, many men and women still don’t fully understand what consensual sex actually means, beyond just “no means no”.

This is hardly surprising considering sex ed classes in school are still hugely over-simplified and 20 years out of date (they haven’t been updated since 2000). As far as my friends and I were concerned, our sex ed didn’t even touch on consent and the level of communication necessary to truly ensure safe, consensual sex happens.

People are turning to, and praising TV shows for achieving something our schools failed to do. First Sex Education and now BBC Three’s Normal People, which offers the perfect example of exactly how to perform consensual sex. In the second episode, Marianne and Connell are at her house about to have sex for the first time – he’s had sex before but she hasn’t. In a five minute clip, the show absolutely nails how this experience should go.

Constant communication happens as soon as it gets intimate

Throughout the whole sequence, Marianne and Connell are frequently checking in with one another, and asking questions before acting on anything. This level of communication happens all the way through, setting an example of how important this is throughout any level of sexual intimacy.

There’s a lot of awkward undressing and laughter

A lot of sex scenes on TV show a bit of kissing, the bra pinging off with one touch and then boom they’re having sex. Normal People presents how awkward and funny sex can be and that this is completely fine.

When Connell tries to remove Marianne’s bra it gets stuck, they both laugh, her arms then get trapped and they awkwardly fumble to get it off. It’s a bit of a mess which is spot on to reality.

They’re honest about past sexual relationships and where they stand

Marianne candidly asks Connell about how often he sleeps with other people, clarifying whether she’s just “another girl” he has sex with. This is a very reasonable question and one most people want to know before they commit to having sex.

Marianne wants to be sure this moment is as special for him as it is for her, and he reassures her. They’re both instantly more comfortable about where they stand – a really healthy place to be before sleeping with someone.

Marianne seeks reassurance and Connell gives it to her

No matter how many times you’ve had sex, there’s always room for insecurity to creep in. Marianne admits that she thinks there are prettier girls than her interested in him. In response, he reminds her how attracted he is to her. Again, a very natural conversation that can happen during sex which we don’t often see on TV.

The breathing and eye contact

An intimacy coach, Duchess Iphie explained how exchanged breath and eye contact reinforced the couple’s level of closeness. Through these moments, the scene presents an intimate experience rather than simply a physical one – Marianne and Connell seem genuinely connected. This feels like an emotional understanding which is really positive and a great thing to encourage.

They talk about using protection

Asking about protection is so important when having healthy, consensual sex, especially if it’s the first time two people have slept together. This is also something that is rarely seen on TV which can lead people to think putting on a condom “ruins the mood” because it’s not what we tend to see in sex scenes.

It doesn’t ruin the mood at all, and Normal People prove sex can still be sexy and safe at the same time. Marianne asks him to use a condom and he doesn’t question it – very simply setting the perfect example of how this conversation should go.

They then talk openly about Marianne’s virginity

As soon as Connell knows she’s a virgin, he becomes especially gentle and aware of how she could be feeling, knowing that first-time sex can be uncomfortable. He doesn’t judge her or make a big deal of that fact she’s about to lose he virginity, he simply makes a mental note to be particularly careful.

Equally, Marianne being comfortable admitting she’s a virgin proves it’s nothing to be ashamed of and always something worth mentioning.

Connell seeks consent and reminds her that she can stop at any moment

This moment is so poignant. This 10 second conversation between them shows just how easy it is to have healthy, consensual sex.

He reminds her they can stop whenever – highlighting how consent can change at any point throughout. He then says “it won’t be awkward” – something a lot of people worry about. Connell and Marianne show that if everyone’s honest and understanding, consent never needs to feel “awkward”.

Related stories recommended by the writer:

• This is how Normal People got the sex and consent scenes spot-on

• We all have a story like Aimee, Sex Education just finally paid attention to it

• Meet Paul Mescal, the 24-year-old Trinity College grad starring in BBC’s Normal People