People in today’s society have an unprecedented access to information. Anyone can instantly find information about advanced thermodynamics or Simpsons episodes. However, with such an abundance of information, there is a very important question to bear in mind: Where is it coming from?
For many of today’s curious youth, their first answers to sexual questions come from happening onto porn online, but therein lies a problem. Mainstream porn studios’ objectives are not to provide a neutral and informative point of view on sex and intimacy, but to sell a product and create demand for more.
But hang on, can’t people tell the difference between fantasy and reality? According to a report published in May by the children’s commissioner for England, children exposed to violent and sadistic imagery risk distorting their attitudes towards sex and relationships. Further, the report deems it necessary to “develop children’s resilience to pornography.”
Unlike the UK government who are pushing through a mandatory porn filter, the Icelandic ministries of education and interior commissioned a short film called ‘Fáðu já’ (“Get A Yes”) to give teenagers their own internal filter.
‘Fáðu já’ premiered in January and is an educational film that raises awareness about sexual violence. The film’s underlying message is that the only way to be completely sure you don’t rape is to get consent instead of assuming it. It also talks about sex misconceptions, porn, and respecting boundaries. The film is a product of love from three Icelandic celebrities; journalist and children’s radio show host Brynhildur Björnsdóttir, pop star and gay icon Páll Óskar Hjálmtýsson, and writer and activist Þórdís Elva Þorvaldsdóttir.
Critical eyes for the straight guys (and gals)
Überstar Páll Óskar is the film’s director and narrator. He tells me where the idea for the project came from: “I saw a Facebook status from a teenage girl claiming that if she’d be raped by a celebrity, that she’d probably really enjoy it,” Páll says. “My heart sank. I started typing “honey, if you were to experience such horrible violence, I can promise you that A) you would not love it or be thrilled about it, and B) you would not care if the rapist was famous or not, because it is a violent invasion into your private self.” Before long, my answer was a full A4 page. I didn’t press the send button, realising that I had a script in my hands.”
Páll has looked extensively into all kinds of educational films, and says they’ve changed little from the ‘50s. They are mostly scare films detailing devastating consequences of substance abuse or car crashes.
“The scare-films always portrayed sex itself as a disease, focusing only on STDs like hepatitis, chlamydia and syphilis.”
“One thing has not changed since the ‘50s, and that is teenagers,” Páll Óskar tells me. “Teenagers are still reaching puberty, asking a lot of questions and wanting answers. Finding the answers today is as simple as googling them, and the first thing that pops up when you look for something sexual is usually porn.”
He continues: “As a teenager of the ‘80s, I remember looking for porn, it was really hard work. You had to walk into a video store, and with a sweaty upper lip and palms, ask the man at the counter whether you would be allowed to look into the blue folder. Then you had to find some time to watch the porn without anyone knowing, because there was only ever one TV and VCR in the house.”
Páll also comments on the English report, saying that “teenagers need to be informed that porn’s depicted behaviour is not necessarily what you should bring into your own sex life. I’m a firm believer that teenagers are not stupid.” And that is where ‘Fáðu já’ comes in, offering teenagers a healthier way to look at sex and porn.
Avoiding an imminent disaster
Fáðu já co-creator Brynhildur Björnsdóttir is a life-long friend of Páll Óskar’s, and she brought a wealth of experience from hosting a children’s radio programme. “We wanted to state that sex can be fun and good, and that it’s better for everyone if it is consensual, intimate, funny and warm,” Brynhildur says.
She wanted to make sure that boys or girls who grow up thinking porn is educational or believe films like ‘Twilight’ give a realistic picture of what to expect in relationships won’t collide too violently when coming together for their first experiences. “In porn there is total disregard for any emotional connection,” Brynhildur says, “while girls come into relationships with lots of emotional expectations, willing to go to great lengths to get the perfect man who turns into their prince.”
The film does a thorough job of illustrating how unrealistic porn is—without condemning any type of sexual behaviour. “We wanted to convey the message that the key is to communicate and get consent, no matter what you want to do. Especially if you want to deviate from ‘normal’ sex,” Brynhildur tells me. “In porn and in ‘Twilight,’ people jump on the next person who happens to be totally thinking the same things, but in real life people need to talk together and see if they want the same things.”
How well prepared are teenagers for that discussion? “The Icelandic education system is very good at teaching what the labia is, ovaries, penis, and the biodynamic aspect of sex,” Brynhildur says. “But there’s less information about how to ask someone out on a date, or how to talk to somebody that you want to have sex with.” The social aspect of the education has been missing, which is what ‘Fáðu Já’ aims to address.
To hammer the message home, ‘Fáðu já’ employs a lot of clever metaphors to remove ambiguity from any so-called grey areas, something that Þórdís Elva’s brought to the project in spades.
Þórdís wrote the critically acclaimed book ‘Á mannamáli’ which discusses sexual violence in Iceland in great detail. She tells me of one incident during her book tour at an upper secondary school in Reykjavík. She was taking questions, and one guy in his late teens asked whether it “wasn’t okay to finish if you were really close to coming but the girl wants to stop?” “I was taken aback by the question because it was totally sincere, and nobody in the class room reacted, or gave him a funny look,” Þórdís says. “Everyone just stared at me blankly, and I thought ‘oh god, we have so much work ahead…’
The film tries to eliminate the widespread misconception that there’s something called a grey area with regards to gender based and sexual violence. “Lack of consent wouldn’t be grey if you transferred it onto something else,” Þórdís says. “If someone doesn’t want to crash on your couch, then you are in the wrong if you make them.”
Scenes in the film involve a person being force fed a hamburger despite protesting, and one where a person is forced to urinate when she clearly doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. By recontextualizing consent and its refusal or withdrawal, it becomes even clearer that it is absolutely wrong to disregard what the other party wants sexually.
After filming ‘Fáðu já,’ the team got 70 experts to review it. They included “child psychologists, people from the child protection unit, all the different ministries that sponsored the film, sexologists, sociologists, and people with gender studies backgrounds,” Þórdís says. The experts were concerned about showing the porn segment of the film to tenth graders, but it was obviously the elephant in the room that had to be discussed, Þórdís says.
A wide influence
The film was well received, scoring a great deal of praise from teachers, students, parents and the media. ‘Fáðu já’ was shown to every tenth grade student in Iceland, and teachers facilitated discussions afterwards. The only negative feedback came from teenagers, who were unhappy with the film’s incorrect use of hashtags and from those who thought it was too heterocentric. The team concedes the first point, but raised their eyebrows at the second, as the film features at least three intimate scenes featuring same-sex couples.
‘Fáðu já’ has already won an award in Tallin, Estonia, and the preventative group ‘Bleiki fíllinn’ (“The Pink Elephant”) will screen select scenes at this year’s Þjóðhátíð festival. The film will be shown again in schools in January 2014 and 2015, after which the project will be reviewed and possibly updated.
It was a very large and ambitious project, dealing with a lot of sensitive topics. Þórdís says she wanted to leave viewers with a very simple message: “I want people to understand that you shouldn’t be shy to communicate what you need or want sexually. Shyness invites misunderstanding. If you are afraid of saying what you really want, then the likelihood of you overstepping your partner’s boundaries also increases dramatically. But it doesn’t have to be this way.”
After all, isn’t it the best way to make sure everyone is getting what they want out of sex and life?
The Hamburger Scene
Arguably the strongest of the metaphors used in ‘Fá›u já’ involves a couple sitting at a restaurant eating burgers. Discovering blue cheese in his burger, the man says he doesn’t want it any more. The woman asks if they can’t enjoy the moment, which the man says they can, but that he’s lost his appetite. The woman then proceeds to ask him to take one bite as she forces the burger down his throat. Customers in the background stare in disbelief as the man chokes, convulses and tries to fight her off, before finally swallowing a bite. Páll Óskar’s voice then asks: “would this be OK?”
I had a quick word with Tanja Björk Ómarsdóttir, the actress involved in the scene. She says she occasionally gets funny looks at the supermarket where people approach her and go “don’t I know you?” To which she answers, “I don’t know, do ya?” She says “I think it’s wonderful when people come up to me and say they loved the film. The film has a great message, and I’m really proud of having been a part of it.”
‘Fáðu já’ is available for free online with English subtitles