Review: Sex Education, Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe

Growing up in a household in Blackpool with a god-fearing mother and a father who gave him his first porn DVDs aged fourteen, Harry Clayton-Wright didn’t exactly get the level of sex education required to live out the life of a sexually active gay man. Since then, his sex life has become somewhat of a public spectacle. His mum can’t see any of his shows that involve nudity or sexual acts, which means it’s pretty unlikely she’ll ever see any of his work, but the whole family have stumbled across his many nudes that have been posted online. In an act to become a bit closer with his mum, in Sex Education, Clayton-Wright decides to interview her, asking her questions about parenting… and sex. The interview is broken up with videos of graphic gay porn, letter reading, and the cutting up a cucumber to make us all some sandwiches. 

There is a lot of porn on show throughout the performance. It’s as if Harry’s exposure has desensitised him from it. He tells us that he was less interested in the sex when watching it as a teenager and more so in the narrative. He is particularly obsessed with a rabbit on a red lead in one of them, and attempts at making a connection between the pornography and his relationship with his mother. The basis of his sex education seems to have come from such x-rated material, and given the familiar statistics about young people accessing pornography, we know for sure he is not alone in this introduction to sex-education. We know that the education system has totally excluded non-heteronormative sex education up until very recent years, and that some schools are struggling to introduce it to their curriculum. Certainly not all, but a lot of parents are also unable to educate their children themselves. Harry’s mother agrees that it should be taught by teachers and peers. 

Harry seeks to remove the shame that comes from being open about sex and sexuality. Embarrassment around the topic is an inherent part of our culture. After most of the porn videos finish, there’s a brief pause before audience laughter. It’s funny and awkward. We laugh because it’s something that we’re supposed to do in private, and so we feel uncomfortable viewing it as a group. Harry completely breaks the private/public boundary, because this is a boundary that needs to be broken. We should be able to enjoy sex and shouldn’t be ashamed of that. His mother reveals that sex with his father was completely unromantic. He hopes she’s had some good sex at some point in her life, but there’s definitely doubt about that. 

Despite having had a lot of sexual partners (Harry has asked the audience to keep specific details hidden in case his mum comes across the information), he’s only had one boyfriend, and it only lasted a few months. He feels lonely sometimes, and sex alone isn’t a cure for this. The majority of gay men are introduced to the community via sex apps, and hook-up culture is common and normalised among young gay men. Underneath the dancing, the fabulous costume, the intimate life details, the message is this; inclusive LGBTQ+ sex education is suicide prevention. And that message hits hard.

Sex Education played Summerhall until 25 August. For more information, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.