At the age of fourteen, I was an expert in the mechanics of sex. I could name every part of the human genitals and describe in detail the process of fertilisation. As for methods of contraception, my knowledge was encyclopaedic. I could list the pros and cons of every method from the progesterone pill to the vasectomy. Give me a canteen-reject banana and it’d be condom-clad in a heartbeat. Secondary school sex-ed gave me lots of ‘facts’ but left me more confused than ever. If only the ‘Sex Education Xplorers’ had paid my school a visit.
Part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, S.E.X. is performed in the beautiful secret courtyard of Summerhall, which becomes ‘Summerhall Secondary School’. Take a seat in the classroom and you’re in for an hour of quirky props and zany science, as Dr Iriguchi and new recruit, Afton, take you through the evolution of sex, from single-cell organisms to the complex, messy act that is intrinsic to our culture today.
From the very beginning, it is clear that writer, director, and lead actor Mamoru Iriguchi has tried hard to make S.E.X. fun. Whether he achieves this is up for debate, but his show is certainly a spectacle. Expect fluorescent pubes and a penis hat complete with a jet of feather-boa semen. For some, this proves too much, as by the end of the show the audience is significantly depleted. However, Iriguchi’s joyful approach to sex should be commended. Too often in schools, sex is presented as something to be feared, and in adulthood it is difficult to disentangle it from the taboo of the erotic. This is certainly not the case with S.E.X.; the show is neither fear-mongering nor sexy – the abundance of 80s pop and awkward dance routines make sure of that. It is refreshing to see the topic of sex approached in such a direct manner. Nevertheless, I am somewhat relieved when the show ends. Call me a killjoy, but after an hour of watching people dance around with genitals on their heads, the joke starts to wear a little thin.
Despite its silliness, S.E.X. confronts important issues surrounding sexuality and gender, making a convincing argument for a future where biological sex is defined by an organism’s reproductive capacity (‘sperm-ers’; ‘egg-ers’; ‘both-ers’; ‘neither-ers’) rather than its genitalia. In this future, or ‘sex paradise 3’, there is no gender discrimination, as gender does not exist. Sadly, Dr Iriguchi’s utopia seems unattainable, at least in the binary society of today. Afton, however, who acts as the voice of the audience, confronts this in what is possibly the most poignant point of the play. S.E.X. is not only about sex and gender, but an investigation of what it means to fight for a better future.
Undeniably, S.E.X. is clumsy, tacky, and poorly produced. But this is all part of its charm. Quirky costumes and props, together with inventive use of a digital screen, do a lot of the heavy-lifting when it comes to comedy, but there are a few great dad-jokes thrown in here and there. Iriguchi and particularly Afton Moran’s energetic performances really hold S.E.X. together, and it’s encouraging to see a BSL interpreter on stage for the duration of the performance, demonstrating Iriguchi’s commitment to inclusivity beyond the subject of gender. Ultimately, however, S.E.X. is informative and convincing but lacks depth. Though presented as performance art, Iriguchi’s show is really a glorified lecture-come-workshop. I imagine S.E.X. might be far better received and have a much greater impact on the group of fourteen-year-olds Iriguchi asks us to impersonate.
Sex Education Xplorers (S.E.X) is playing Summerhall (Edinburgh) until 29 August. For more information and tickets, see the Summerhall website.