If you haven’t already heard about the Netflix series, Big Mouth, then I am here to inform you about all the controversy surrounding this popular show and why. As a preface, anytime sex, puberty, and adolescence is brought up, conversations are fraught with discomfort and shame due to how stigmatized our way of sex education or lack thereof is. We live in a time where generational differences cause major polarization and massive disagreements about what is politically correct or appropriate to discuss in various contexts. This background is important to consider because Big Mouth came out of the shadows ready to push the boundaries of sex-culture, puberty, and problems in life often not “appropriate” enough to discuss in media.
Sex education is a controversial topic in itself that has been at the forefront of many social and political disagreements for decades. Since 1982, the US has spent over $2 billion on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that follow heteronormative and traditionalist guidelines of abstaining from sexual activity until married in a monogamous relationship. LBGTQ+ rights, Planned Parenthood programs, polyamorous relationships, and non-traditional spiritualitieshave continued to increase in the years following 1982, while abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are losing favor. However, though popular support is decreasing, they are still effecting the way millions view sex. Whether you believe in abstinence based programs or not, they do not actually help young people make safe-sex decisions and put youth at significantly higher risk for STIs, HIV, and unplanned pregnancies due to lack of information.
Former sex educator who left Planned Parenthood, Monica Cline, claims, “Planned Parenthood and the liberal elite normalize adolescent sexual promiscuity, adult sex with minors, and ending the life of pre-born children. The way to normalize these beliefs in our culture is by weaving it into consumable entertainment like Big Mouth”. The thing about these viewpoints are they are all the same and value the representation of sex as a singular and sacred thing that occurs between a “man and wife”, without any consideration of context other than marriage and heterosexuality. This completely disregards what kids experience during puberty where sexual exploration is inevitable due to the condition of BEING HUMAN.
Here’s the thing… not talking about sex nor educating people on safe-sex practices is not going to help people have less sex or make better decisions…
Having kids grow up and feel ashamed for experiencing puberty and feeling sexual desires, while being unable to discuss sexual health is doing way more harm than good. Many kids already learn about what sex is from a young age due to its reference in popular music, mass media and peers who are exposed earlier than others. The biggest thing here is there is no avoiding sex. You can monitor what your kids watch but discussion about sex isn’t going anywhere.
Despite so much backlash against the intentions of Big Mouth, executive producer Nick Kroll explained in an interview that, “Our goal has always been to do a show about kids going through puberty and adolescence and in as much, try to tell those stories as honestly as possible. And the further we get into it, the furthermore that we can dig in on everybody’s individual arcs and try to understand everyone’s saga”. An incredibly crucial part of this explanation is that the show is about kids going through puberty, not for kids as the intended audience. You may think a show about adolescents should be for adolescents, but the premise of this show is for older people who have experienced puberty and all the discomforts that come with it to relate to the content, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or class. The show covers a range of uncomfortable questions and experiences that are common for adolescents in a funny, comprehensible way for ages 15 up.
Here’s a general overview of the topics covered over the three seasons of Big Mouth:
Season 1: ejaculation; periods; homosexuality; social pressures/conformity; girls get horny too; how hormones effect different people; “the head push”/misogyny; family problems/divorce; porn
Season 2: penis size/difference in puberty; hair/boobs; shame/depression; virginity; awkward relationships; drug abuse; humiliation; toxic masculinity; truth or dare
Season 3: dress codes/double standards; Valentine’s day; phone addiction; viral videos/erotic fantasies; abandonment/family troubles; female orgasm; “rankings”; standardized tests and abuse of Adderall; power dynamics/sexual harassment; friendship transitions
The incredible and hilarious thing is that these topics have been taboo for so long that it almost feels wrong when watching some episodes because people are not used to talking so explicitly about sex and the range of desires and experiences people have during adolescence. Things that were once feared and dismissed like masturbation, porn, and erotic fantasies become funny and relatable with what the characters experience on screen. Personifying emotions such as the “shame wizard”, the “depression kitty”, and the “hormone monster” make for an interactive dialogue between the character and their emotions, similar to the chaotic intrapersonal dialogue that happens between reason and emotion in everyday life. Although the show has done a good job in the past at representing various identities and viewpoints in a humorous, satirical way, there has been some recent controversy with season 3.
American culture is acknowledging differences in sexuality and gender more in this decade than ever before, but with change comes mistakes and lack of understanding. A recent episode on Big Mouth received a lot of backlash due to the inaccuracy of the portrayal and explanation of what it means to be bisexual versus pansexual. I have included links to the problematic part of the episode, the Twitter discussion that followed, and the actual definitions of bisexuality and pansexuality for a better understanding of the situation. Unlike many celebrities and comedians, the executive producer Andrew Goldberg gave a formal public apology I’ve linked.
It may seem like this would be the end-all of Big Mouth and support from those misrepresented but the fact Goldberg directly acknowledged and addressed the voices of the bisexual and pansexual community is enough cause to believe they want to be better in the future.
Our culture is saturated with sexual innuendos and sexual references in popular media and music, so what is so “wrong” and “vulgar” about Big Mouth in comparison to these? The only conceivable thing I can think of is the attempt at representing so many types of people, sexualities, and life events in a cartoon that directly go against the traditional and heteronormative guidelines we have been taught. These days sex is not solely for reproduction but for pleasure and it is time we start acknowledging it. No one is perfect and no representation can truly be achieved until there is a discussion with the population being portrayed. I think Big Mouth is becoming more accurate and considerate about definitions and experiences of sexuality and quite frankly, is revolutionizing how we talk about and accept sex as a natural part of being human.