Dee, Vrai, and Alex talk about the comedy edutainment manga Sex Ed 120% and how it compares to real-world sex education.
Note: This episode was recorded as one extra-long block and split in two during editing.
Date Recorded: May 22, 2022
Hosts: Dee, Vrai, Alex
0:02:15 Content warnings
0:04:54 Personal impressions
0:08:17 Would you recommend it?
0:09:04 What did we learn?
0:15:31 Favorite line
0:20:08 Comparison to our sex ed experiences
0:34:59 Fictional portrayals of sex and sexuality
DEE: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. I’m Dee, one of the managing editors at AniFem.
VRAI: Hey, I’m Vrai. I’m the managing content editor at AniFem.
ALEX: And I’m Alex, a contributions editor here at AniFem.
DEE: We’re going to talk about sexuality and reproductive rights today through a somewhat humorous lens by centering it around the comedy manga series Sex Ed 120%.
If you haven’t heard of this one before, don’t worry: it’s new. And there’s not a whole lot we can spoil, but there’s a few relationship elements that sort of hash out over the course of the series. We will avoid spoilers in these early moments. This will just be synopsis, broad-strokes type stuff. We’ll let you know when we really start to dig into the series proper.
Okay, so, Sex Ed 120% is written by [pauses, then punctuates each syllable carefully] Tataki Kikiki—which is super fun to say—and drawn by Hotomura. The manga is three volumes long. It was released from 2020 through 2021 in Japan and then pretty much immediately published in English by Yen Press. And by the way, shoutout to translator Amanda Haley, who really put in the work on this one.
It is an edutainment manga of sorts, sort of in the vein of series like Cells at Work or Heaven’s Design Team, except that this one is about sex education.
It follows Tsuji-sensei, a young PE teacher at an all-girls school who’s passionate about making sure her students are educated on every aspect of sexuality and gender, not just what’s covered in the school textbook. She, uh… maybe comes in a little hot on day one by dumping a box of condoms and dental dams on the table, and she winds up butting heads with the vice-principal as well as the seemingly straightlaced school nurse Nakazawa. But Tsuji-sensei also bonds with some of her students, especially Matsuda, a straight girl who loves BL (or boys’ love manga); Moriya, a lesbian secretly dating one of her classmates; and Kashiwa, an asexual and aromantic biology nerd.
Shenanigans—and maybe some romance?—ensue, but through it all Tsuji works to shed light on supposedly taboo subjects, demystifying and destigmatizing sexuality for her students and for the readers at home.
So, some content warnings before we dig into this, just for folks who heard that description and went, “Well, this sounds cool,” and you haven’t heard of this one yet. Despite Yen Press rating this M for mature and slapping a parental advisory sticker on it and wrapping it in plastic— [chuckles in disbelief]
VRAI: I forgot about that.
DEE: —it’s so much!— There are actually relatively few major content warnings for this one. I mean, obviously, because of the subject matter, it does spend a lot of time talking about sex and sexuality. And this includes discussions about things like sexual assault, misogyny, and queerphobia.
But I was trying to think of things in the book that I would consider explicit, and there’s a couple of… I would describe as very tastefully framed shots of some of the girls trying out the dental dams. There’s really not anything super graphic about it. The focus is on education and not erotica.
So, if you look at this one and you see the plastic wrap and you go, “Ah, this must be porn,” it is not. It is not even close to porn. I actually think it does a pretty good job of showing teen sexuality without sexualizing teens, but we can get into that more later.
Tsuji-sensei does have some issues with personal boundaries that we will dig into later. But I was trying to think of, you know, content warnings, and for me the big one would be for trans and genderqueer folks, because the series—especially early on, it’s pretty trans-exclusive in the language, in terms of it talks about “women’s” bodies and “men’s” bodies.
In later chapters it does acknowledge and is very accepting of trans people. And again, we’ll discuss this more in detail later. So, I think we… Again, we will talk about this more later. It feels more like an oversight than like an intentional TERF-ish exclusion, the way the language is framed in the early books, but I could definitely see it being upsetting for folks. So, fair warning going in that there is a lot of talk about, like, “a woman’s right to choose” rather than “a person who can get pregnant’s right to choose,” right? So, that kind of thing. Just be aware of that going in.
Vrai, Alex, can you think of anything else that folks should know before they dive into this one? Did I miss anything there?
VRAI: No, really my only caveat is those first couple of chapters, and that’s really all, where Tsuji-sensei is a little bit, uh, sexual harass-y at work. And then that drops off basically immediately.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, and she even later says, “You know, that was probably inappropriate, and I know I have some issues where I make jokes that are not appropriate.” And she talks about it being in terms of consent, but I think that’s really what she’s talking about, is the way she sometimes talks to Nakazawa, the nurse. So it does sort of get addressed and, yeah, dropped off pretty quick. But I agree that was not super comfy in the first couple chapters, so be aware of that going in.
ALEX: Yeah, no, I would agree with that. Yeah, I don’t have anything else I can think of.
DEE: Okay, good. Yeah, so, true to its subject matter, this series is a grab bag of intersectional feminist topics, and there will be plenty for us to discuss.
But before we started digging into the series itself, I wanted to get some personal takes from you both. I guess, just to start, what was your overall impression of the series? Did you have a good time with this one?
ALEX: I was surprised by this one. I really enjoyed it. Yeah, it’s maybe the only example I can think of where on all technicalities it is a sex comedy, or a comedy where all the jokes are about sex, but it’s not like… It is just very matter of fact, very educational, very biological. It’s not bawdy. It’s not exploitative. I don’t know, it was refreshing just for that.
And honestly, yeah, I was… particularly given what you just said about the, you know, yes, women’s bodies/men’s bodies kind of stuff at the start, that’s kind of what I was expecting all the way through. I wasn’t mad about it. I was just like, “Oh, yeah. It’s the way it’s gonna be. It’s fairly expected, I guess.”
So I was really genuinely pleasantly surprised at how queer and inclusive it got, the further it went along. It even talked about things like nonbinary and asexual and aromantic identities. I was like, “Oh my gosh!” Even in the context of media from anywhere in the world, it is a pleasant surprise when a story or a piece of edutainment acknowledges and remembers that those exist. So I was like, oh, okay. So it’s great on that representation front, I think, hiccups aside.
But also, yeah, it frames it through these really fun, kind of cute characters. It’s not the deepest story in the world but, you know, you get invested, you get hooked into the characters and want to see them grow and learn. And overall, it’s just… yeah, it’s fun.
VRAI: Yeah, I picked this up basically on a whim. I am genuinely quite angry that this is wrapped in plastic because, like you said, it is pretty purely informational and the audience who should be reading it is teenagers, because it’s so useful. I may or may not, when I’m at a bookstore, go through and just quietly take the plastic wrap off of them for the teenagers who need to flip through it at the bookstore because they can’t take it home to their parents.
DEE: [crosstalk] [laughs] Absolutely brilliant. That’s terrific. You heard it here, folks! Go to your local bookstore and rip the plastic off of these so that people can check them out.
DEE: No, I love that. And that kind of feeds into a question I was gonna ask later, but I’ll bring it up now. I think if you were going to recommend this to people, I agree: despite all the warning and things around it that make it look like it’s going to be a porn series, I would absolutely throw this at high schoolers or maybe even older middle schoolers, depending upon who they are (different kids become sexually active at different ages), because there is such a bevy of information in here that is really useful and, near as I can tell from my research, pretty accurate.
So, yeah, no, I agree with that, Vrai. You want to throw this at high schoolers in particular, I think, because of the way it’s set up.
VRAI: Well, and it’s especially nice to have, honestly, because—in depressing news (that’s just what happens when you’re into anime and manga apparently), I think the other standout example of body-positive puberty manga that we had up till now was Please Tell Me! Galko-Chan, and the artist of that was recently arrested for possession of child pornography.
DEE: Yeah, that one was devastating for a lot of members of the team. Yeah, so this is the new series and—God willing and the creek don’t rise—the author and artist of this one will continue to be decent people, based on the context of the series.
VRAI: [crosstalk] That bar is so low!
DEE: Yeah. Don’t be a criminal. Hell, just don’t be a sex criminal. If you want to smoke pot, that’s fine.
VRAI: Yeah, no, have some pot. Weed is great!
DEE: Okay, so, getting back on track… Folks who have never heard us before: this is common. Welcome to the tangent corner.
No, so, keeping with the idea of it being an educational series, did you guys learn anything new from this one?
ALEX: I did actually! Yes. [Laughs] Well, the first one’s kind of more of a practical legislative kind of thing than I expected, but I did learn about the anti-discriminatory policies surrounding love hotels, because there’s that scene where the two teachers are kind of messing around in, I think… not Shibuya, Shinjuku?
DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That area. Yeah.
ALEX: [Obscured by crosstalk] case, and they’re looking at love hotels. And they’re kind of just gonna go in and check it out, or even they’re just sort of loitering in the lobby, I think, and the manager tries to shoo them away.
And the school nurse whips out the legislation and is like, “Oh, no, there’s an anti-discriminatory… There’s a law against this! You’ll get a fine if you turn people away based on their gender or sexuality.” And the manager’s like, “Ooh! Oh, you got me!” And then of course, you know, it’s a joke because they say “Oh, we’re just looking” and they leave and he chases them out anyway.
But yeah, you know, that was just a really interesting thing because, funnily enough, I had sort of encountered the other end of that factoid before. It was a travel channel I watch on YouTube where they like to showcase hotels and places to stay in Japan, and [there were] multiple occasions where they’ve had to say, “We were going to show you guys this great beautiful, themed love hotel suite,” but because the presenter and cameraman were both men, they got tossed out. But now I know they’re not allowed to do that. They can get fined. So hey, that was really interesting.
But honestly, the whole discussion around DivaCups and the different menstrual products, I found fascinating because I just had not had that conversation before in my teen years or since. I don’t know if it’s like they’re a newer thing or they’re not as popular here or, I don’t know, the PE teachers who taught me health were just a bit cringe about it. I don’t know! We can get to that later. But yeah, I learned some fine tips about that stuff as well.
VRAI: Yeah! I don’t have to worry about it anymore because testosterone (woo-woo!), but this was the first time I’d heard of period panties, which seems like a cool thing.
DEE: It seems like a cool thing in practice, but I cannot imagine it working. —I mean, it seems like a cool thing in theory. I have a hard time imagining it working in practice, or not just being a big sticky mess! [Laughs]
VRAI: It seems like a good backup, like if you have trouble with tampons overnight.
DEE: Yeah. Or maybe if you have lighter periods. I don’t know. I was not familiar with those either.
I also learned a lot from this series. My favorite random, one-page fun fact was that the clitoris can get morning wood. I was like, “Huh! I could see that! I could see that!” [Chuckles] But I had not actually heard that before.
VRAI: And also, germane to the packet that this goes with, I learned a lot about abortion services in Japan, where it is apparently quite expensive if you want to have an abortion there.
DEE: Yeah, there are—and yeah, I’m sure we’ll dig more into that topic and some of the others as well, as we go. But yeah, I learned a lot about the state of, like Alex was saying, some of the legalities of procedures and stuff in Japan, where… I mean, I read as much English information as I can possibly get my hands on, but a lot of it by nature of translation takes a while, tends to be a little outdated. So, having something that was written in 2020 was really helpful to help me see some of the nitty-gritty that I’d maybe missed, that you maybe don’t get a chance to talk about when you’re summarizing it for a book on feminism in Japan or something like that.
So those were all very useful factoids, especially for us, as we work for a feminist anime website and sometimes we need to fact-check and link to things like that. So, very useful for us from a professional perspective, too, as well.
VRAI: I did find it kind of interesting in that… not even in, like, a bad thing, because I think it would probably be discouraging for the intended audience, but considering this book doesn’t shy away from some of the tougher things about current legislation—and actually overall, I think the trans chapters it does are pretty thorough and really affirmative—it does not include the fact that, at time of talking, in Japan you are still required to be sterilized if you want to change your sex on your family registry and finish transitioning through surgery.
DEE: Yeah, that chapter to me felt… Some of these chapters go really deep into detail, and that one felt a little more 101. I kind of get the sense that the writer is more familiar with the LGB and less the T, not in a way that they’re aggressive or hostile towards trans folks, but just maybe isn’t their subject of expertise or their personal experience. And so, you do kind of get that sense in that chapter of “All of this is cool, but I really don’t know that much about it to be able to talk about it in a ton of detail.”
VRAI: Although even then, it does more than a lot of manga and works in general that I’ve seen in terms of talking about gender presentation and “being transfem doesn’t mean you have to be super girly, vice versa,” that kind of stuff, and varieties of social versus surgical presentation. So, they’ve put the work in. It’s just it’s a fairly short section within the series.
DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I would agree with that.
ALEX: Yeah, I agree with that, but I can certainly imagine if that was the first place you had access to that information, it’s a pretty good springboard into other stuff. And yeah, I can certainly… you know, if I had picked this up when I was a teenager and got to that section, I would have been like, “Oh! Really? Oh, okay!” Which, yeah, it sounds very 101 to us now, but certainly for someone who maybe needs that information I mentioned, yeah, it’s very… it’s an excellent start, I think.
DEE: Oh, absolutely, yeah. And this series, overall, I think a lot of it is like “If you’re interested in this, you can find out more” kind of thing, especially because they actually put in a QR code to an online Japanese resource. These books are dedicated to giving the readers more information if they want to go seek it out, which I think is really cool.
Okay, so this series is an educational series, but it’s also a comedy series. So, my other early “personal experience” question for you was: do you have a favorite line, anything that particularly stuck with you? I guess it doesn’t have to be one of the funnier lines, but something that you just loved from this one.
VRAI: I don’t know that it’s my favorite line, but the one that stuck with me is the long labia thing.
DEE: I am so glad you said that because I marked that one! I had two and that was one of the ones I marked.
DEE: I still think about it and I still have— Okay, folks at home, so, in the third volume there’s these little mini-sections where it’s supposedly an anonymous question asked to Tsuji-sensei, and then Tsuji-sensei enthusiastically answers it with a big ol’ thumbs-up, and it’s the same image of her in every panel, so it becomes kind of a running joke.
But the question for this one is “Can’t I do something about how big my labia are?” And Tsuji responds, “Hey! They’re cute! They look like they could fly!”
VRAI: It’s so good!
DEE: And then I had that mental image and I was like, “Ah, that’s where the idea of witches being able to fly comes from. I understand everything now.”
DEE: No, it was… Yeah, I thought that one was delightful.
Alex, anything that sticks out to you?
ALEX: There are a lot of really funny moments I enjoy. In one of the really early chapters where they’re talking about masturbation, where one of them’s just like, “You actually use it to clear your head,” and she’s having a hard time studying, and then she’s really determined, just: “All right! It’s time! All right! I’m gonna do it now.” That, I found particularly funny.
But actually my favorite line, I think, is on the more sappy end of the spectrum, where it’s right at the end, where they make… minor spoilers, I suppose, but they make a beautiful educational display for their cultural festival about gender, sexuality, all the sort of fun facts they’ve learned across the semester, basically. And one of the staff comes through and looks through and there’s kind of this moment of tension like, “Ooh, is he gonna tell us to take it all down because it’s obscene or something?” but—
DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s the vice-principal, who they’ve butted heads with earlier in the series. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ALEX: And so… Yeah, so he’s kind of… he’s not the antagonist of the series but he’s kind of set up as like… you know, he’s the old guard. He’s one of the few older men in the series, for example, and he’s enforcing the dress code, and he is a bit more old-school in regards to all that. But he looks at all this and just very quietly says, “If we’d had a festival like this many years ago, maybe things would have been different,” and just leaves and leaves them be.
And that was just fascinating to me, because you can… you know, what do you read into that? It’s kind of up to you. It speaks so many volumes, and it kind of acts as a very nice encapsulation of the thesis of the whole series. It’s just like, yeah, hey, having access to this information in this accessible, fun way can change lives. And so I found that a very sweet—that really stuck with me—a very sweet cap-off.
DEE: That is a really nice moment. I especially like… because I think Tsuji-sensei chases him out into the hallway and just kind of calls after him, like, “It’s not too late.” And again, it’s intentionally sort of vague as to whether she’s talking just about the education program at their school, or if he’s maybe closeted and she’s encouraging him to be his authentic self.
It is intentionally, like you said, sort of vague about that, but I thought that was also a sweet moment that, you know, not just the education aspect, but also the “You’re going to continue to grow and change and learn and that’s okay, just sort of figuring it out as you go. Sex ed is a lifelong…” Because that’s sort of the capstone of the series: sex ed is a lifelong process. You’re going to keep learning new things, and you should be open to that and to trying new things and changing as you discover and that kind of thing. And I thought that was… yeah, that was a really nice moment.
I’m going to wrap us up after that sweet and emotional touchstone in the series— I’m gonna wrap us up with a crass line, which is the bonus chapter where they go to the beach and they’re getting hit on by those guys, and then they start talking about pickup artists and how they’re awful because they’re basically just treating women like objects and trophies that they are showing off to their friends.
And Tsuji-sensei, who is not familiar with pickup artists, but Nakazawa is explaining this to her… Tsuji summarizes by saying, “So in summary, pickup artists can go fuck themselves and die, right?”
DEE: And that was at the top of the page as you flipped it, and I had to pause for a minute because I was laughing so hard! I was like, well, she’s not wrong.
ALEX: She brings the same energy and enthusiasm. She’s like, “This is the lesson of today! It’s this!” [Chuckles]
DEE: Yeah. “Oh, so: fuck these guys. I understand now.” It’s very excellent, yes.
ALEX: Direct and to the point.
So, another question I had for you both regarding personal experience here: how does Tsuji’s class compare to your experience? Hey, folks, we’re going to travel into the wayback machine here because all of us are a fair bit out—removed from high school at this point. How does this compare to your experience of sex ed in school?
And Alex, I’m sure yours will be… I imagine Vrai and I’s might be a little bit more similar because we’re both from the States and you are from Australia—for folks at home who were wondering where we’re all stationed. But yeah, so how does this compare? Was sex ed a rigorous and comprehensive experience for you, or do you have a bad story?
ALEX: Okay, if I may begin with my… [Chuckles] I’m giggling just thinking about it. So, my favorite— This is not necessarily indicative of the state of sex ed in Australia in the 2010s, but my favorite story from my high school sex ed is… they had us do a relay race across the quad where we had to sprint, put a condom on a banana, sprint, tag the next person… [Chuckles] And I would love to know the logic behind it.
I wonder if they worried that we would disengage if it was not gamified in some way. I wonder if the PE teachers just got a bit bored and wanted to go back to their comfort zone of teaching sports. But I certainly remember at the time thinking, “I don’t know that this is preparing me for practical scenarios.”
DEE: Listen, listen, sometimes your parents are gonna come home in like 10 minutes and you need to have sex fast!
ALEX: That’s true. Just gotta make sure you do it properly. Efficiency is key!
ALEX: [Chuckles] But look, apart from that, I remember it being very mechanical. It was very much like, “All right, these are boy bits. These are girl bits. This is how they fit together. This is how pregnancy happens. And these are the symptoms and effects of various STDs. And you don’t want those, do you? So here’s how you use a condom.”
That is most of the gist, which is not bad information by any means. But certainly reading this, reading this series, I was quite blown away trying to imagine if we had had any of those really open conversations about, like, masturbation and consent and… I don’t know.
As a person who now identifies comfortably as asexual, I think a lot about how I don’t know that anyone in my sex education ever told us that sex was meant to be fun. [Chuckles] I don’t know if they just assumed obviously everyone in the room is allosexual; everyone’s going to, you know, get a kick out of it. But I don’t know.
Seeing a lot of conversations in the series surrounding the importance of pleasure, different ways you can achieve that, the importance of communication in relationships, all that stuff, it’s like, oh yeah, really expressing to your students, this is a thing that people do for pleasure together, and if it’s not pleasurable, you don’t have to do it. It’s an activity you can do as a couple, the same as… Watching anime is an activity together. Playing Scrabble is an activity you do together. So is sex. Really destigmatizing it and putting it down as something much more casual and natural, I think, would have changed the way that I and a lot of other people thought about it.
So that is kind of the main thing missing and the main thing I found really interesting about Tsuji-sensei’s classes, is: yeah, there’s a lot more emphasis on recognizing the students as individual sexual beings with different needs and really emphasizing that and saying, “Hey, go in and enjoy it, but responsibly,” which never really was a conversation that came up. It was mostly the [chuckles] “Don’t get syphilis. Here’s how you put a condom on a banana. We start the timer now. Let’s go.” [Chuckles]
DEE: [Laughs] Move it or lose it! Amazing. I mean, you know what, it’s a memory that you maintain, so I guess they did something right there.
ALEX: I mean, certainly, some years later, I was in a scenario where a condom had to be applied. And I think I told my then-boyfriend about that. He was like, “That’s… Why?”
ALEX: I’m enjoying this much more now that I don’t have to run a race to do it!
ALEX: So how does that compare to your…? [Chuckles] Were you also taught by PE teachers who were grasping for ways to make it exciting?
DEE: I mean, it’s typically PE teachers. Vrai can speak… I mean, just in broad U.S. strokes, it’s very different district to district, because there’s national guidelines but there’s nothing you really have to follow. When I was doing the preliminary research on this, I wanted to make sure I had some understanding… I did a bunch of research on Japan, but I wanted to make sure it didn’t come across as us snubbing our noses at Japan, because it’s pretty terrible here, too! So I wanted to make sure I had a pretty good grasp on that.
Like I said, it’s very localized, and it’s only— I got some slightly different numbers, so I think probably things have just shifted over the last few years, and so it was tough for me to get 100% perfect. But sex ed is only required in like half of the states in the U.S., and a lot of those, it’s not comprehensive.
There are basically three types: there’s abstinence-only, abstinence-plus, and comprehensive. And abstinence-only is pretty much what it sounds like, like: “Don’t ever have sex. You’ll get pregnant, you’ll get an STD, and you will die.” Like the bit from Mean Girls with their PE teacher, right? Abstinence-plus is like, “You shouldn’t have sex. The best way to prevent pregnancy and STDs is to not have sex. But, in case you do, here’s how condoms work. Here’s how contraceptive works,” basically. And then comprehensive goes into a lot more in terms of the whole-body picture.
Basically what Tsuji teaches is a comprehensive sex ed class. You talk about social and gender roles and power structures and assault and consent and pregnancy and also abortion, and you get the full picture of what sex is and what sexuality is and what gender is and how these elements integrate with each other.
But like I said, a lot of places in the U.S.—despite the majority of parents supporting sex ed in both middle school and high school, the vast majority, over 90%—it’s not required in a lot of places, and in a lot of places it’s pretty atrocious. It’s pretty much just “Don’t have sex or you’ll get pregnant, so stop it. Shake my finger at you.”
And we’ll talk a little bit more about the State of the Sex Ed Union in Japan. But that’s just kind of an overview before Vrai and I get into our U.S. experiences. So, if they seem different, it is because of how localized it is based on your school district, your state, all that jazz.
So, Vrai, would you like to go first?
VRAI: Yeah, okay. Well, I grew up in Wyoming, in a Catholic household, and I was in high school during the Bush administration. So, let me give you a moment to paint a picture of how that goes.
So, my memories of sex ed were in middle school. In eighth grade, I had a class called… I can’t remember. I think it was Personal Responsibility or something like that, where I watched a video of a live birth.
DEE: Oh yes.
VRAI: And I had an assignment where I had to plan a vacation to simulate preparing for a household budget. And then in high school, I remember that they brought in a motivational speaker who—fast-forward about 30 seconds to 60 seconds if you are not here for gross body horror.
DEE: Oh no.
VRAI: Spoiler alert: this was in fact an abstinence-only, fear-based speaker who told us a story that has stuck with me to this day and is absolutely 100% fake, where allegedly this person with a tongue piercing had given a blowjob to somebody, had gotten a pubic hair wrapped around the barb in their tongue, and of course, naturally, that had caused pubic lice to hatch inside of her tongue, which she then had to go for the emergency room for. And then they remove the barb and gosh, all of these live crabs come scuttling… This is such bullshit.
VRAI: It’s sticking with me to this day!
ALEX: Oh my Lord!
DEE: Okay, so I’ve heard that as an urban legend told amongst the students. I didn’t know that speakers taught it to people!
VRAI: Uh-huh! Yep!
DEE: Oh, that’s terrifying!
ALEX: So, hey, is that “Don’t get piercings” thing? I feel like you would [be] like, “Ah, okay, so I can give blowjobs as long as my tongue piercing isn’t in. I see. On it. Thanks, man!” [Chuckles]
VRAI: So, in defense of my mother, she did offer to talk to me about sex, and I stridently refused because I was a teenager. And she really did do her best to be like, “You know, sex is nice and fun, as long as you’re married.”
VRAI: So, she was doing what she could within being extremely Catholic. But also, while I did have a book on puberty and menstruation and that kind of stuff, I was woefully uneducated as to what sex was. I think I was in 11th grade and I still thought oral sex meant, like, French kissing.
DEE: Wow! Your friends weren’t filthy like mine were. [Chuckles]
VRAI: No. And also, you know, dysphoria. It was fine with me not doing a lot of experimenting around and stuff.
VRAI: How about you, Dee?
DEE: You know, I think what we probably had was what the stuff I was reading termed as “abstinence-plus.” I would describe our health teacher as maybe not fully checked in when talking to us, but we got the “The best way to prevent pregnancy and STDs is to just not have sex, so keep that in mind. But also, here are contraceptive methods.”
And here’s the thing: I had really no interest in sex. I am also, like Alex, asexual, which of course I did not know in high school. But I was also like, what, 15, 14? So it’s not that odd for 14-, 15-year-olds… Lots of them are [ace] and that’s fine, but it’s also not that unusual for allosexual 14-, 15-year-olds to not be interested in sex yet.
So it wasn’t something that I… So I think I was a little bit checked out in the class because it was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, condoms, yeah, yeah, yeah, birth control.” I was aware of all this because my family was full of middle school teachers, and they knew what The Kids were doing. So, they made sure I had, you know, maybe not a graphic understanding, but an overall basic bullet-point understanding.
But it wasn’t something I saw myself doing for years. I was very much “saving myself for marriage,” which I now realize was… and it wasn’t like I was judgy of other kids; that was just me. But I also now realize that was a real good excuse for me to not have to engage with sex, a thing I did not want to do and had no interest in doing. But of course, I did not know that at the time.
My main memories of our sex ed class were watching—bless our teacher [chuckles] for this terrible thing—watching a lot of ‘80s afterschool specials about things like teen pregnancy and sexual assault. And the one about assault has definitely wedged in my head as a “Oh, this is a horrifying thing I definitely don’t want to happen. This poor woman.” And it wasn’t like a victim-blamey thing. It was pretty realistic to the kind of victim-blaming that happens, but the story itself was not; but obviously [it was] very melodramatic and overblown like a lot of those afterschool specials are.
We also did presentations on STDs where everybody got an STD they had to research and discuss. I got scabies. So we all had to bring in a visual model, and I brought in a little model scabie I made out of paper and a bowl and some pipe cleaners for its little legs, and I gave it a little angry face. My teacher was not amused, but I did get an A, so I think it probably worked out okay.
So I think we all could have used a Tsuji to be sex-positive. And the other thing I really like about Sex Ed 120%, because, you know, two of the people on this call are ace, it’s also really chill about, like, “It’s totally natural to have these urges, but it’s also totally natural not to. That’s also fine.” And that was definitely not something I got.
I think, regardless of the level of detail we got in our sex ed class, overall I think my school was… I grew up in Kansas, by the way, Northeastern Kansas, which is its own thing. I think it was a little more edged towards sex-positivity in terms of “Yeah, this is a thing that happens. As you get older, you’re going to have these sexual urges” or whatever they called them. But you didn’t get that “But also, maybe you won’t and that’s fine,” and that would have been nice. That would have been nice to hear.
So, I appreciate the overall positivity, and I think the series, despite the trans-exclusive language that does get used throughout in terms of talking about bodies, there’s very much an overall push towards acceptance and diversity and inclusion. So, I appreciate that and I would have liked to see more of that in school, because another thing we didn’t talk about is: God, no, did anyone talk about gay people in those health classes.
ALEX: No. Yes. Again, not in a homophobic way. It just didn’t. Just didn’t. Just didn’t come up.
VRAI: Oh, it was in a homophobic way.
DEE: [sympathetic] Oh, Vrai.
Yeah, for me it was also just like it just didn’t get talked about. Or if it did, it was super in passing, like “I probably shouldn’t even say this because I’m probably gonna get in trouble. Okay, we’re gonna move on.” So, yeah, Vrai, I think you maybe had the worst of it among the three of us.
VRAI: [Chuckles] It’s okay, it’s funny now, and shoutout to all the fanfiction and Anne Rice novels that gave me very bad things I had to unlearn.
DEE: Yeah, one of my favorite lines from a slightly related series, which is My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, is when she’s talking about the stuff that wasn’t taught in sex ed and she talks about how everybody was figuring things out from the fiction and the media they were consuming. And there’s a line in that that’s like (I’m paraphrasing) “I’m not saying that the existence of the fiction is wrong. The problem is we were never given the correct information.”
And that is what is so important about sex ed, is: it’s not like kids aren’t going to find out about sex elsewhere. They’re just going to probably find out about it in incorrect and possibly unhealthy ways. So, it’s the importance of these classes and having a teacher explain to you what consent is and that victim-blaming is wrong and all that good jazz that comes up in this series.
ALEX: Well, yeah, because that’s another cool thing that the series does, is that a couple of times, quite explicitly, it’s like, “Don’t take what you see in porn as reality. Don’t take what you see in your BL doujin as reality.”
And we may get back to this in a moment, but I found the whole chapter where you had the two girlfriends and then the bisexual BL author and then the presumably straight BL fan… They had a really interesting conversation about: what does it mean to read these really maybe romanticized, tropey, perhaps exoticized stories about queer men as a queer person or a straight person? What do you get out of that? What does that tell you about life? How does that reflect onto the experience of real queer men whose experience we do not share? I found that fascinating because I hadn’t really seen that—certainly not in manga—hadn’t really seen that hashed out to that degree, and it brought up some really interesting stuff.
VRAI: It is a really thorough discussion of a discourse that I feel like gets rehashed every few months. That’s one of my favorite parts of the series, is how well it hits all those points and sort of calmly and… I don’t know, I feel like it… “settled” is perhaps a bit patronizing to say, but I feel like it really sums up both the drawbacks and the appeals quite well.
DEE: And yeah, we can dip into this a little bit right now, for sure. It talks about… I think one of the things that’s interesting about it is the idea that BL is targeted at cis heterosexual women. And that may be the case, but also queer women enjoy it as well, and it was really cool to… because Moriya has no interest in it, but her partner Aikawa does. And Aikawa kinda says, “Yeah, yuri doesn’t really work for me because a lot of it feels like it’s targeted at a male audience. Or the unreality is maybe the point, but it means that I can’t really feel like I can map myself to it because it doesn’t match my personal experience at all.”
ALEX: Yeah, yeah, that was really interesting.
DEE: Yeah, but she’s like, “But with BL, because it’s guys, the fact that it is supposed to be untethered from reality doesn’t bother me like it does [with yuri], I can just get swept up in the fantasy of it all.” So I like that element.
That’s one of the few places… There’s very few places in the story where guys show up, and I think that’s fine because we don’t get a lot of sex ed, sex-positive media geared towards… I mean, cis women, but still, girls. And so, I like that that is the focus of the series. But that is one moment where I think it might have been nice to have one gay guy there to talk about it.
ALEX: To weigh in, yeah.
DEE: Yeah. Because that’s a sort of a mixed conversation, from what I’ve read from Japanese gay men, is: some of them are like, “Yeah, BL’s fine, whatever,” and some of them are like, “Yeah, I do find it kind of uncomfortable.”
But typically, when you read the criticism, it’s not necessarily the content itself, but it’s [that] some of the fans fetishize real-life people, which Matsuda does sort of fall into the trap of. And I think if I have a critique about that storyline, it’s I do wish there had been a moment where they’d been like, “Hey, Matsuda. It’s fine to enjoy this fiction and also understand it’s not tethered to reality. But also, making up fantasies about real-life people being gay is kind of messed up, and you need to separate those two things because you shouldn’t be… Don’t fetishize actual human beings.”
And I do wish it had gone a little bit harder on that, but I think the overall conversation about BL itself and what value it has and what some of the attractions are… And also it did a nice job of pointing out that a lot of more recent BL is more grounded in actual queer issues and the LGBTQ community. And that’s how they get Moriya to try some, and she was like, “Okay, yeah, give me some of those more realistic series because I might actually like that.”
VRAI: Well, it even… It would have been nice to have some queer men in that section, but I did appreciate that it takes a moment with Matsuda to kind of pull over and be like, “Hey, you know that a lot of BL can be kind of insulting and also uses some terms that are considered derogatory in modern…” And she’s like, “Oh. Shit, I did not realize that.”
DEE: Yeah, I did like that, where she’s like, “Oh, I guess I shouldn’t use that kind of terminology anymore.”
I thought it was interesting that apparently the term “fujoshi” is getting some pushback as being homophobic because it began as this self-derogatory “oh, I’m rotten because I like reading stories about two boys kissing.” And sort of that idea of like, “Okay, well, why is it rotten? Why is a gay couple rotten?” That is, itself… I had not necessarily seen that criticism before, and so I thought that was a good point and one I hadn’t necessarily thought of that they brought up there.
ALEX: And it also leads into that quite funny scene where they’re trying to come up with new terminology and nothing quite fits. And one of them is like, “What if we call fans of BL and yuri ‘gardeners’? Because, you know, it’s lilies, it’s roses.” And I thought that was cute.
Which, again, another good example of blending these more serious, grounded conversations with the gags, the laughs, the goofs, which is the manga’s whole deal. It felt very earnest even if it didn’t necessarily come to a gold-star conclusion about what the right thing to do is.
DEE: No, I agree. I actually sort of like that… And I do like that this series doesn’t necessarily… it’s not like every single chapter has a hard and fast moral. The series is very, very… It comes down very, very hard on bodily autonomy, for an example, in the reproductive rights chapter; or not victim-blaming, and it’s like “If you are assaulted, it is not your fault. Full stop, 100%.” It comes down very hard on those types of topics.
But it definitely allows itself some wiggle room with some of the things like fictional fantasy versus… It gives itself more wiggle room, I think, with some of the more fantastical topics, which I thought was good of it to acknowledge, like “I don’t have all the answers.” And this is a conversation that is being debated by the queer community in Japan to this day. So that’s where we are.
Yeah, the gardeners thing was neat, because I was like, “Yeah, language is hard, huh, kids?”
DEE: I would also like to change some terms, but it’s tough. It’s tough out there.
PETER: Hey everyone, Peter here. This episode ran a little long so we decided to split it into a two-parter. Dee, Alex, and Vrai will be picking things back up in about two weeks with a little more—or a lot more—on Sex Ed 120%.
I’m gonna let Dee play us out with her original outro from the episode and hope she forgives me for making her reuse the same Pokemon movie joke.
DEE: We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Chatty AF. We hope you had a great time and learned a little something too. If you liked what you heard, consider subscribing to us on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Podcasts—really, wherever you get your podcasts, we’re probably hanging out there.
Or, if you’re really feeling fired up from this episode, why not head over to patreon.com/animefeminist and become a supporter? You can become a member for as little as $1 a month, and for just $5 a month you get access to the AniFem Discord, as well as monthly bonus podcasts where we recommend titles, discuss genres, and sometimes get into fights about which Pokémon movie is the best.
We also have a store, animefeminist.com/store, where you can find cute and cool merch for the progressive geek on-the-go.
And that’s the show!