Channel 4 Criticized for Airing 'The Joy of Teen Sex'

The series, which airs on the U.K. network that broadcast the original "Skins" and "Queer as Folk," has been attacked for "an overemphasis on sexual techniques and products" with "little attention paid to communication, confidence, respect."

LONDON -- Channel 4, the network that launched Skins in the U.K., has been severely criticized by a group of sex-education specialists for sexualizing children and relationships in its current series The Joy of Teen Sex.

A group of more than 20 specialists in the field have come together to accuse Channel 4 of "grossly misrepresenting" issues relevant to teens and for ignoring educational advice in a blatant bid to boost its ratings.

The broadcaster -- which has often courted controversy with depictions of teen sexuality in shows like Skins and Queer As Folk -- has been accused of presenting sex and sexual practices without advising children and teens that they had a right not to participate if they didn’t want to.

"The advice given to program participants left little room for exploration, choice, and the right to refuse sexual activity that doesn’t appeal to them," the specialists said in an open letter.

The group, led by the respected academic and educator Dr. Petra Boynton of University College London, warned that by choosing to titillate rather than to educate, the broadcaster risked damaging young audiences rather than helping them.

"We have been overwhelmed with emails from anxious teens and parents who support sex education, but are concerned about the messages of teenagers, sex, relationships and sexuality portrayed in this series," the letter said.

The show was also attacked for "an overemphasis on sexual techniques, and products" with "little attention paid to communication, confidence, respect, romance, affection and closeness."

The series, which began airing at the beginning of the year in the 10 p.m. slot, features a series of young adults being given advice on first-time anal sex, improving lesbian sex, the use of sex toys and information about genital embellishment. It has featured scenes where a 17-year-old girl is given explicit images of intercourse to develop her range of sex skills, a 20-year-old boy is advised how to deal with the pain of anal sex and a young woman is seen having a plaster-cast made of her vagina.

The show has already irked a number of viewers' groups, with Mediawatch U.K. director Vivienne Pattison warning that the program "crosses the line into prurience, with graphic scenes of sex that can only be described as pornographic."

But Channel 4 has defended its program, which is still on air, saying that it had a tradition of providing educational programming "that addresses the lack and inadequacy of sex education in schools."

It did not take on any of the central criticisms made by the group of academics, but said it had worked with "a number" of sexual healthcare professionals who had advised on the show.

"We realize that this type of programming will not always appeal to everyone. However, Channel 4 is always willing to listen to the concerns of viewers and interested parties following its broadcasts and we will correspond with the authors of the letter directly about their concerns."