A film on the discovery and the aura sex has on the world is one of the best subjects to make a film on. The conflict is evident and inbuilt. Sexual relations and their apparent power play have a direct impact on how we perceive human beings. With the world going through radical changes in the last couple of decades, Molly Manning Walker’s “How To Have Sex” becomes an important reminder of how young girls are hypersexualized. The narrative is straightforward, but the treatment takes the film forward.

Tara, played by the brilliant Mia McKenna-Bruce, accompanied by her fellow 16-year-old friends, travel to the Greek island of Crete for a drug-fuelled, sex-charged coming-of-age holiday. The director’s gaze is one of empathy, yet it’s accusatory as well. Tara’s state of mind becomes the accusation of how society creates this undeserved, unrelenting charge of oversexualing teenagers. Her friend Skye embodies this view, played by vicious yet unambiguous Lara Peake. The constant pressure to look “bangin’,” illustrated by Skye, is what our society constantly screams at young, impressionable adults.

Walker’s thorough understanding of the teenage desire, along with the disappointment that engulfs the teen mindset, is what sets this film apart. Barring one scene, there is no mention of age. UK’s age of consent, being 16 years old, does not reflect the constant dangers a teenager is exposed to when understanding the politics of desire and pleasure. Philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that happiness was the ultimate good and that happiness was pleasure and the absence of pain. Tara’s desire and want never coincide, which makes pleasure equivalent to pain. Even though she wants to lose the stigma behind virginity and, by extension, virginity, she also wants the warmth of touch, which makes the entire experience a harrowing one for her.

Tara’s inexperience in matters of desire in front of her friends is clearly shown when the typical Liverpool lad Badger flirts with her. She befriends him, yet the idea of jumping into bed is a walk too far for her. When they come up with a plan as to who gets to use the bedroom the most, depending on their sexual activity, the pressure on Tara increases. The matter comes to a head when Skye’s jealousy, even though not apparent to Tara, forces this pressure on her even more. Tara becomes the subject of ridicule when Skye deliberately mentions, “Never have I ever had sex!” and Tara is embarrassed in front of the potential partners. This pressure leads to vulnerability in front of potential partners and potential abusers, too.

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When a 16-year-old self is looking for just sex, multiple things can go wrong. The act of sex devoid of emotions can cause a lot of improbable emotions at such a young age. Walker’s understanding of the sexual act is well established through the location of the hotel. The hotel is like an island harboring misfits completely cut off from the realities of the world. This island creates the effect of alienation on the characters from the real world’s problems. Walker uses this alienation to ensure that Tara gets pushed further away from her friends.

A still from How to Have Sex (2023).
A still from How to Have Sex (2023).

Paddy, played by the menacing baby-faced Samuel Bottomley, is the perfect example of what an abuser does. He appears sweet and uses his age to seduce Tara. Tara acts old to fit in with her friends who have already lost their virginity, but when it comes to being with someone, she is left confused, and her expressions are that of pain when she has sex. The agency of Tara goes completely missing, and what she represents is just a body for Paddy to enjoy. Her contorting face, each and every time the mechanization of sex brings, is one that can haunt anyone watching this film. 

After the act is over, Paddy completely ignores her, which makes Tara feel disgusting. Walker creates a slow dolly zoom the following day when Tara walks back, showing the topography of the street. The street looks like a haunted road where everything is scattered and looks straight out of a zombie movie. Tara walks back in the morning through the ruins, and the symbolism is complete.

Walker also creates a perfect antithesis to Paddy: Badger. This antithesis works on many levels. Throughout “How To Have Sex,” Badger is portrayed as the ultimate bad guy. He has multiple tattoos and hails from the working class town of Liverpool as his Scouse accent suggests. The perfect bad boy image is complete when he is brought onto the stage to get a blowjob from multiple girls on stage. On the other hand, Paddy is clean-shaven and appears as the perfect boy next door, making him irresistible to both Skye and Tara; hence, Skye is jealous when Paddy doesn’t give any attention to her. 

As the film progresses, Walker ensures that this image of both the boys is shattered. Even though he looks like the tough guy, Badger takes care of Tara when she feels down after the entire ordeal with Paddy at the beach. Paddy, on the other hand, takes any and every opportunity to belittle Tara and projects the ultimate fuckboy image. When the opportunity comes, he tries to have sex with Tara again, while she clearly says no through her actions. Her expressions are one of helplessness, and this forces the audience to flinch away as they cannot fathom the horrors that Tara is experiencing.

The sensitivity of Walker is the main driving force in “How To Have Sex.” While Paddy is abusing, the friends’ group barges in, and he has to stop, which symbolically becomes a potent image. The only way to stop an abuser is to make sure that society intervenes. This absolute brilliance of an image ultimately becomes the winning point of the film. Tara confesses to Em what happened at the end, but Em wants her to have spoken up throughout her stay. Tara shrugs it off and regains her cool.

When the plane is about to take off, and Tara wonders if she has what it takes to face society after this tragedy, Em extends her hand, focusing on how she is not alone in this ride. In fact, from the narrative perspective, the ending is somewhat ambiguous. Overall, “How To Have Sex” is an excellent study in understanding the contemporary teenage mindset and how they are subject to corruption by society’s hedonistic ideals. 

Read More: MMXX (2023) ‘IFFI’ Movie Review: Puiu Holds His Audience Captive and Shows Them Their Ugliness

How to Have Sex (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
How to Have Sex (2023) Movie Cast: Mia McKenna-Bruce, Shaun Thomas, Lara Peake
How to Have Sex (2023) Movie Genre: Drama | Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes
Where to watch How to Have Sex

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