TV Does Sex Ed

As Parks and Rec’s takes on senior sex-ed story, Abby Haglage tracks down TV’s best birds-and-bees talks.

Sex education is—awkward.

Thursday night’s episode of Parks and Recreation captured the dicey topic in all its uncomfortable glory. After learning that “old fogies” at Pawnee’s senior center are “going at it hard—old-people style,” Leslie (Amy Poehler) is determined to teach them about the risks of unprotected sex. “It's amazing what a few old guys can do with a little bit of charm and a whole lot of crabs.”

It’s flawlessly funny on the surface—but the subtext is more complex. At a time when basic facts about female anatomy have been egregiously misrepresented and their reproductive rights called into question—sex education is more relevant than ever. Only weeks away from the presidential election, where these issues will be resolved, there’s no better time than now to get a refresher. On the heels of Parks and Rec’s senior sex-ed episode, see how the rest of TV handles “the birds and the bees.”

‘Andy Get the Bananas,’ Parks and RecreationThree words senior citizens: treat yo’ selves. Speaking to a full house of sexually overactive elderly, Leslie’s in her element—or was, until the “town’s watchdogs” Marcia and Marshall Langman interrupt. Apparently in Pawnee teaching seniors how to use condoms on bananas is a “bogus sex-show” (wait …maybe for good reason?) and a violation of Pawnee’s abstinence policy. The power-couple of Pawnee reads as if they’re terrified the next 16 and Pregnant or Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo is just one sex-talk away. “Soon there will be babies in thong underwear, Leslie. Is that what you want?!”

The Pros and Cons of Sex, The OfficeLooks like the “world’s greatest boss” got a little too freaky in the sheets. (That’s what she said). When The Office’s Michael (Steve Carell) shows up with a fake mustache to hide a “pimple,” Meredith’s conclusion that it’s herpes sends the group into a tailspin. Andy (Ed Helms) isn’t amused at the STD jokes that ensue. “You know what guys, how about we just chill out a little on the herp-chat?” A self-proclaimed RA at Cornell (heard of it?) he proceeds to lead the group on a wildly unproductive journey through the “pros and cons” of sex. Newsflash Nard-dawg, unplanned pregnancy is sometimes a good thing.

‘Everything is Terrible,’ CommunityCool, cool, cool. At Greendale’s annual STD fair, ‘Catch Knowledge,’ the only thing the students are catching is each other—am I right? The incompetent Dean Pelton (Jim Sheer) and gullible Annie (Alison Brie) flip when their well-planned sex seminar morphs into an alcohol-fueled hook-up fest. Annie’s scared to see a penis—"giant thumb in a turtleneck"—and even more afraid to say it, but her defense of virginity feels genuine. When the boys attempt to use the free condoms (already widely distributed) for water balloons—they leak and prove defective. In the words of Britta, “Everything is terrible.”

‘Whatever They Were Doing, Dad Was Winning,’ Modern FamilyIt’s sex-ed at the Dunphys—Clive Bixby-style. As families go, it’s pretty much the most uncomfortable thing of all time. When Haley, Alex, and Luke try to surprise their parents with breakfast in bed on their anniversary, they get a surprise of their own—they’re having sex. The girls are horrified, but Luke steals the show, saying “whatever they were doing, Dad was winning” and “I know what sex is. It’s when a man and a woman take off their underwear and get into bed.” When Claire (Julie Bowen) pushes Phil to help her give the “talk,” the kids decide to just grin and nod. The scene ends up like a faux smile-off—Haley leading and Luke close behind.

‘It’s On … Suck It, Bitches,’ Saturday Night LiveThat time that Sofia Vergara played a sex-ed teacher on Saturday Night Life and made a million dreams come true—until Gilly came, and then all the dreams died. “Stop jiggling, this is sex education,” Vergara begins. The skit—rich with superficial sex education—is really all about Gilly (Kristen Wiig) whose brash and brazen disregard for authority we envy or adore. No matter the feeling, the bubbling bubble-head is captivating, and sex-ed becomes an afterthought. Is it commentary on the current state of America—per usual for SNL? Who knows, Gilly turns it moot.

‘Do You Wanna Touch Me There?’ GleeGoop sings! Goop dances! Goop…teaches sex ed? In case you didn’t get enough of Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Holly Holiday’ in her first appearance on Glee (chances are you did!), the show brought her back for a second episode—this time as a sultry ‘health and wellness’ sex-educator. After expressing her concern to Will (Matthew Morrison) about the glee club members’ lack of knowledge about sex, she puts her money where her mouth is, performing a sexed-up rendition of “Do you wanna touch me there?” The resounding looks in the room scream “no.” It’s a long way from home for the actress—maybe too far. Did Chris Martin approve this message?

Taboo Women’s Health Issues, Boardwalk EmpireDespite the fact that prostitution rages and topless women abound in the roaring twenties of Atlantic City—a modicum of modesty remains intact at Catholic Hospital. After an argument over the proper way to refer to the female body, Chief Sister Censor expresses her discontent over the word vagina in Margaret’s women’s health materials. “I’ve never enjoyed the sound of it,” Censor states. But she’s doesn’t stop there, taking issue then with the word pregnant and menstruation as well. The scene is a telling reflection of how taboo women’s health issues were the time.

Tween Fear mongering, The Cosby ShowLeave it to America’s beloved sitcom to do sex-educators everywhere proud. In season seven—which aired in 1990—an episode centers on Rudy getting her first period. Before Clair can execute her plan to educate her on the changes happening in her body, Rudy gets the low down from her two friends. The result? Tween fear mongering at its finest. From not being able to swim, to scaring animals at the zoo, the list of things you “can’t do once you get your period” is almost unbelievable—but then, it isn’t. Remember the days before the Internet induced hypochondria? That's what friends were for.

Cow’s Head, The Wonder YearsThe only person who needs a little help from his friends in the pilot of The Wonder Years is Coach Cutlip. It’s 1968, the beginning of sex education in America—and it shows. Sitting on the gym floor with the other boys—he looks lost and terrified. Only one day previous did he first experience the feelings of lust—unable to stop staring at Winnie at her brother's funeral. "How can I be having these feelings?" After analyzing a drawing of the “female reproductive system” (it looks like a “cows head”), the boys leave more confused than they came. On top of its hilarity, the episode provides an interesting glimpse into the first years of sex education—how far we’ve come, and how far we haven’t.

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‘What’s Your Sexual IQ,’ The Mary Tyler Moore ShowWhen Mary agrees to take care of Phyllis’s articulate daughter, Bess, things get a little uncomfortable. Moore has just completed work on a documentary “What’s Your Sexual IQ,” which has the newsroom—and the rest of the gang—fixated on the topic of sex. The conversations lead Phyllis to decide it’s time for Bess—who is now in the eighth grade—to be educated on the topic. After much angst, Moore talks with Bess—only to learn that the precocious thirteen-year-old already has it all figured out. She just might make it after all.