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We need to discuss this Netflix show’s portrayal of sex and consent

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Kayleigh Dray
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“It seems like sex can go from something you want to do to a punishment really f**king quickly.”

The End of the F**king World has been the surprise hit of 2018, boasting a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with countless reviewers praising its pitch black humour. The teen comedy drama, which was created and written by Charlie Covell, based on a graphic novel by Charles S. Forsman, was originally launched on Channel 4’s streaming platform, All 4. It then launched on Netflix in January, finding a new legion of fans.

So it makes sense that Netflix and Channel 4 have now jointly announced that they’d commissioned a second series to be written once again by creator Charlie Covell (via Variety).

“We’re so proud that this global success story began at Channel 4 and that a second series is on its way,” said Beth Willis, Channel 4’s head of drama. “Charlie’s witty, wonderful world is back, and we can’t wait to see where she takes it next.”

It is worth noting, though, there’s more to this dark comedy than just seriously funny writing. In fact, it subtly deals with a number of heavyweight topics throughout its eight-episode run –including sex and consent.

The big moment cropped up during the first season, shortly after the show’s angst-addled teenage protagonists, Alyssa (Jessica Barden) and James (Alex Lawther), fall out after an argument, causing Alyssa to storm out of the house they’re squatting in.

It isn’t long before she meets a guy named Topher (Alex Sawyer) and brings him back to the house for sex – although it remains unclear as to whether or not she’s doing this because she wants to, or because she wants to hurt James.

By the time she and Topher make it into the bedroom, however, Alyssa finds herself unable to go through with the encounter.

“I changed my mind,” she says. “I’m sorry, I’m just not into this.”

Topher, though, doesn’t take kindly to this change of heart.

“That’s not fair,” he retorts angrily, before resorting to flattery in a bid to get her back in the mood. “I think you’re amazing.”

Cue Alyssa delivering what might just be the best line of the entire show:

“Well, then respect me changing my mind and f**k off, please.”

Naturally, this scene – which feels especially relevant in 2018 – went down an absolute storm on Twitter.

It’s not the only time that consent is dealt with in EOTFW: in a later episode, we see Alyssa and James kissing passionately on a beach, but, when Alyssa experiences a distressing flashback, she asks James if they can wait.

“Just for a bit, I don’t know… a few days,” she says. “Is that ok?”

James responds simply: “Yeah, of course.”

It’s a simple and powerful scene – one which has, again, resonated powerfully with viewers of the show.

In a world still reeling from the ongoing #MeToo movement, it’s perhaps unsurprising that so many women have come forward to praise EOTFW for Alyssa’s unapologetic refusal.

It’s a sad reality that many women – and men, for that matter – feel unable to say “no” to sex, especially if they have initiated the encounter. As such, we can end up breaking our own boundaries in order to please the person we’re with, or because we’re afraid of dealing with that same person’s hurt feelings.

Why? Because we are taught, from a very young age, that we should avoid making people angry, take responsibility for other people’s emotions, and work extremely hard to keep everyone around us happy. That, if we want to say no, we have to make sure we do so in a conciliatory, gentle, tactful way – using the sort of “non-verbal cues” that can so easily go unnoticed.

Alyssa, though, shows us there’s another way to handle these situations: her blunt honesty reinforces the point that we always have the right to say no, no matter what the context. And James and Topher’s contrasting reactions show us that, no matter how hurt or rejected we may feel when consent is withdrawn, we should always respect that no means no.

Or, to use Alyssa’s own words, “if people want to do stuff to you, you don’t have to let them.”

Barden, in a telephone interview with Refinery 29, says that she hopes Alyssa’s scenes in EOTW will encourage more open communication about sex and emotional vulnerabilities.

“Hopefully the show will open people’s minds to consent and those conversations because now people feel more free to talk about it.”

Amen.

Images: Netflix 

This article was originally published in January 2018.

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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