'How to Have Sex' review: A brutally honest film about early sexual experiences

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A teen woman looks profoundly superior astatine a party.

Mia McKenna-Bruce gives an impressively analyzable capacity arsenic Tara. Credit: Film4

Content warning: This reappraisal discusses intersexual assault.


Despite its searchable title, How to Have Sex is by nary intends a tutorial.

It's much of an intentionally vague conception that pervades Molly Manning Walker's directorial debut, suggestive of a much sinister knowledge gap affecting young group coming erstwhile it comes to intersexual experiences — thanks, inadequate activity education and rampant online misinformation!

One of nan astir important films of nan year, How to Have Sex examines British younker culture, consent, and intersexual unit done 3 teens connected their end-of-exams travel to Crete, Greece. Tacky excavation parties, a bucketload of crappy booze, and formative experiences await, immoderate thrilling, immoderate profoundly traumatic. With powerful performances from a talented, emotionally generous young cast, superb cinematography from Walker, and a book that really sounds for illustration teen conversation, How to Have Sex is simply a triumph of honorable storytelling.

It's by nary intends an easy watch, nor should it be. But it's reality.

What is How to Have Sex about?

Three teen girls giggle together.

Skye (Lara Peake), Em (Enva Lewis), and Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce). Credit: Film4

When you're vanished exams astatine nan extremity of precocious schoolhouse and you're faced pinch impending results, nan possibilities of nan future, and nan newfound independency that comes pinch graduation, what do you do? You drawback your 2 champion friends and caput to Greece, geared up for a week of excessively galore shots, excessively galore spews, excessively galore trays of cheesy chips, and doing it each again nighttime aft night. You're group to make hilarious, gorgeous memories pinch your mates, and meet immoderate caller faces. And it's going to beryllium nan "best vacation ever".

Until it's not.

This is nan set-up for Walker's film, which sees 16-year-old Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Em (Enva Lewis), and Skye (Lara Peake) heading to a week of partying successful nan coastal municipality of Malia for nan British balanced of America's Spring Break aliases Australia's Schoolies. The sky is clear: drinking, dancing, and sex. For Tara, she's yet to person her first intersexual acquisition and she's emotion nether unit to "catch up" pinch her friends. When Tara meets nan neighbours, their week of partying intensifies and nan unit rises. However, for Tara, her first intersexual experiences aren't respectful, wanted, aliases consensual, and nan movie follows her during nan week processing what's happened arsenic nan statement rages on.

How to Have Sex navigates consent and assault with respect and honesty

A teen woman and teen boy cheers integrative cups astatine a party.

Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) and Badger (Shaun Thomas). Credit: Film4

How to Have Sex isn't nan first teen movie to analyse these experiences of intersexual battle and consent by immoderate means, but Walker brings a sadistic honesty and frankness that sets nan movie apart. Through superb scripting and performances, nan movie acknowledges really male violence is normalised aliases brushed aside, really that "nightmare of a guy" successful a societal circle known for misconduct is simply allowed to transportation connected because "I've known him since we were little." As Charley Ross writes for Mashable, "Tackling this tricky dynamic, and nan value of men holding different men responsible for their actions, is 1 of nan film’s biggest achievements."

And successful particular, nan movie puts accent connected adjacent unit to opportunity thing — and really blatantly nine puts this work connected survivors.

"You should person said something," Tara is told. You should person said something. These conversations aren't plucked from obscurity, I've heard them myself. You mightiness person heard them. At a Q&A astatine London's British Film Institute (BFI), Walker said nan thought for nan movie itself came from a akin travel successful her ain adolescence, but peculiarly from speaking to a group of friends years later astir their corporate experiences, and recognising yeah, that wasn't OK. The movie shows really casually teens tin consciousness pressured into unwanted intersexual experiences, moreover celebrated for doing so. And it's this level of authenticity successful nan book that imbues How to Have Sex pinch uncomfortable accuracy, reminding america that not each teen intersexual acquisition is arsenic wacky arsenic different films and TV shows coming them.

You should person said something. These conversations aren't plucked from obscurity, I've heard them myself. You mightiness person heard them.

Not everyone will consciousness this way. When I saw nan movie astatine nan BFI, I was shocked to beryllium down 2 group connected nan autobus who loudly debated nan incredulity of Tara's circumstances, that her friends would never enactment arsenic they do, that this benignant of battle would never happen, and that Tara's eventual courageousness to speak up astir her acquisition felt removed from reality. I cannot disagree pinch these opinions much (and I tried my champion to not shriek these successful public, I'll show you what). Toxic friendships that hasten intersexual experiences and time off group successful susceptible scenarios exist. Everyday societal circumstances that alteration predatory behaviour exist.

Survivors of intersexual battle do not ever person nan words to picture what has happened, nor should others blasted them for processing it astatine their ain pace. It's a shocking reality that galore who acquisition intersexual battle whitethorn not consciousness capable to explanation it arsenic such, and misguided perceptions of rape support this disorder successful a profoundly vulnerable 'grey area'. 

"The measurement our civilization talks astir and defines rape tin person important effect connected a person's expertise to recognise erstwhile it has happened to them," Mashable's Rachel Thompson writes successful her book Rough. "The stigma attached to rape and taste ideas astir nan consequences of accusing personification of intersexual unit besides coming obstacles successful acknowledging nan reality of a violation." 

Toxic friendships that hasten intersexual experiences and time off group successful susceptible scenarios exist. Everyday societal circumstances that alteration predatory behaviour exist.

Thompson points to shocking figures from nan End Violence Against Women coalition, writing: "33 percent of group successful Britain deliberation it isn't rape if a female is unit into having activity but there's nary beingness violence. And 1 successful 10 group are 'unsure aliases deliberation it's usually not rape to person activity pinch a female who is dormant aliases excessively drunk to consent.'" 

It's this information and this reality that trickles into casual conversations and intersexual experiences successful How to Have Sex, really nan characters talk astir and prosecute activity without speaking to consent aliases feelings of unit successful susceptible circumstances.

How to Have Sex features an impeccable young cast

A teen woman relaxes connected a excavation chair.

Mia McKenna-Bruce is superb successful nan lead arsenic Tara. Credit: Film4

As nan film's protagonist, McKenna-Bruce takes Tara done a profoundly compelling and devastating arc, opening arsenic a joyful, hilarious girl, nan absolute life of nan party, and uncovering herself crushed by her experiences of alienation, adjacent pressure, and ultimately, surviving assault. Through lengthy adjacent ups that muddle nan surrounding sounds, Walker allows McKenna Bruce to move Tara done a operation of emotion — shock, shame, anger, disappointment, fear, suppressed vulnerability — arsenic nan statement rages connected astir her. As overmuch arsenic she tries to plunge herself into each creation level and excavation party, Tara appears disconnected from everything: her societal group, nan ludicrous intersexual stunts that specify nan Malia parties, and particularly her ain body.

Meanwhile, Tara's 2 champion friends beryllium polar opposites, pinch Peake perfecting adjacent unit queen Skye and Lewis bringing sweet, hilarious nuance to Em, who really recognises thing is incorrect pinch her friend. Both Skye and Em neglect to adequately grip Tara's experience, some painfully championing her successful their ain measurement alternatively of checking successful decently pinch her. But what Walker does pinch nan halfway 3 is distill an absolute deficiency of knowledge each of them has astir sex, consent, and pressure. They virtually do not person nan connection to talk astir their experiences beyond verbal high-fives, and because of this, Tara's symptom goes unacknowledged by her friends until nan very past moments. 

The movie proves nan champion portion of immoderate statement is earlier it's started

Two girls hug connected a dancefloor pinch their eyes closed smiling.

Credit: Film4

If there's a ascendant truth successful How to Have Sex it's that nan champion portion of nan statement is successful nan committedness of it all. When Tara, Skye, and Em get successful Malia, they're giggling, bickering, screaming, and splashing astir successful nan freezing ocean, connected apical of nan world. They're enamoured pinch their mini edifice room, praising "the champion position I've ever seen successful my life".

Though Walker knows really to sprout nan hellhole retired of a statement scene, it's these early moments that I clung to for nan remainder of nan film, nan trio embracing their independency pinch hands successful nan air, deep-and-meaningfuls successful nan thoroughfare while stuffing their faces pinch chips, and stocking up connected supplies successful nan supermarket pinch their hard-saved cash. It's pure, teen bliss, connected nan cusp of adulthood, and it's genuinely nosy to watch nan chemistry of nan halfway cast, imbuing Tara, Em, and Skye pinch sheer resilience, taking different changeable correct aft a cheeky spew. They're ridiculous, silly, and hilarious, and wholly avoiding reasoning astir nan future. 

It's this joyousness and silliness they deserve, but nan formative experiences up of them will find nan remainder of their lives. When nan credits rolled of How to Have Sex successful my screening, nan cinema filled pinch nan enormous, emotive sounds of "Strong" by Fred again… and Romy. I couldn't move. It was perfect. "You don't person to beryllium truthful strong," Romy sings. And she's right. But we are. 

How To Have Sex was reviewed retired of its UK merchandise successful Nov. 2023. It's now showing successful U.S. cinemas.


If you person knowledgeable intersexual abuse, telephone nan free, confidential National Sexual Assault hotline astatine 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), aliases entree nan 24-7 thief online by visiting online.rainn.org.

A achromatic and achromatic image of a personification pinch a agelong braid and heavy framed glasses.

Shannon Connellan is Mashable's UK Editor based successful London, formerly Mashable's Australia Editor, but emotionally, she lives successful nan Creel House. A Tomatometer-approved critic, Shannon writes astir everything (but not anything) crossed entertainment, tech, societal good, science, and culture.

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