How Boobs, Bumps & Blood is Revolutionising Sex-Ed

Features. Posted 3 years ago

Courtney Sanders
Image by Isabella Connelley and Bethan Mooney.Image by Isabella Connelley and Bethan Mooney.

We all know what sex-ed classes at high school are like, and they’re not good. Teachers awkwardly deliver scare-mongering statistics and scientific photographs via slideshows, while students awkwardly giggle at ‘rude’ words, like ‘vagina’ and ‘penis’, being thrown around in the classroom environment.

This awkwardness is indicative of the fact that the education system has never really developed the tools to discuss sex with teenagers in a meaningful way. Moreover, the education system doesn’t really tackle the psychology of sex and sexuality at all.

Enter Isabella Connelley and Bethan Mooney, who have launched Boobs, Bumps & Blood, to try to discuss puberty in a way which connects with young people. The project takes the form of a Tumblr on which the pair publish their artful photographs of the puberty experience and interviews, by Sydney-based journalist Tash Gillezeau, with inspirational women who each discuss their unique puberty experiences. The centrepiece of the project is a short film that will be wrapped and ready later this year. In the mean time, we caught up with Isabella, Bethan, and Tash, to dig into why projects like this are so important. Because puberty is awkward, but it doesn’t have to be.

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Image by Isabella Connelley and Bethan Mooney.

Courtney Sanders: Hi! How did you two meet and start collaborating with each other?
Boobs, Bumps & Blood: We met whilst studying photography at RMIT University. The two of us share a love of art, movies, red wine, and a similar worldview. Collaboration was inevitable!

C.S.: Where did the idea from Boobs, Bumps & Blood come from?
BB&B: Puberty for us was a period of confusion. Whether it was growing pubic hair, dealing with period pain, exploring our sexuality or coping with gossip at school, there were a lot of questions we wanted to ask but, for some reason, felt we couldn’t. Sympathy for our 13-year-old selves, frustration at the sex education we received, and anger at how topics like menstruation, masturbation, sexuality, and gender are still treated as taboo, compelled us to generate a dialogue about puberty, and so we set about creating a series of short films. We discussed our ideas with journalist, Tash Gillezeau (a good friend of ours), who was very interested in our project and together we joined forces. We soon came up with the idea of interviewing women about their experiences of puberty and then combining these testimonials with powerful imagery and stylised set-ups. Our aim is to blur the boundary between reality and fantasy to create a unique outlook on sexual education that is not only visually intriguing but truthful and inclusive.

C.S.: Can you elaborate on how you plan to make it “truthful and inclusive”?
BB&B: We look back at that important transition into adolescence and think we would have liked to have known way more than, as Tash puts it, “simply being able to point out a fallopian tube on a diagram!” We think girls need to be better prepared and for that to happen we need to close the text books and listen to real women talk about their experiences, and to consider what they would like to tell their 13-year-old selves about this transition. We have interviewed a diverse group of young women who can be seen as ‘big sister’ figures; they know what needs to be told and tell it like it is!

C.S.: What do you think is wrong with the representation of puberty at the moment?
BB&B: It’s way, way too scientific. Too anatomical. The focus is very much on sex for reproduction. This is unhelpful for a couple reasons. Firstly, it perpetuates this vision that women’s ultimate role is to have children. Hey, that’s why you have a vagina, after all, right? We don’t think that’s a helpful narrative for young women to hear. They need something less detached, less laboratory-orientated. Sex and your body is visceral, it’s intimate. That’s not captured in health class.

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Read interviews with inspirational young women on the Boobs, Bumps & Blood Tumblr.

C.S.: Are you taking a gendered approach to the project? Is this project specifically designed for young women?
BB&B: Well, firstly, we don’t see gender as merely referring to women and men, we’d describe gender as being more on a spectrum. But as women and feminists ourselves, our passion is to really connect with young female-identifying persons and help them have healthy relationships with sex and their bodies. There are issues to do with sex education for boys too, but in general there is an expectation that they’ll be sexual and masturbate. This is represented and reinforced onscreen as just this funny, routine part of being a guy – with films like American Pie and Superbad. For women, there is still so much silence around sex, masturbation and our vaginas. So, for now, yes, we’re focusing on women, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t scope to branch out into making films and content for guys too. We’d love for them to have another point of reference that isn’t porn.

C.S.: The work you’ve created for Boobs, Bumps & Blood is really stylistically specific. Where did the stylistic direction came from and who you are inspired by?
BB&B: We have always loved the weird and fantastical, and have therefore always taken a very stylistic and constructed approach when photographing and filming. With this project we wanted to combine these elements with a more realistic depiction of the subject through interviews. By contrasting the interviews with these constructed scenes we aim to captivate the audience. We draw elements of inspiration from so many different things, whether it’s an exhibition we have just seen or an old surrealist painting.

C.S.: What will the film look like?BB&B: The imagery will be highly stylised, colourful and humourous (boobs will dance, pube jungles will be explored, and pimples will pop!). We hope to tear down the documentary genre’s constraints and present the topic in a way that is eye-catching and daring.

C.S.: Everyone had horrific sex-ed class experiences – they’re so awkward! What were yours like?
Bethan Mooney: I just remember everyone would giggle every time the teacher said ‘vagina’ or ‘penis’. We didn’t get very far into it to be honest…pun intended!

Isabella Connelley: Our sex-ed classes were divided between girls and boys as I was at a Catholic primary school. The teachers didn’t really ever talk about it all – all I can remember is an awkward ‘educational’ movie being played.

Tash Gillezeau: Mine was definitely being taught by a male teacher in year 6 who unambiguously used to flirt with his particularly attractive students. I read what was going on at that age, and wanted no part in that dynamic, but most girls that age were kind of oblivious to what was going on because they were 11-years-old. Obviously, a sort-of creepy middle aged man wasn’t the best voice from which to be learning about sex and how our bodies were going to be changing.

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Read interviews with inspirational young women on the Boobs, Bumps & Blood Tumblr.

C.S.: When you’re not doing Boobs, Bumps & Blood, what are you doing?
Bethan Mooney: Nothing. Nah jokes, we have a life (sort of)! Isabella and I are busy collaborating on creative projects, whether it be fashion shoots, music videos or art installations.

Tash Gillezeau: I’m finishing off my media degree and working as a writer at GQ magazine. I’ve still got a couple years left of my law degree to go as well. The rest of the time I try to really foster my relationships – that’s really all we have that’s important.

C.S.: Ultimately, how do you want Boobs, Bumps & Blood make young people feel?
BB&B: We want young people to feel comfortable and at ease. Finally, a conversation about this transition that isn’t coming from an awkward parent or stern teacher. We also want them to feel informed and prepared for the fun bits as well as the harmful bits – STDs, sexual assault, bodily autonomy etc. And most of all, we want young people to feel connected and supported through this transition.

C.S.: Who do you think is doing a good job of strengthening and broadening the puberty conversation at the moment?BB&B: JOHN FRECKING OLIVER. His recent Last Week Tonight report on HBO that talks about the lack of consistency in sex education specifically in America. It is absolute gold and was a huge inspiration for our project, YouTube it now, trust us! But honestly the lack of conversation around puberty is exactly why we have set out to start one!

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Read interviews with inspirational young women on the Boobs, Bumps & Blood Tumblr.

Follow Bethan and Isabella on Instagram too, at @bethanmooney and @issyconnelley respectively.

Join the conversation on Twitter @CatalogueAus

Liked this? Read these articles about sex:

1) True Sex: Baby’s First Affair

2) True Sex: When Sex is Like the Movies, But Not in a Good Way

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