Normal People sparks huge debate on Irish radio over ‘immoral’ sex scenes: ‘It’s fornication’

BBC series has been widely praised for its depiction of consensual sex between main characters Marianne and Connell

Roisin O'Connor
Friday 01 May 2020 16:13
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Normal People first trailer

The BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People has been receiving rave reviews from critics and fans alike, as much for its positive portrayal of consensual sex as for the performances of its two leads.

However, since the series made its debut, it has emerged that not everyone is as enthusiastic about the way the relationship between Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) unfolds.

A fierce debate erupted on RTÉ Radio 1’s talkshow Liveline about the depiction of sex between the characters, who are first shown aged 18 during their final year of school. The age of consent in Ireland is 17 years old.

Host Joe Duffy began by praising the acting and portrayal of consent, reading out a number of the five-star reviews given to the show by critics.

It quickly became clear that not all of his listeners felt the same. One woman, Mary, complained that Edgar-Jones looked younger than 17 (she is 21 in real life) and claimed the scenes were “something you’d expect to see in a porno movie”.

When asked what she would typically see in a “porno movie”, Mary responded: “Well, I don’t know, because I’ve never watched one, I’d just imagine.”

Another caller, David, accused the series of trying to “normalise kids going to school and having sexual relations”.

“The consent scene in the first eight minutes of the second episode could be seen as a masterclass in obtaining and giving consent from both parties,” Duffy countered.

Caller Tommy, a devout Catholic, was arguably the loudest critic of the show’s sexual scenes. He claimed that Edgar-Jones had been “exploited” to get ratings

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“I have two daughters and if they think that’s what’s going on in secondary school, it’s shocking,” Tommy said, adding: ”I wouldn’t like a daughter of mine to be engaging in sexual promiscuity before she gets married, I think most parents wouldn’t.

“It’s morally wrong, it’s fornication. Is the national broadcaster promoting fornication?”

Normal People director Lenny Abrahamson later poked fun at the uproar on Twitter, and expressed his sympathies to Duffy at having to field so many outraged calls.

Writer Mary McGill tweeted: “Sex is many things but it is not a sin and it is not shameful. That kind of thinking destroyed so many lives in this country. Time to grow-up and divest ourselves of it. Young people in particular deserve better.”

A five-star review for Normal People in The Independent said: “The sex scenes are awkward but not played for laughs, defying viewers to say this is not how it is. Abrahamson’s direction keeps them both in close-up, with plenty of silence, and space given to the landscape.”

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