Directed by Molly Manning Walker, How to Have Sex follows a group of British teenage girls as they set out on grad trip to the sun-drenched Cretan town of Malia. For them, this trip is a rite-of-passage. They’ve worked hard and earned this shot at immortality. As they await the results of their final exams, they’re determined to unleash their wild side for a time of free drinks, partying and hook-ups. But, while her friends Skye and Em are more experienced, Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) is still a virgin. When she meets the guy across the hall, she’s instantly attracted to his goofy humour and caring heart. But is Tara really ready to take the next step into adulthood?
While the title may suggest that this will be salacious in style, How to Have Sex takes the opposite approach. Although the film takes place during an endless stream of parties, at no point are we meant to feel at ease. By morning, the streets feel almost as though they have been stripped from the aftermath of a zombie attack, as they are tarnished with graffiti and sprinkled with garbage. Although these teens believe themselves to be on the adventure of a lifetime, this space feels like a treacherous fork in the road between youth and adulthood. (In fact, the film feels like a distant cousin to 1995’s Kids. In both films, we follow the lives of teens as they attempt to dive into the world of yet don’t seem mature enough to handle what lies ahead.)
And that’s the beauty of the film.
At the outset, Tara seems stuck. Her friends tease her about her virginity and place wages on who will have the most often random hookups during their exploits. Even so, she believes that having sex is simply the next great adventure. (After all, she doesn’t want to be left out of the fun.) And, having signed up for a week of partying, now seems like as good a time as any to take that next step.
But How to Have Sex isn’t a film that takes sexuality lightly. Instead of firing up a raucous teen sex romp, this is a story that taps into the harsh realities that come with losing our innocence carelessly. Here, the joy of sex is shown to be more than a one-night stand. While intercourse may be the goal, intimacy can be left behind in the process. For Tara, finally crossing that bridge is exciting… but what happens afterwards. Is the adventure worth rushing? Or is it lacking something if it’s treated as casual? Suddenly, the excitement of anticipation gives way to the realities of sex—and the emotional emptiness that can follow the next morning.
Tara has always wanted her sexuality to mean something. But, things can change very quickly when emotions are left at the door. (And, for Have Sex, these conversations are just the beginning. Questions about consent and shame also loom in the darkness of the party rooms.)
In the end, despite the silliness of its title, How to Have Sex is far more mature than it seems. Tapping into the vitality of youth, this is a film that wants the world to ask what it means to us when we Have Sex… and the damage that can be done when we don’t take those questions seriously.
How to Have Sex is available in theatres on Friday, February 9th, 2024