A sex education video plays to a class of middle school students. “As puberty begins, hormones are released and the sexual organs begin to change. The uterus is the center of female reproductive activity….”
Two boys, quietly, in the back of the room: “The uterus? I thought girls had vaginas?”
“I thought that too, but I guess they don’t!”
“Maybe vagina is like slang?”
In the animated series Big Mouth on Netflix, a group of 12-year-old friends is trying desperately to figure out questions like this. Erections pop, periods flow, and first kisses abound in this series that depicts the horrors of puberty. It’s Judy Blume with a potty mouth — it’s hilarious and gross and not for middle-schoolers.1
The show focuses on a core group of five pubescent kids. Andrew (voiced by John Mulaney), Nick (Nick Kroll), Jessi (Jessi Klein), Missy (Jenny Spade), and Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) flail their way through embarrassment and growth. Andrew is plagued by the Hormone Monster (also Kroll), who arrives at the most inconvenient times (including during sex ed class) to insist that it’s time to masturbate. Jessi has her own Hormone Monstress (Maya Rudolph), who leads her through moodiness and bra-shopping and sleepovers with cool girls. Jay is a sex-crazed bro who is also really into magic.
What I adored about this show — and what led me to watch all ten episodes in a single evening — is the realness of these kids. We’ve all seen countless movies and TV shows covering teen sexuality. But such frank depictions of the utter grossness of teen bodies and the insecurities that accompany them is rarer. In the first episode, Nick accidentally sees Andrew’s penis at a sleepover, making him very insecure about his own prepubescent body. Jessi gets her first period while on a field trip and has to ask Andrew for help. After a day lost in New York City, Andrew and Nick recognize that they are just kids who aren’t ready to deal with the adult world. Nick’s older sister hosts a theater kid party, leading to a discussion about consent that many adults would benefit from. It’s all a vivid reminder of the pure awkwardness and uncertainty of middle school.
And unlike a lot of gross-out comedy, the girls get just as much attention as the boys. An entire episode focuses on female desire. In “Girls Are Horny Too,” the kids are assigned to do a book report on historical fiction. A romance novel called The Rock of Gibraltar gets everyone worked up, from the kids to the parents. The girls and their moms get excited over the hero Gustavo, and Jessi masturbates for the first time at the urging of her Hormone Monstress. Meanwhile, the boys find out that girls are just as horny as the boys and their minds are blown. (No, literally, their heads explode.)
After years spent studying the history of sex education, it’s fun to see kids learning about their bodies, having their first boyfriends and girlfriends, and working through the most relatable of problems. For too long, both sex education and puberty have been shameful. They are surrounded by misinformation (i.e. abstinence-only education) and uncomfortable for both kids and adults alike. But Big Mouth is so relatable — we’ve all had a first period or an awkward boner. We’ve all struggled with crushes and first kisses and trying to figure it all out. And at the end of the day, these kids are trying to do just that.
- One of our editors tells me that they know of this show because of middle-schoolers, so what do I know. Return to text.