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Lizzie Marvelly's Real Sex Talk: her mission to educate teens on sexual health

While her own family skirted the issue, Lizzie wants young people to be able to discuss the tricky topics.

Lizzie Marvelly

Growing up in Rotorua and attending an all-girls' school, Lizzie Marvelly admits sex was never discussed in her family home.

"God no, my parents never had that talk," laughs the 28-year-old musician and editor.

"And I think that's probably not that rare. That kind of conversation is really awkward, so lots of parents just choose not to have it."

It's one of the reasons she produced The Real Sex Talk – a series of 12 online episodes aimed at educating teens.

Featuring cameos by well-known Kiwis, including Shortland Street alumni and Boy star James Rolleston, the project went live on March 14. The two webisodes a week cover a wide range of topics – from consent and condoms to STIs, sexuality, pleasure and revenge porn.

"Teens are getting sex ed from porn and that is both concerning and unrealistic," tells the classical- crossover turned pop singer, who put her recording career on hold in 2015 to launch a website for young women, Villainesse.

"In Year nine, I remember a teacher telling us to have a feel around down there in our own time," she laughs.

"But mostly, sex ed was – and still is – about protection and contraception. What's missing is the social and emotional aspect – things like consent and respect."

Jo and Lizzie were stoked to receive a grant from NZ on Air.
Jo and Lizzie were stoked to receive a grant from NZ on Air.

Although her first sexual experience was consensual and at 19, slightly later than the average Kiwi female (17.6 years), Lizzie was still plagued by the same insecurities.

"Luckily, it wasn't particularly awkward and it wasn't his first time, so at least he knew what he was doing!" she laughs.

"It was like, 'Oh, OK, so that's done now.'

"One of the main things I wish I had known was the idea that you don't have to do anything you don't enjoy. Young women should be able to enjoy sex as much as men."

An online video forum like The Real Sex Talk would have helped her through those awkward teen years, she says, by clearing up myths and revealing the facts.

"I definitely felt pressure towards the end of high school," she tells.

"But there are some stats which might make today's students feel less alienated. For example, they might be surprised to know that only 25% of New Zealand high school students are sexually active."

A more ominous stat is that New Zealand has one of the worst sexual violence records in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

"Schools can also choose the content of sex education, which often means crucial topics are avoided. And it's a fact that teenage sex is often accompanied by drink and drugs. So an open, realistic platform for discussion is definitely needed."

Former Shorty star Grace was tasked with providing a condom demonstration for the series.
Former Shorty star Grace was tasked with providing a condom demonstration for the series.

It's not the first time that Lizzie has tackled sexual issues head on. Soon after founding Villainesse, she launched #MyBodyMyTerms, a controversial project that examined the issue of sexual consent and revenge porn.

Out of the embers of that, The Real Sex Talk took shape, and Lizzie and her Villainesse co-pilot, TV producer Jo Raj, were "ecstatic" when the project was granted $165,000 in funding from NZ on Air.

But despite a 12-year stint in the entertainment industry and having performed before thousands of people on live telly, Lizzie – who co-wrote the episodes alongside Jo, comedian Eli Matthewson
and Jono and Ben writer Alice Snedden – was happy to be on the other side of the camera.

"We thought about it early on, but honestly I was too busy producing and the cast we had was so great I couldn't have hoped for a better result. And," she grins, "it meant I could rock up to work in my gym gear."

Many of the contributors of #MyBodyMyTerms were eager to get involved again – including former Shortland Street stars Frankie Adams and Grace Palmer.

"Grace, bless her heart, was tasked with putting the condom on a wooden demonstrator," says Lizzie, "and we got Frankie to make a dental dam. I have so much respect for the whole cast – but especially those two for stepping into that role!

"We all acknowledged the awkwardness, but it was also a very fun environment with some hilarious moments."

The Real Sex Talk, which teens can find via Villainesse, also features medical experts.

"Talking about sex doesn't have to be embarrassing," says Lizzie. "But if someone had told me 10 years ago I'd be sitting in a darkened room watching a condom demo or googling the words for female ejaculation for a living, I would have laughed – or cried," she grins.

"I joke about it with my parents now. I tell them that maybe if they'd talked to me more about sex when I was growing up, then I wouldn't be talking about it all the time, like I am now!"

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