Representation surrounding the different relationships teenage girls have with masturbation is significantly better than it once was, but nowhere near where it needs to be. Recent series such as Sex Education are examples of media that uses humour and easy concepts – aimed at the exact demographic it portrays – as a way of telling stories previously not explored in the mainstream.
However, narratives which focus on exploring your own body at a younger age, without themselves being hypersexual such as the ones in Sex Education, are unfortunately extremely limited. Even now, in the 2020s, rarely do we see women characters talking about their sexual urges in teen movies. Even rarer still do we see male gaze-less representations of women’s feelings surrounding sex with themselves.
Enter stage left Karen Maine’s directorial debut, Yes, God, Yes. This film follows highly timid, yet devoutly Catholic, teen Alice, whose shy and reserved nature allows her to flourish at her deeply religious high school, her skirt never being too short and her head always being down. That is, until her best friend questions why she kept rewinding back to the infamous steamy sex scene in Titanic the other day. And until a rumour is spread around her school that she “tossed Wade’s salad”, when, in reality, she doesn’t even know what that means…
Following a morality class in which the students are educated that the purpose of sex is to create children, further implying that any other kind of sex is wrong – including sex with yourself – Alice comes home and resumes her after-school activity of participating in a quiz-style game on an anonymous chat room. All of a sudden, she receives a private message from user HairyChest1956, with raunchy photographs of him and his wife attached. This then leads to a cyber-sex session, with promises from the man to take Alice’s “soaking wet” panties off with his teeth, ending in Alice’s hand down her skirt, her face contorted in confused curiosity, before quickly switching the monitor off as she comes back to reality after being called to her family dinner.
After these experiences, a conflicted Alice heads off to her school’s Catholic retreat alongside her classmates in an aim to feel closer to God and understand these new feelings. In spite of herself, the unanswered question burns in her mind as she sings hymns in a circle and fidgets on the confessional chair, a nervous smile plastered on her face: am I going to go to hell for these thoughts and urges?
This film is equal parts frustrating as it is funny – in a good way. Not everyone who watches this film will be able to relate to the strictness and inner turmoil that comes with having a sexual awakening at a time you are also so entrenched in your faith. However, although this is an important aspect of this movie, the central message is much clearer and much more universal. Teenagers do have sex, and this is normal – expected, even. More importantly though, teenage girls actually touch themselves just as much as horny teenage boys do – particularly now they can sext anonymously and have phones that vibrate, and this is also normal.
Undoubtedly one of my favourite scenes that I’ve seen in any recent film is the scene towards the end of this movie where a particularly despondent Alice winds up in a lesbian bar, orders and then downs a wine cooler, proceeding to have a heart to heart with a kind, if not slightly concerned, older lesbian, who then gives her a ride back to the camp on her motorcycle. (Minimal yet tender representation like this shows how easy it is to incorporate queerness into a film where this isn’t necessarily the main focus, something that I for one hope to see much more of in the future, not only in coming of age films, but in general.)
Yes, God, Yes says everything it wanted and needed to say and does so wonderfully, despite its mere 77 minute run time. The filmmaking is nothing astounding, but it explores really important themes in a very accessible, comical, and enjoyable way. The characters have heart, despite not being perfect, and it is precisely this that makes them seem so real, as if you know them too. Yes, God, Yes is a quirky yet relatable addition to the hopefully growing category of coming-of-age stories that present girls’ adolescent struggles with sexuality, and is an enjoyable short watch for anyone looking for something that is both witty and touching.