There’s a new Aussie web series on the way, and it’s called Sexy Herpes. Yes, really. No, it’s not graphic. But it is unflinching as it delves into the myriad situations that can arise when working in a rural sexual health clinic. Don’t believe me? The first episode is called ‘Horsefucker‘.
“That’s actually based – well, it’s considered an urban myth, but that’s also a story that’s been circulating from a couple people in sexual health as a very valid thing that came up as an actual case,” director Madeline Dyer told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
If it’s not bleedingly obvious, the premise is that a bloke had sexual relations with a equine, and not in an arty farty, coming-of-age Equus way, either. It’s not the only beastiality story Madeline heard while researching for the series, either.
“Other ones were worse,” she says. “I’ve heard of one regionally where someone got stuck in a sheep or something. Someone had to be called out to remove him.”
It turns out that an under-resourced sexual health clinic isn’t just a comedy goldmine, but a place ripe for conversations around sexual health, sexuality and gender.
The idea for the series came (as these ideas so often do) from a conversation with a friend of Madeline’s who works in sexual health.
“She felt like the job was starting to get to her and get in her head when it came to being intimate with other people,” says Madeline. “This idea that she was getting a bit prudish, getting so in her head at work… we worked from that place.”
And so the idea for Sexy Herpes was born: a group of over-worked, jaded, and complex characters who deal with the ins-and-outs of a rural sexual health clinic.
You’ve got boss Barb (Genevieve Morris) who’s constantly oversharing about her sex life and husband’s dick picks, shy nurse Jackie (Chloe Ng) whose profile is on multiple Asian dating sites but is terrified of actual physical contact, gender-fluid receptionist Karl /Karen (Jay K. Cagatay) who is navigating exploring his/her genderqueer side while remaining in a relationship, and at the centre of it all is Sarah (Zoe McDonald) a nurse who was just told by her therapist (Rohan Nichol) that she screams “dead mother”.
It’s a comedy, but there’s heart at the centre of it all.
“I was always just a stickler for the truth,” says Dyer. “Poor Dean, who plays the horsefucker, he’s a daring incredible actor in that he takes every role very seriously, and we went completely for the truth there. And it actually got quite sad. People were laughing, and I’m watching the monitor going ‘oh god, this is just heartbreaking’. So for me, I was really making sure that everything was played for real, and truth and the serious side to each character was really honest.”
Dyer’s sister Harriet, who recently starred in Matt Okine‘s show The Other Guy, makes an appearance as the “very-beige” partner of Karl/Karen.
“Becky“ – of course she’s called Becky – “is a sweet-natured, hard-working, very beige primary school teacher who is coming to terms with the fact that her long term male heterosexual partner has started to express himself as a herself,” says Harriet. “She doesn’t understand it, and she’s scared. She means no disrespect, she just doesn’t ‘get’ it.”
It was the first time she’d worked with her older sister as a director. “I was so impressed,” she says. “She totally holds her own on set.”
The show ended up being a family affair, with the sister’s parents making a cameo appearance each and their brother helping score the series.
Did it make their family dinner conversations… weirder?
“Haha, no actually, we were weird before that,” says Harriet. “I think that’s why our parents are the parents of an actor, a musician and a writer/director who just wrote a web series called ‘Sexy Herpes’. I know everyone thinks their family is crazy but ours is a bit nek level in that respect. Weird, but with a massive heart. Like an artichoke.”
Both sisters are hoping the show will help fight stigma around STIs and sexual health checkups.
Madeline said that during their research (they had a number of consultants on board, including sexual health workers and a gender fluid consultant), they found that “it’s been almost a crisis in some ways” for a lot of sexual health organisations. Young people just aren’t getting checked up as much as they need to.
“It’s going to be weird and I think Australia is ready for that again,” said Harriet. “I think (I hope) this show will make people laugh. It will perhaps start to lift the taboo on sexual health and it will speak to the gender conversation that Australia is currently opening up, but in a lighter way. In today’s world of very scary news vibrating through our pockets every ten minutes, I think that’s a pretty good goal.”
The first episode is out now, if you want a cheeky watch. Presenting…. Horsefucker.