The British show’s first season, Sex Education, follows Otis, a highschool stuent whose mother is a sex therapist; a foundation that has filled him with some close-to-home hangups about sex while additionally making him genuinely smart a past his years. At the point when rebel Maeve coincidentally finds that Otis has a skill for instructing his peers through their issues, she suggests that they start a new business as partners, with Otis offering his counsel on everything from erectile dysfunction to self-image issues, unrequited love, and sexual inclinations. A large number of these things are humiliating and dreadful to discuss, particularly with your peers that you’re not close too, yet this show has a way for normalizing it, but at the same time keeping that part of ponderousness that causes us to feel like it’s alright to express our real thoughts.
It addresses many significant issues in this day and age that most of the shows these days are too hesitant to even consider approaching. It covers drug abuse, adopted-child anxieties, bullying, LGBTQ+ issues, abortion, and sexual assault. In season one, an especially moving storyline was Aimee’s sexual assault, and how the girls healed together. Maeve’s best friend, Aimee Lou Wood, wound up damaged and incapable to take the bus to school in the wake of being ambushed on her way to class one day. Towards the end of the show, the girls defiantly took the bus together, and helped her overcome her trauma. Also, it took us on Adam Groff’s excursion to tolerating his sexuality in spite of his militant upbringing, and gave us an understanding of Ola’s revelation that she’s really pansexual.
Otis’ best friend Eric is a gay teen from a traditional family with African roots, played by Ncuti Gatawa. He is flamboyant and enjoys indulging in makeup and fashion. There’s a very touching scene in which the students are at a dance and Eric is dressed up in a colourful suit and a traditionally female headwrap, and he is confronted by his father who says something along the lines of, “Why do you have to be so much?”. An argument ensues, and I won’t spoil the rest, but it ends with him saying, “Maybe I am just learning from my brave son.”
Among the things that Sex Education gets right is its portrayal of teenagers at a range of levels of sexual maturity. Otis, as the show’s first episode makes clear, not only hasn’t had sex yet, he’s still working up to trying out masturbation. Maeve, by contrast, is sexually active and quite comfortable with that; her struggles are more around believing herself to be worthy of love. Eric is better-versed in the theory of sex than the practice. Aimee, the one nice kid in the popular crowd, is always eager to please her boyfriend but remains mostly unacquainted with her own sexuality.
This range of experience and comfort levels with sex is far more realistic than the media’s constant obsessing over hookup culture would suggest. Hookup culture is wildly exaggerated. As Kate Julian explained in a recent story for The Atlantic, young people are waiting longer to have sex: In 1991, 54% of American high-school students said they’d had sex; by 2017, that number was down to 40%. Julian points to a range of factors that can help explain what seems to be a decline in sexual activity among teenagers, from the influence of porn and online dating to a rise in sexual inhibition. There’s also the simple fact that teenagers mature at different rates.
Sex Education is equally attuned to the importance of communication in friendships. One of its most nuanced plotlines follows the evolving relationship between Otis and Eric, childhood pals who are accustomed to expressing their love for one another through teasing. As Otis’s crush on a girl begins to interfere with their friendship, they each rise to the challenge of finding words to express trickier emotions. The baseline assumption on Sex Education is that most teenagers are decent people who want to love and be loved; they just need some help figuring out what it means to treat each other well.
While the kids on Sex Education are certainly interested in sex, their early ventures into it are accompanied by an endless list of anxieties. The variety of insecurities is both realistic and reassuring. If we’re all convinced something is deeply wrong with us, the show suggests, the most likely possibility is that we’re all normal in our own way. The show also offers a refreshing focus on sex as an interpersonal, rather than individual, experience. Whatever the initial physical problems that its teenage characters are grappling with, most of Otis’s sex advice is centered on honest self-reflection.
Parents and educators tend to focus on how following certain guidelines about sex will be personally beneficial for individual teenagers: It’s important to use condoms, and to establish clear consent with your sexual partner. However, we often forget to talk about how sex affects other people. That’s what Sharon Lamb, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, was hoping to address when she developed a curriculum on sexual ethics that aims to engage teenagers in philosophical and moral discussions about sex. “When I looked at what sex ed was doing, it wasn’t only a problem that kids weren’t getting the right facts,” Lamb says. “It was a problem that they weren’t getting the sex education that would make them treat others in a caring and just way.”
The important thing that Sex Education brings to light is that sex is for people to enjoy, is not and should not be a social pressure, and is an experience that varies for everyone. The show makes the case that developing strong romantic relationships can also help us become better people and learn more about ourselves. As the show acknowledges, the risks of practicing compassion and vulnerability are high, especially with the casual cruelty of high school. But the rewards are enormous too: better sex and better relationships. Sex Education is a very brave, very important show that is the first step to opening up the world of sex to make it as it should be; free.