Content warning: sexual assault
Netflix’s Sex Education is back with a bang and it doesn’t hesite to come straight for our hearts. The British show’s second season was released on January 17, 2020, and has been the talk of the town ever since. It’s a brilliant medley of romance, endearing friendships, authentic portrayals of mental health struggles, and of course, a wide variety of sexual representation.
To briefly recap, one of the show’s central premises is that the formal sex education at Moordale High is highly inadequate, so students have no experts to rely on for advice. That’s when Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) come to the rescue. They open up a secret sex clinic fueled by the second-hand knowledge Otis has gained from his sex therapist mother Dr. Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson). In a twist of events in season 2, Dr. Milburn starts working on the Moordale sex-ed curriculum and inadvertently threatens Otis’s clinic. While the clinic is a crucial aspect that teaches us a great deal about sex, the show also has a lot more to offer now more than ever.
Many characters engage in a journey of self-discovery where they not only discover, but embrace their sexual orientations, be it homosexuality, bisexuality, or — drumroll please — asexuality and pansexuality! The latter two are seldom, if ever, celebrated in mainstream media, but Sex Education is here to change the norm.
This season also approaches the topic of sexual assault. It highlights the trauma that Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood) faces after a man ejaculates on her leg on a bus. She initially thinks that it’s no big deal, but it inevitably takes a toll on her. When Aimee breaks down and exclaims “I can’t get on the bus,” she and her friends have an intimate conversation about sexual harassment. This scene is not only heartbreaking, but also powerful because it sends the message that there is no “hierarchy of sexual assault,” the idea that some forms of sexual violence are more serious and damaging than others.
Even though the name of the show may suggest otherwise, sex-related content isn’t the only focus for creator and screenwriter Laurie Nunn. There’s an honest portrayal of depression and anxiety through star student-athlete and prefect, Jackson Marchetti (Kedar Williams-Stirling). When he uncovers that his adoptive mother puts pressure on him to perform well in swimming due to her own anxieties about spending time with him and forging a parent-son connection, they are able to begin their path towards healing together. We also see another main character, Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa) continuing his journey to love and self-acceptance, in all his neon-clothed glory, after being bullied for a long time.
It’s safe to say that Nunn does not shy away from difficult topics. Even though there’s a range of storylines, all of them are keenly developed and the character arcs are convincing and pleasing. What’s more, representation of race and the LGBTQ2+ community isn’t just done for the sake of it, it is actually genuine and effortless. This show is not throwing a bone to minorities, they are giving us a thoughtful invitation to the feast.
Sex Education is a milestone in the portrayal of sex-positivity in shows. It is educating without being preachy, and it is heart-warming without being cloy. This series walks this fine line with utmost grace, so much so that it sets a fantastic precedent for shows that want to tackle sex on screen. We’re not accepting first-timers having flawless sex scenes on TV anymore because that shit just doesn’t happen, and if Sex Education can celebrate and empathize with human flaws and the raw realness of sex, then so should every other show.
Author: Lubaba Mahmud, Staff Writer
I included this show because it offers perspective on a grassroots intervention for sex education created in a school in the UK by the character Odis. This show also serves as an intervention in itself by humorously exploring various sexual topics and questions. As designers, I think we can learn both from the content the show offers, as well as the actual methodology employed by characters to resolve questions about sex education. For example, the whole premise of the show lies in an underground grassroots sex clinic conducted by Odis who gets his information from his mom, a sex therapist. Here, this clinic serves as an intervention that involves a private, confidential, and accessable opportunity for students to talk about sexuality. On the bigger scope, the show in itself does the same to promote discourse about sex education in a fun way from the privacy of ones home over netflix. So we can learn both from the methods the show internally employs as well as the external method of the show itself.