The popular Netflix series ‘Sex Education’ raises a variety of issues associated with sex, family, and relationships. Some of these are everyday problems we all face and although often presented with hyperbolic or comedic effect, teach us a lot about the more awkward aspects of life.
What it is all about
For those who have not watched ‘Sex Education,’ it follows the journey of underdog Otis and his school friends as they negotiate their sexuality, puberty and family dynamics. Otis’ mother is a professional sex therapist raising him alone. Otis befriends Mauve, a dark and mysterious new girl and together they offer sex advice for money to the other students of the school.
Through this, we learn about the common issues associated with teenage attitudes to sex as they develop. From kinks, masturbation, to embarrassment surrounding virginity. Alongside this, we are given an insight into the home lives, socio-economic background and academic struggles of each character.
Whatever it may seem on the outside, everyone is fighting their own battles. Sports star Jackson struggles to tell his mums he doesn’t want to swim anymore in fear it will cause them to fall out. To the outside world, it looks as though Jackson has a perfect life. Yet he battles with anxiety and self-harm as a result of the pressure. Every character has their own home life issues and we learn that making judgements on people without knowing all the facts is näive and cruel.
It also explores ideas of divorce and the effects of such on teenagers. Otis and school mate Adam are experiencing different stages of divorce. Both, however, struggle to get to grips with the idea that their parents are not perfect. Otis begins to understand his father’s infidelity on a much deeper level. While Adam sees the freeing effect divorce is having on his mother while worrying for his utilitarian father’s wellbeing. Divorce can effect everyone differently and there is no way in which you can predict how an individual reacts. ‘Sex Education’ teaches us that communication and finding an outlet for the feelings evoked is the most effective way in which to begin to heal.
The students of Moorfield High, come from a wide array of socio-economic backgrounds. Mauve lives alone in a caravan park, while Otis lives in a large modern home. Although the programme shows where the characters live, it refuses this as a factor between their friendship and interaction. We learn that it makes no difference where people come from or how much money they have, but rather who they are is what we should focus on.
It is no secret that teenage relationships are confusing and hard work. People haven’t had practise at them yet, you do not know what you are looking for in a partner. Then there is the concept of sex, something you probably hadn’t considered a factor before this age.
The interaction between love and lust, or the conflict of such is very much a focus throughout both series. Eric, the best friend of Otis, has two love interests in the second series. The romantic, handsome Rahim and the closeted, grumpy Adam. Although involved with Rahim, Eric is captivated by Adams twisted gestures and attempts to win him over. We see the head over heart dilemma here. Rahim treats him well and is the sweetheart of all the school, while outcast Adam spent previous years bullying Eric for his sexuality.
Similarly, Ola and Otis, struggle to consummate their relationship. They get on like a house on fire but do not seem to be physically compatible. We later discover this is because Ola is attracted to girls. The show teaches us that not knowing who we are yet is OK, that it is impossible to have yourself figured out at such a young age.
As stressed in our valentines articles, relationships also encompass friendships. Surrounding yourself with people who care for you and make you feel comfortable makes those life battles a little easier. Even the group depicted as the ‘mean’ group, have huge loyalties to one another. Accepting of their sexualities and misdemeanours. Friendship is everything and as demonstrated by Viv and Jackson, can be found in the strangest of places.
Lessons on Sexuality
‘Sex Education’ normalises the idea of homosexual and bisexual orientation. The integration of these into the ‘all American’ presentation of the society is done very smoothly. The fact Jackson has two mums is never questioned or considered by him, or by his peers. They are just his parents.
Eric’s confidence to express his sexuality and talk about it openly allows other characters such as Ola to pursue how they feel. In addition, popular boy Anwar is happy to be out. Adam struggles to get to grips with his attraction to boys, most likely as a result of his strict father. However, he is the only one. Teaching us that it should be normal to be happy with who you are. The sexual orientation of the characters does not impact on their friendships or families. Not even Eric with his highly religious family.
Lessons on Sex
This is of course, never-ending. Every episode touches on a plethora of sex-related issues. I really would recommend watching the series if you have access to Netflix. In this part, I am just going to talk about the more general, speculative lessons, however, it is very interesting to see what comes out during the students ‘therapy sessions’. For example, vaginismus – defined as the involuntary tensing of muscles that prevent penetration. This stems from a mental fear.
I never knew this condition was something that existed medically and it can affect lots of girls, especially those who may be having sex for the first time.
In general, though, the show teaches us about the aspects of sex that are not always talked about. Anxieties behind having gay sex, specifically expressed by Anwar wanting to know how to douche and asking Rahim for advice. He is afraid to talk to his boyfriend about it, but the situation highlights a lack of education in this area.
We learnt that although there are no known issues of anal douching, women who use vaginal douches are two times more likely to get ovarian cancer than those who don’t. This is a shocking statistic and is not something I had ever heard about before.
The STD outbreak in the school also brings to the surface some fundamental issues in the sex education system. 1 in 8 students will get chlamydia and yet it still carries a stigma about somebodies sexual morals. Sex education teaches us that getting STD checked regularly is very important but also that if you do have something it is not a reflection on anything.
We also learn about female pleasure in sex. That it is not something discussed or considered when we are taught about it. Sex is not just for making babies. In fact, at school, it is most likely the last thing the sex is meant to do. Yet we do not get taught about how to pleasure one another. Jean (Otis’ mother), talks about clitoral stimulation and how 80% of women do not orgasm from penetrative sex. Contrary to what porn websites might lead people to believe.
There is also a lot of focus on the idea of virginity shame. Something that should not exist, but is very much a mentality bred in schools – especially in older years. It should not have to be said but virginity is not something that follows the same rule for everyone. Some may feel ready at a younger age and that is ok. Some may not be ready until much later, also very normal. Otis worries so much about how to lose his virginity and when. Then he gets drunk and loses it with no recollection. He builds up this idea that it has to be with the right person and at the right time and then none of these occurs. This is OK.
It is drilled into us that losing your virginity should be this sacred ritual. The truth is, it there is no right way to lose it. If you are ready then go for it. Rose petals on the bed or not. This stigma is what creates such fear about the event when really there needn’t be.
Sad Truths About Sexual Assault
In the second series, one of the characters, Amy experiences a man masturbate to her on the bus to school. At first, she seems to brush the incident under the carpet but has time goes by it is clear it has affected her deeply.
This is sexual assault. The definitions are blurry but she was objectified and acted upon in an inappropriate and sexual manner.
I want to include some of the facts that are mentioned in the programme about sexual assault:
- 85% of women aged 18-24 experience sexual harassment in public places.
- 31% of young women aged 18-24 report having experienced sexual abuse in childhood
- More than 80% of victims did not report their experiences to police
This is shocking to me. We do not get
Sex Education is a very funny, very relatable show that pacts a punch full of important lessons and controversial topics.