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Is the Netflix series, ‘Sex Education’ really sexually educational?

Image credit: Hope Docherty

I think it’s too bad that Netflix only released ‘Sex Education’ in 2019. It would have saved me a lot of embarrassing Google searches and maybe even have dispelled some of the stigma around the big S-E-X and all matters associated with it.

Created by Laurie Nunn, ‘Sex Education’ takes viewers to Moordale Secondary School, where— in the words of Eric Eong —“everyone is either thinking about shagging, about to shag or actually shagging”. But these are teenagers, whose idea of sex is as primitive and distorted as yours and mine once was, and Maeve Wiley recognizes this. She forms an unlikely alliance with the a‘dork’ably awkward Otis Milburn and together they start a makeshift sex therapy practice at school. Through this rather bizarre entrepreneurial venture, the two— and the viewers by extension— are made privy to a range of issues surrounding sex right from genitalia insecurity to ‘self-love’ and even the peer pressure connected with having sex. Several other sensitive topics are also dealt with in a sensitive and pragmatic manner including abortion, sexual assault, asexuality and even toxic masculinity.

Overall, the show seems to have an extremely broad outlook , not only towards the range and depth of issues it covers but also in terms of representation— having possibly one of the most diverse casts in TV show history. I’d even go as far as to say that ‘Sex Education’ isn’t as much about sex as it is about identity. It is about navigating through the dilemmas that threaten our sense of self, especially but not limited to our adolescent years.

Yes, I admit that the idea of two, unqualified 16 year olds giving sex advice to their peers is unethical and should NOT BE IMITATED, but the show recognises this too. In the pilot, we see an instance of this when Adam Groff misunderstands Otis’ advice on embracing himself and his flaws (which for him was his large penis) and goes on to publicly pull down his pants in an endeavour to supposedly ‘accept himself’. Moreover, when Jean finds out about Otis’ clandestine operation, she confronts him about it and asks him to take responsibility for his actions, which sends a clear message to any ‘inspired’ viewer. Yet, I think the clinic was a pivotal part of the show because it truly exemplified how puzzling and embarrassing these changes are for an adolescent, something that they were only willing to share once non-disclosure was assured.

‘Sex Education’ really had its bases covered, right from a well-written script to an authentic portrayal of script material, especially the intimate scenes. The show was the first one on Netflix to employ an intimacy coordinator, a professional who worked with the actors to make the intimate scenes as authentic and comfortable to shoot as possible. After years of watching sex being glamourised on screen, I thought it was extremely reassuring to see sex as what it is: raw and unrefined.

For a kid whose only source of information about sex was a biology textbook with technical diagrams of the male and female reproductive systems, ‘the Netflix series was extremely enlightening. It demonstrated how ‘the devil’s tango’ is also a foxtrot with self-awareness and is so intricately woven with factors such as sexuality, choice, consent , attraction and/or love, understanding and healthy communication. 

By Anaya Ranjit

Whilst Sex Education brings to light the sexual confusion felt by many during their adolescence, the Netflix show certainly has some faults regarding its presentation of relationships. 

One of the things it handles badly is its portrayal of sex therapists. The show explicitly presents Jean Milburn to breaching her son’s privacy, such as asking questions that are private to developing teenagers, and going through his possessions in search of those answers. This arguably creates a false narrative around what kind of people sex therapists are and discredits their professionalism. The show also reinforces the trope that all sex therapists constantly have casual sex, which too misrepresents the therapists themselves. This is not educational or helpful to viewers younger or older who might have never previously had therapy or sex therapy, and could potentially be put off through such traits. 

Furthermore, sex education – for the most part – is for those in their early teens. The show’s age rating contradicts this by being an 18+ due to explicit scenes. One could suggest that the young people who would greatly benefit from the important teachings in Sex Education’s may miss out as a result. 

Another of Sex Education’s faults, is the presentation of Eric and Adam’s queer relationship. After years of Adam’s bullying, producing the insult of ‘tromboner’, and physically stealing his lunch, the show fails to portray what should have been Eric’s trauma. Instead, it takes the easy trope of enemies to lovers, thus ignoring the true effects of bullying. Disregarding the long-term psychological impact denies many viewers of the representation they deserve. 

The bullying of queer people is often brushed off, as the bully themself is closeted, which undermines the pain and experiences of the victim. Eric merely declares to Otis that he believed Adam ‘changed’, and when Eric brings up his wounds to Adam, he is silenced by Adam expressing his. Not only is this a damaging stereotype that the show presents, implying to queer viewers that bullying isn’t always genuine, undermining the painful experiences. 

The breakup could have been a redeeming moment for the show. Instead of simply discovering that they were going in different directions, at the very least there should have been a conversation about the couple’s past. Without expressing the damage Adam did to Eric, we as the audience do not feel a sense of closure, and alludes that what happened to him wasn’t worthy of such. We do not hear about his trauma. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the bullying and the relationship are completely disconnected as if they are completely different characters. An ending like this is devoid of any point of meaning. His pain was simply a plot device for an overused, insulting trope.

By Tessa Hutchinson


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