Netflix’s new eight-episode series Sex Education was released early last month, and it seems to be the teen show we have all been desperately craving.
The series follows teenage Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) as he explores his sexuality while having to deal with his sex therapist mother (Gillian Anderson) who can sometimes be too liberal for her own good. Despite his social awkwardness and sexual inexperience, Otis sets up a ‘sex advice clinic’ with his cool and rebellious classmate Maeve (Emma Mackey) in order to help other students cope with their sexual problems.
In the past, popular ‘teen shows’ like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars were centred around sexually experienced teenagers, generally played by actors in their late twenties that were way past their pubescent years. Realistic representations of adolescent sexuality are often circumscribed by an American conservatism that fast-forwards all the uncertainty that plagues most teens. This is possibly due to the grey areas of the matter, one being the repercussions of casting teenagers to act out sexual scenes on screen considering adults are holding the reins off screen.
What’s so different about this series is that it opens with a graphic nude scene, immediately establishing itself as a shamelessly grotesque, sexual comedy. Essentially, it emulates the oftentimes parodic sex life of teenagers. The most pleasantly surprising aspect of the first scene was that it was clearly aware of its performative nature, openly satirising society’s inextricable attachment of gender roles onto sexuality. Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood) hilariously exaggerates her moans in an attempt to imitate mainstream, heterosexual porn.
However, she is not the only one affected by such impossible standards. Adam Groff (Connor Swindells), the show’s ‘macho’ character, feigns ejaculation and in the process debunks the notion that the pressure to ‘finish’ is solely a female one. This just points out that communication is key when it comes to sex and teenagers are notoriously not the best at it. The show does an excellent job of fleshing out well-rounded teenage characters that are sexual yet very impressionable, lacking any sort of realistic expectations that come with sexual experience.
One of the most refreshing qualities of Sex Education is its depiction of openly queer black teenhood. Otis’ best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) is openly gay and much more secure in his sexuality than his straight friend. He is out and proud and has a bigger than life attitude in his demand for visibility, refusing to be pushed to the margins.
When Eric falls victim to a homophobic attack, what eventually makes him stronger is reconnecting with his Nigerian roots. In an act of protest, he attends prom in a gele (Nigerian head tie), heels, and extravagant makeup, proudly celebrating his Nigerian and queer identities. Both empower each other and merge into a unique whole that can’t be replicated, resisting retrogressive and broad generalisations of a single LGBT experience.
Overall, Sex Education is a series worth watching. It’s not only funny but also immensely educational and features painfully relatable relationships, both sexual and platonic. All characters go through their own individual journey and come out the other side at least a little less clueless than they initially were. Most importantly, the series normalises teen sexuality whilst showing that it is deeply personal to each individual. There is no ‘normal’ when it comes to sex, and that’s great consolation.