Netflix’s Sex Education Series Elevates Sex to Necessary Conversation
Sex Education should be mandatory viewing. The British Netflix series, which follows the sexual (mis)adventures of a group of teens, including one awkward son of a sex therapist who gives sex advice to his peers, explores sex and relationships in an honest, funny, endearing, eye-opening and, well, educational way.
While the first season mostly focused on Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), who earned the moniker “sex kid” for giving sage-like advice on sex and relationships despite his dysfunctional handle on sex, the second season zooms the lens out to focus on the people and world around him.
Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the first season, binge it before moving to the next sentence.
After finally being able to deal with the issues that prevented him from achieving sexual climax at the end of the first season, the second season begins with Otis’ complete and total surrender to his hormones and urges. He worries if he’s become addicted to masturbation and it’s affecting his relationship with his girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison).
It’s uncontrolled sexual chaos from there as the show follows each of his friends’ lives in turn, from his gay best friend Eric’s (Ncuti Gatwa) romantic life to his mother Jean’s (Gillian Anderson) clandestine relationship with Ola’s dad (Mikael Persbrandt) to the return of his longtime crush Maeve’s (Emma Mackey) mother, who’s a recovering drug addict.
The beautiful and clever thing about the Sex Education series is how it explores human relationships and vulnerability in the context of sex. It normalizes sex in a way that is absolutely necessary, running the gamut from lesbian and gay sex to fetishes and, most important, issues of consent and sexual assault. Society has treated sex with such shame that very often, when confronted with sexual issues, people shut it down or deflect it with humor.
In one scene, where Jean, Moordale Secondary’s only parent with a PhD in sex therapy, attempts to connect with the student population about sex, she’s laughed off the stage with chants of “courgette! courgette!” in reference to an old video she made where she teaches men to masturbate using a zucchini.
It’s a real problem, particularly in predominantly Catholic Philippine society, where sex is spoken of in hushed tones or outright condemned. No teacher will talk to teenagers about masturbation, let alone female masturbation, even though it’s perfectly normal and healthy. It’s an attitude that runs contrary to PornHub’s statistics, which indicate that Filipinos spend the most time watching porn (edged out slightly by Thailand in 2019) and that Filipinas watch more porn than any other nationality. On the other hand, Sex Education treats sex as part of growing up and uses it as a vehicle to highlight issues that normal teenagers and even adults deal with.
Sex and Parenting
The first season showed how Otis’ problems with sex were the result of childhood trauma; the second season continues the use of sex as a tool by which the show gauges successful parenting. Parents are essentially judged by their children’s attitudes toward sex and how they embrace their sexual identity. The prime example being the headmaster’s son Adam Groff (Connor Swindells), whose relentless bullying of Eric turned out to be his repressed sexuality and attraction for him. His father’s (Alistair Petrie) strict and unforgiving coldness is held as a clear example of terrible parenting and, as the second season reveals, also makes for being a terrible husband.
Sex Education treats attitudes toward sex as an accurate barometer for mental health, and it’s not wrong. What’s beautiful is that it even treats asexuality, the complete lack of interest in sex, as completely normal even for a hormonally charged teenager. In many cases, these issues are allegories for or direct results of parenting, such as Olivia’s (Simone Ashley) aversion to having her boyfriend see her sex face, which she considers ugly. It directly follows a scene where her traditional Indian mother criticizes her dancing. The irony is hammered home because the episode opens with her mesmerizingly beautiful through a kaleidoscope lens.
The show is a challenge, calling out every parent who has failed to have a proper talk about sex and sexuality with their child. Because at the heart of sex is intimacy and the show reminds us that the only way to be truly intimate with another person begins with self-acceptance. It’s important to talk about sex and, in the Philippines, we actually don’t. Sex Education is free from the confines of religion and even the devoutly Christian Eric, who regularly attends Sunday service, has a healthier attitude about sex than your average Filipino.
Sex Education covers as many bases as it can, including an important discussion about anal sex. One of season two’s best characters is the French transfer student Rahim (Sami Outalbali), who has the healthiest attitude toward sex and relationships in the entire show. In one episode, Rahim raises the uncomfortable question during class, “what about anal sex?” without a hint of humor or irony. Raised by atheists, Rahim shows his maturity and kindness even while attending a religious service.
The show subversively covers anal douching as an introductory step prior to anal sex. If you were ever curious about it, the short segments that cover it are a good primer, although it egregiously leaves out how important lubrication is and treats anal sex only in the context of gay men.
Sex Education was written for entertainment but given how mature and open it treats the subject, it also works as education. There’s more to learn in two seasons of Sex Education than in thousands of videos on PornHub. In fact, one interesting thing about the show is how it relegates viewing porn to the fringe, leaving Moordale’s students to learn about sex the old fashioned way.
Odd, Sexy People
But not everything is sexual, such as star swimmer Jackson Marchetti’s (Kedar Williams-Stirling) inner turmoil about staying in the swim team to please one of his lesbian moms. It’s to the show’s credit and wisdom that it has managed to keep arguably the sexiest character on the show completely away from any sex at all. The extremely diversity-friendly Netflix outdoes itself with Sex Education’s casting and characters. Jackson is an overachieving popular boy who was raised by lesbian parents, proving that LGBT couples can raise good kids, but tackles issues this season that also show that they can mess up, too, just like straight parents.
From the quirkily lovable and tiny Ola to the oddly elongated Lily (Tanya Reynolds), the wonderfully beautiful Olivia to the confidently smart Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu), the colorful and exuberant Eric to the obnoxious yet charming paraplegic Isaac (George Robinson), Sex Education is populated by such wildly diverse individuals that it’s almost certain that “odd and unusual” was the top requirement on Netflix’s casting sheet. It works wonderfully because just like the characters, sex is so wildly diverse that two seasons in, we’ve barely scratched the surface of human sexuality.
Even though it’s a comedy-drama with “sex” in the title, sex is never played for laughs. Instead, it’s treated as an integral part of human relationships and how our attitudes toward sex is a reflection of our upbringing and current mental state.
One extremely important subplot deals with the impact of sexual assault; one lascivious act is shown to have repercussions throughout the entire second season. It shows the power of consent in every sexual relationship, elevating sex to a necessary conversation and not merely as a byproduct of raging hormones.
Sex Education is powerfully feminist but earns its way, with every woman on the show shown as having some form of agency over her sexuality, even when deciding to forego sex altogether. It isn’t girl power for the sake of girl power. It’s girl power because the women on the series have galvanized against a common enemy, and it’s one of the best moments in a show with many great moments.
It’s an important show to watch for young Filipinos and even prudish older ones because it normalizes sex in a way that is healthy to emulate. In a country where pre-marriage seminars emphasize the wife’s duty to have sex over her own sexual agency, it’s clear that Filipinos need to have better discussions about the subject.
Netflix’s Sex Education series will be an uncomfortable watch for a lot of people, but it’s one of the most honest and mature looks at an extremely human act and should be on everyone’s binge list.
Sex Education season two is now streaming on Netflix.