Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers from Season 1 of “Sex Education”.
The first season of British comedy Sex Education came out on January 11th on Netflix all over the world. Since then, it has caused quite a stir on the internet mostly for good reasons. On the surface, it is about Otis (Asa Butterfield), a nerdy sixteen-year-old sixth former, and whip-smart bad girl Maeve (Emma Mackey) setting up a sex clinic to give their fellow students advice for a price. Otis is the sex therapist as he has unwittingly picked up a lot from his sex therapist mother and is now very good at fixing other people’s relationship problems, while Maeve handles the money and arranges the appointments.
But it goes so much deeper than that and delves into topics that are very rarely looked at. I think this video that Emma Mackey posted on her Instagram explains it better than I can. Take a look!
Netflix has rated the rather raunchy series as an 18+, which seems pretty ironic seeing as most of the main characters are 16/17 years old. There is a lot of strong language and explicit content in the series and nothing is blurred out, but I watched as a 16-year-old and did not find it massively inappropriate and it certainly did not contain anything ruder than what I’ve seen in 15-rated films. However, I would advise that you do NOT watch it if you are under the age of 15.
I want to congratulate Laurie Nunn (the showrunner) for having such a diverse cast. A third of the main cast is made up of actors and actresses of colour, which is incredible! The two main characters of colour, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), are fully fleshed out. While these characters are amazing, I do think that a few of the other characters of colour, like Ola (Patricia Allison) or Anwar (Chaneil Kular), could have been more fleshed out.
Sex is a topic that is often mishandled and glamorised in TV shows and films. For example, the sex scenes in Pretty Little Liars and Riverdale are choreographed and it usually takes a few tries to get it looking “perfect”. Star of Riverdale, Camila Mendes, said in an interview with The Iris that they always laugh about how perfect the sex scenes are on set because “in real life, it’s never like that.” Whereas in Sex Education, it is much more normal and relatable to teenagers: things go wrong and it’s far from perfect. This is a much better message to send out to teens. The entire cast has amazing chemistry and clearly gets on very well, which must have made the sex scenes easier to film. Aimee Lou Woods, who plays Aimee, said in an interview with Glamour that “having the intimacy director there – which is the first time a show has had one – made it so much easier as it became a routine.”
As well as handling the topic of sex in a revolutionary way, they also tackle the taboo topic of abortion. Maeve gets pregnant because the condom that Jackson used was not effective enough. She barely has enough money to pay the bills, never mind enough to raise a child, so she decides to have an abortion. Abortion is not often shown on TV because it is a such a sensitive and divisive topic; Sex Education handles it with care and subtlety and shows parts of the process that I’ve never seen before. They show the nervous energy in the waiting room. They demonstrate that the guilt does not last forever through an older woman who has had previous abortions. They even show Maeve going into the operating theatre.Both of Maeve’s parents went AWOL a long time ago; she has an abortion and is not being able to talk about it with one or both of her parents. This accentuates the feeling that Maeve really is all alone in this world. However, Otis is there to take Maeve home after her operation. On the walk home, they open up to each other about their crappy families. This strengthens the bond between them and creates an invisible barrier between Maeve and Jackson
The LGBTQ+ community is also well represented in this series. Otis’ clients in episode 4 are a lesbian couple who are having some problems with the sex. Ruthie and Tanya have been best friends since primary school and when they came out around the same time, they started dating. Otis correctly identifies their problem as the fact that they have very little sexual chemistry. Eric is Otis’ openly gay best friend, who likes to dress in colourful clothes and occasionally in drag. He and Otis dress up to go and see Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but Otis can’t make it, Eric’s phone and wallet are stolen and then he is assaulted on his way home. After this, Eric isolates himself and tries to dress in a more socially accepted way until he goes to church where the pastor tells everyone to love themselves. Eric then attends the school dance looking fabulous dressed in full drag. At the dance, Otis tells Eric that he is the “bravest” person he’s ever met. This is a reflection on our society: you have to be brave to be yourself in our cisgender society.
One of the running jokes of the show is that Otis is a sex therapist who is very inexperienced at sex. When Otis is attempting to have sex for the first time with Lily (Tanya Reynolds), he has a panic attack and flashes back to his parents arguing. This implies that he is so inexperienced because he is traumatised by his dad’s promiscuous past that led to his parents’ divorce. After the divorce, Otis’ dad, Remi (James Purefoy), moved to the US while Otis remained in the UK with his mum. You would think that as a sex guru, Jean would be a cool mum, but no, she is just as embarrassing and clingy as most other parents. She has no idea about boundaries as she starts writing a book about her “sexually-repressed” son. This makes the relationship between them very strained until Jean apologises in the last episode
The show has been criticised for trying to imitate an American high school. This made it quite confusing for Brits to watch as the characters had British accents but they were using lockers and wearing Letterman jackets. I think the producers did this to make it easier for people across the globe to watch it.
Overall, I think Sex Education is incredible. It has an interesting and unique concept. All of the main characters are well-developed and have great arcs. It has all the subtleties of a British comedy as well as all the colour and diversity of Netflix. I really liked how it became more poignant as the series went on. Netflix recently announced that Sex Education is on set to have been watched by 40 million subscribers by the end of its fourth week on the streaming service. Because of this, most people are just waiting for the streaming giant to announce that there will be a second season. There is certainly enough material for them to work with.
Season 1 of Sex Education is out on Netflix now.
Featured Image Via Netflix