Film & TV Muse

Where was Sex Education when we needed it?

Patrick Walker explores the necessity for realistic discussions about sex on TV.

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Image Credit: Netflix

The rubbish sexualisation of films and TV has a proven dangerous influence on the minds of children and young adults today. From awful sex scenes, to horrible advice, to strange sex toys, Hollywood has plenty to answer for regarding the unreasonable expectations placed on us in the bedroom. This year, however, there are signs of change, in the form of a radical Netflix exclusive that unashamedly tackles the crisis of identity and power that teenagers face as they start to get it on.

The second season of Sex Education, starring Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, and Ncuti Gatwa dropped on 17 January, and it has already made waves amongst critics and social media for its progressive approach to sex. The new season finds 16-year- old Otis Milburn in a newly-committed relationship, and a hopeless addiction to masturbation.

From there, the show refuses to pull its dramatic punches. Over eight episodes, the narrative leaps with unashamed confidence through themes of gender politics, disability, and enamas, exploring the ridiculous, awkward world of British attitudes to sex. This season, Netflix hired sex industry veteran Alix Fox as a script consultant to bring more depth and diversity to the show. The 2020 release proudly features more LGBT+ relationships, as well as a detailed plotline involving sexually transmitted diseases (no spoilers, we promise).

At its core, Sex Education season two’s strength is that much of the sensitive material is delivered through character-driven storylines. Writers have made the decision to introduce very few new faces this year, and the result is a show that feels even more relatable to young viewers, in spite of its BBFC 18 rating. The viewer begins to have an intimate relationship with the show’s protagonists, and to develop genuine sympathies for their constant struggles for identity and relationship stability.

The show’s standout moment for fans was a subplot involving Aimee Lou Wood’s Aimee Gibbs. After experiencing sexual assault on a bus, the character is supported by the show’s large female cast in overcoming her trauma and trying to bring sex back into her life. The narrative was particularly poignant considering the lack of rational, accurate depictions of rape in other media. The shame and isolation Aimee felt has been explored in the past in other series, such as fellow Netflix exclusive 13 Reasons Why, but Sex Education has done a better job of conveying many of the unjust barriers women face in reaching justice.

Perhaps the most encouraging element of Sex Education’s second season is its popularity. The show has gone on to top Netflix’s most-watched charts for two weeks, and is still competing for top ten at the time of writing. Brushing aside criticisms of the show’s dodgy dialogue or questionable depiction of the English state school system, the show’s popularity is proof, perhaps, that this year Brits are demanding more from their TV. Sex Education tackles many real-world issues with a sense of humour and artistic flair. Its success with viewers seems to suggest that we are ready to accept deeper discussions of sex in our media, as long as they’re backed up with a healthy dose of realism.

Sex Education is the show we all wish we had growing up. Its genius, and perhaps its paradox, is that its fast-moving plots and eccentric, ridiculous characters all perfectly lend it to consumption by a younger generation. Today’s media landscape needs more shows that tackle the issue of growing up as well as this show does. For Sex Education viewers, Gillian Anderson’s return to comedy is a happy bonus.

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