Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ is the sex education we need to be receiving in schools
When I first saw the trailer for Sex Education on Netflix, I dismissed it as another cringey coming of age story that characterised all the embarrassing, repetitive and harmful teenage tropes that further reinforce gender stereotypes. I wasn’t sure that I could sit through the teenage awkwardness, or sure that I should, but then I remembered that secretly I thrive off teenage angst, so gave it a click. I found myself still in my bed two days later, on the final episode, full of a new passion and excitement for life and the progression of humanity. Sex Education is genuinely the best and most refreshing thing I have watched this decade and considering last decade I was between the ages of 4 and 14, I’m going to boldly put it out there as the best thing I have ever watched.
My initial assumption that this was just another regurgitation of harmful teenage tropes could not have been further from the truth. The producers could not have portrayed the myriad of ways in which humans experience relationships and sexuality in a more effortless and natural way. Equal representation is given to friendships, parental relationships, and sexual and romantic relationships from characters of all ages and identities. LGBTQ relationships are seamlessly and unassumingly as present as straight relationships and the space for males and females to claim a broad spectrum of sexual and romantic identities without adherence to prescribed gender norms is indefinitely open. Females are allowed to love sex for their enjoyment, whilst males are allowed to not want it at all. This is exactly how every sitcom style TV show should be presenting humanity and it is done in Sex Education without even a blink of an eye. Not only is this the best content I’ve watched, but also the best sex education I’ve ever received.
One of the most poignant story lines is that of Eric, who is black, gay, fabulous and experimenting with drag. Between him and his best friend Otis, this isn’t a point of contention or even of real discussion, drag is simply a valid and accepted choice of expression. It is a fun point of bonding between them and a purposeful story line to show two males supporting each other. In a climate of toxic masculinity and homophobia, where only now the expectation of men to suppress their emotions is being challenged, a storyline of such instinctive male support is invaluable for young men, especially when it centres around a preference towards ‘feminine’ expression. Every subject tackled in Sex Education is layered with different lessons about inclusivity and challenges to traditional outlooks, granting awareness to how our subscription to gender norms and treatment of others need to be challenged.
It is an extremely current topic right now that sex education in schools is not inclusive, at least in the UK and US. Currently anyone of any minority is underrepresented: the scholastic curriculum’s concept of sex is for cis, straight and to be honest white people who are surely too virtuous to be having sex when they’re in school but do definitely want a nuclear family in fifteen years’ time. So for people who identify as LGBTQ, whether that includes an interest in drag or not, witnessing a relationship on mainstream TV where this choice is normalised, accepted and celebrated is not only a much-needed focus on non-straight experiences, but is also accessible support and encouragement for people grappling with these ideas in an environment where they may not be supported.
Sex Education is not unrealistic, however, as no education should be. It is no secret that we live in a world that is still difficult for the LGBTQ community and often overtly displaying ‘queer behaviours’ has it’s dangers. It’s not all love and support, Eric does still experience homophobic abuse in the programme, in several different capacities, but awareness isn’t about being comfortable, and education should be about being truthful. Hopefully it is the ongoing love and support of his friends and eventual support of other people around him, the people who really matter, which will resonate with viewers.
Another desperately needed conversation that is perfectly approached in Sex Education is that of abortion. Meave is a character who is strong, feisty, independent, self-reliant and above all incredibly smart. Her family is absent and the emotional and financial challenges of this are delicately approached, but it isn’t the factor that defines her. Above all, she is in no way presented as a victim, because her worth is not solely reliant on her relationship with others. When she discovers she is pregnant, she makes an instant decision to have an abortion, without informing anyone. All too often, a women’s choice to have an abortion is seen through the eyes and opinions of others and it is forgotten that this decision doesn’t concern anyone else, but the one single woman who is carrying the cells inside her. For Meave, there is no doubt, no pondering, no tears: she is a teenage girl with a future, no money, no family and no means to care for a child. Heck, maybe she just doesn’t want a child.
Again, this issue is dealt with sensitively, ensuring to reflect a rounded representation of people’s experiences in the modern world, rather than a censored archetype. Meave’s choice is in no way glorified or undermined as easy. Abortion is difficult, irrespective of a person’s reasoning for doing it, and no woman wants to have an abortion. If there was a choice between just not getting pregnant, or having an abortion, every woman would undoubtedly choose the former. But the fact of the matter is most women do have a uterus for the purpose of growing a foetus, contraception is not full proof, and sometimes things just happen. Having children is a choice, however, and just because a woman has the ability to conceive a child does not automatically mean she has to have a child. A bigger voice needs to be given to this choice, just in the same way a bigger voice needs to be given to the women who have to have unwanted abortions due to complications. This frank discussion that abortion is something that happens to normal women every day, for a whole myriad of reasons, is again the honest and realistic education that should be being conveyed in schools.
It is the direct and inclusive discussions of big life decisions, continuously laced with a reshuffling of prescribed gender norms which, in my opinion, makes Sex Education the best sex education I have ever received. For anyone who has been, or is being a teenager, and for anyone who is now being an adult, you’re probably quite aware that scholastic framework of sex education doesn’t really represent the rainbow world of sex and relationships that exists and should be being celebrated today. Sex, sexuality and love can be traumatic if honest and open discussion is suffocated and anything not adhering to the Eurocentric Christianised expectation of sex and relationships continues to be reduced to shame.
These subscriptions are beginning to be challenged within our societies, but there is still a long way to go before the chastity of misogyny, homophobia and toxic masculinity is hacked away at fully. None of these issues are the fault of individuals but a fabric of society, and as another fabric of society, our education systems are still not tackling these issues correctly. Education, however, is the only way to successfully fight discrimination and Sex Education is a brilliant example of highlighting a world where every people-positive choice, or way of being, deserves space, acceptance and love.