Sex Education: lessons in love. And what it means to be human

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Image: Netflix

We made a big mistake. On episode 8 (of what I thought was a series of 10) I turned to my husband and said I didn’t want the series to end, that I was going to miss these characters. Then, as all the various strands were being tied up it dawned on us — episode 8 was the last episode after all. Talk about feeling bereft! This was the finale and I wasn’t even prepared for it.

My attitude about the series finishing was the complete opposite of how I’d felt at the beginning. I’d started watching it with blinkers. Perhaps it was the title that prompted my dislike — Sex Education: a programme about troubled relationships and angst? The premise seemed undemanding and unoriginal. No thanks.

How wrong I was.

Ostensibly Sex Education is about protagonist Otis who’s working through his own issues, whilst taking on a sex therapist role (like that of his mother) and helping other teenagers with their own troubling situations and confusing feelings. Set mostly in a school surrounded by fabulous countryside, we can’t place where it’s meant to be. Lots of things about the school give it an American feel yet the characters are British. We aren’t sure either when it’s set — bright, 80s clothing sits alongside mobile phones.

All this ambiguity lends itself beautifully to one of the themes of the show — that things aren’t quite what they seem. Yes, Sex Ed did live up to its self-explanatory title: yes, it was an education about all sorts of sexual issues. Its simple title, however, belies its greater depth. It tackles lots of other kinds of teenage issues than sex: if you’re a teen and you feel out of place, picked on, uncool. Or even if you’re the most respected kid in the school — then it’s got stuff for you too. Here the kids learn from other kids — they can sort their own stuff out. They don’t learn from the adults. And in one particularly beautiful moment, we see how adults learn from kids.

But what about watching when you’re not a teen and are in fact 40-something-year-olds? There is plenty there for us adults. Just as the 80s styling makes it hard to pinpoint the time in which it is set; just as the sunny skies and beautiful location are at odds with the seething anxieties that exist under the skin, so we as viewers are given lots of meatier bits under the surface to keep us hooked. If that’s not enough, we’re given adult characters with their own difficulties too.

And no surprise perhaps, the issues the kids experience aren’t specific to kids’ relationships. It covers the whole gamut of relationships: parents and kids; daughters and absent mothers; lesbian mothers; errant siblings; those in love and those out of love; neighbours; the authority of teachers to students. Relationships with animals. With God. It’s about how we as human beings navigate this wildly confusing world of relationships. Nothing is black and white. Sometimes the good guys have to fight dirty. We are all flawed in our own ways — and that’s OK.

So it made us laugh, and cringe. It also made me cry. There are plenty of ‘hell yeah’ moments when the kids band together and show solidarity. We can’t help but fall in love ourselves with sensitive Otis and exuberant Eric, and their beautiful, best-friend relationship — god, who wouldn’t want what they’ve got for own our kids? Then there’s the stereotype-bashing, sex therapist mother, played by Gillian Anderson, who can sort out other people’s problems but can’t solve the one under her own roof. We even get more of an insight into bully Adam, the Head’s son.

It’s maybe not for the faint-hearted — full of stuff that Brits have a reputation for being prudish about. But it’s all slathered with a load of humour — and really, it’s about time we collectively got over our squeamishness. Because ultimately, Sex Education is a programme that speaks of the oldest truth in the book: despite our vast differences, we all want to be loved. On our own terms, unconditionally, for who we are. And it shows us the fall out what happens when that doesn’t happen. And it’s not pretty.

There’s one thing I need clearing up though. There will be a season 2, right?

Written by

Storyteller at The Ian Sanders Company. Passionate about making the world of work more human. Lives by the Thames estuary. Loves swimming/doodling/creativity

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