10 Things we loved about Sex Education (Netflix)
The beginning of 2019 has been full of discoveries in term of series and there is one that made quite a lot of noise and the reason for that goes beyond the fact that the main matter is the forever very popular subject of sex. Sex Education gives a very accurate and modern reflection of the issues teenagers and young adults face nowadays. In addition, the general dynamic of the series is based on destroying stereotypes that usually come with gender, age and sexuality in general - which is both relatable and participates to the crushing of painful ideas in our societies. And where the work is particularly enjoyable is in the representation of the characters and/or situations as well as in the message behind those. Here are ten facts that made Sex Education such an great series to watch.
1.It is the perfect mix between a good old US teen series and the British touch.
We have them all: the wayward girl (Maeve), the mean girls (and boy) crew (Ruby, Anwar and Olivia), the golden boy (Jackson) and the bully who steals lunches from weaker people (Adam). Check. We also have the inevitable lockers in the corridors - which added to the school bell and rather uncomfortable science classes are part of the usual US teen series elements we’re all familiar with. But yet, the different accents remind us where we actually are, in addition to the location : a classic and very green British country side, as well as a school that looks like one of the Hogwarts wings. There are school prefects and here the snacks reference isn’t Cheetos: we are talking crumpets and Curly Wurly.
2. A new model of a mother in her 50’s
“A woman reaches the peak of her beauty at 25 yo, after that, it’s over. On the other hand men are like fine wine, they only get better with time”.
Well, bullshit! And the character of Jean is the perfect example to prove that wrong. Despite the fact that she is one of the most intrusive person, she is a beautiful and active woman whose divorce was actually beneficial for her. No, she doesn’t spend her days regretting her husband or trying to find a new one. She feels free to practice casual sex and manages to pay the bills and take care of her son. To add, it’s pretty interesting to see that the color of her hair is a bright blond, almost white. The idea that women are only “good to go” when they’re young created an urge to look young at all costs. And getting rid of white hair, which is the main sign of old age is the first step.The fact that Jean, a woman in her 50’s, wears her hair in a color that can easily be mistaken with white, goes against the idea that femininity, beauty and sexuality should be dissociated from getting old.
3. An anti golden boy
The golden boy character is a basic of every teen series or film : Nate Archibald (Gossip Girl), Aaron Samuel (Mean Girls), Liam Court (90210), Peter (To All the Boys I've Loved Before) etc. The list goes on. Let’s face it, these series and films wouldn’t have been the same if these boys weren’t part of the scenarios. We would have missed their shiny hair, blue/green eyes, perfect stature and usually barbie looking girlfriend. White and perfect in every way. If you think you’ve spotted a pattern there, you’re right : they mostly all look and act the same.
On another hand, and although he is the sportive and good looking type, Jackson is a sensitive black man on anxiety medication who was raised by two mums. He is attracted to the school’s misfit pink haired girl and is actually the one who wanted to take their relationship from casual to serious. It feels good to see a bit of diversity in a character who scenaristically speaking, is essential and carries so much desirability. But beyond that, this character helps take a bit of pressure off boys who always undergo the injunctions to be strong and though. While Otis is the anti “sexual boy cliché”, Jackson’s character crushes a lot of other men injunctions linked to what a man’s personality should be like.
4. A positive take on religion
In the series Chewing Gum by Michaela Coel, Cynthia, the very religious and socially awkward sister of the main character says “Very few people know how to have a good discussion about God without being met with ‘that’s stupid’ ”. Though the point here isn’t to turn this article into a conversion chat, religion has nowadays become either a taboo or a subject for mockeries.
Eric grew up in a religious family and then rejected this faith - which surely has something to do with his sexuality. Indeed, it can be hard for a gay boy/girl to keep up with religion when the very concept of it denies the existence or worse, associates your sexuality with sin. But when Eric decides to go to church with the rest of his family on prom night, the pastor says “If God loves you, then who are you not to love yourself ?“. That time, we don’t focus on the toxic sides of faith : an actual positive and healthy view is given on religion by linking it to self acceptance and self love.
5. An accepting family
Let’s follow up on Eric. He likes to wear women clothes and makeup. On one hand, the series shows the tolerance and open mindness of the younger generation through the characters of Otis, Lily and Aimee. But we are also confronted to the rejection and violence that boys and men who travesty themselves are used to live with. Nothing new here. Where it gets interesting however it’s in the way Eric’s family deals with his personality and how strongly it is linked to culture and family history. His father, who immigrated in Britain wants to protect his son from the hatred of others.
Something to be noted : dealing with Eric’s sexuality and life choices seems to be a man to man situation. Indeed, even if Eric’s mum is mentioned, that’s from Eric’s father that we’re expecting acceptance and validation - reminding us again how strongly men influence each other when it comes to masculinity and what’s socially and culturally expected from them.
6. The promotion of female masturbation
Aimee has a few problems that a lot of girls face : not knowing the way her body works, seeing masturbation as a disgusting thing, faking orgasms and putting male’s pleasure before her own. While boys are taught that masturbation is a healthy thing (due to a biological need to regularly evacuate semence), the perpetuated idea of female purity made girls feel shameful to explore their own bodies. As far as I can remember, one of the few examples of a woman promoting masturbation in a series is Samantha Jones (Sex & the City) with legendary lines like “Honey, my vagina waits for no man” or “I’m masturbating. I told you I’ll be doing that all day today”. And she actually managed to convince the very WASP and uptight Charlotte to do so herself. Well, despite how good of a series Sex & the City is, the show can be seen as a bit outdated and more relatable examples for the younger generations were needed ! To add, in Sex Education, the advice to masturbate is given by Otis, a boy - which makes the message even stronger.
7. An unquestioned abortion
The representation of abortion is usually linked to suffering, as well as a lot of questioning (from both the girl who is pregnant and her family). There are in films and series, various examples of women changing their mind about getting an abortion which in certain cases participates to creating an even stronger diabolisation of it. In Juno, the main character changes her mind and leaves the clinic last minute. On her end, Maeve is convinced to do the right choice for herself. Undergoing abortion is always a tough one, as well as deciding to keep the baby (when the pregnancy wasn’t desired). However it feels good to see a series where a woman’s choice of not keeping it is actually respected and unquestioned.
Still, there are in this specific episode, characters who created an uneasy feeling and whose purpose was may be to remind that even nowadays, there are still people making girls and women feel guilty for aborting.
First are the « pro life » religious guys who are for the most part made fun of : an old lady insult them, they get stuff thrown at their faces, and it turns out that their very idea of virginity isn’t quite accurate. The second character is the nurse telling a woman that she doesn’t take abortion seriously enough as she’s done it so many times. In fact, that woman suffers a lot from it and is actually being realistic about her ability of being a good mother. To add, there is a real beauty in her character as she acts as a mentor for Maeve - reminding us that we should support one another instead of making each other feel guilty - for whatever reason.
8. Multiple and different family types
A dad and a mum. Is this an accurate image of the reality?
Not so sure. In Sex Education, Jackson has too mums (one black, the other white), Otis leaves with his mum and Ola with her dad. Well, real life looks more like it.
9. Wow, a hairy vagina
Lately, awareness has been raised on the subject of vagina representation. Based on the porn culture, having to get rid of pubic hairs has been a real burden for women and girls, and mindsets are finally starting to change. The hair removing industry has for too long made money based on a false idea they created themselves : a sexy and desirable woman is a woman who waxes/shaves. In the series Girls, Hannah says : “For your information this is what adult women look like, when they’re using their pubic hair the way that like, whatever, the Lord intended, which is to protect their vagina”. Preach. In Sex Education, and although the circumstances aren’t the best (Ruby is being blackmailed and bullied by someone who has a photo of her vagina) at least what we see during the episode is a photo of real vagina, with the hairs that come with the package.
10. A girl obsessed with having sex
“Boys are only interested in having sex, don’t trust them.”
“He only wanted to have sex with you that’s all”
“You should wait to meet a guy who you truly love to have sex”.
Does one of these sentences ring a bell ? Well, if you’ve seen the series then you’ll know that the character of Lily is the female version of these false assumptions. She is all about getting laid and doesn’t care who with - she just wants it done and her virginity gone. And guess what, there are girls that think like that, whether they are virgins are not. And still nowadays they are usually called sluts or whores. Boys don’t have the monopoly on desire and sexual pulsions. And girls are not necessarily focused on feelings and love. So there !
…Long story short
It is great to see that social fights regarding gender, sexuality and feminism are starting to be addressed in pop culture. It means that mindsets are starting to change and that more people will be able to get informed as it becomes more mainstream and accessible. And what best way to spread the good words than with a good old teen series ?