Arts and Entertainment

A Lesson in Sex Education

“Sex Education” tackles adolescence in a brutal and honest way, making it one of the best shows on Netflix thus far.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Angel Zheng

Nowadays, TV shows are always under scrutiny for lack of representation and insensitivity and intolerance to race, sexual orientation, and feminism. Given how teenagers face prejudice from the media, their families, and their peers, it’s hard to find enough representation in shows to make people feel accepted and understood. Netflix, however, met every teenager’s expectations, especially mine, when it released “Sex Education” on January 11, 2019.

This brutally honest and hilarious show follows 16-year-old Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) and the sexual, social, and emotional struggles he faces both at home and in school . His mother, Dr. Jean F. Milburn (Gillian Anderson), a sex therapist, lacks boundaries with her son and pressures him to do things, such as pretending to masturbate. Otis feels constantly violated by his mother’s lack of respect for privacy, especially when she writes a chapter about the time he had a wet dream for her new book. Otis’s friend Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa) fills the trope of the “gay best friend,” yet proves to be an extremely important character with amazing development.

My favorite character is Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey), the school’s “loner,” who is constantly shamed by her peers after a boy whom she refused to kiss spreads a rumor that she bit his scrotum instead. Maeve is the genius behind her and Otis’s grand scheme: a sex therapy ring within their school that gives advice to anyone in exchange for money. Though Otis isn’t experienced in the sex department, listening to his mother’s conversations with her patients, as well as knowing what it feels like to have sexual problems, helps him empathize with his peers. The show tackles problems almost every teenager can relate to, from the difficulties of understanding one’s sexuality to the hardships that come with the pressure from family members.

It’s clear the show appeals to adolescents, but at the same time, it brings up issues adults might’ve faced as teenagers. Shows like “Big Mouth” (2017-present) and “Orange Is The New Black” (2013-present) send similar messages, but never has a show attacked so many problems in as blunt and candid a way as “Sex Education.” “Big Mouth” is there for its comical effect and shady political jokes, and “Orange Is The New Black” lacks insight on men’s feelings and opinions on sex, which are topics that need to be brought up more. “Sex Education” brings every character’s problems to light, showing how people of different races, sexualities, and backgrounds can struggle with different things.

Some of the performances delivered by the show’s cast are so honest that they make watching the show 10 times better. One of my favorite scenes was in episode five, when an explicit picture of the school’s mean girl, Ruby (Mimi Keene), goes viral across Moordale, sending Otis and Maeve on a hunt to track down the shaming culprit. The picture only shows a specific part of Ruby’s body, and the culprit demands an apology from Ruby. If Ruby refuses, she will be exposed by her humiliator in front of the whole school the next day. Though Ruby has been mean to Maeve by calling her a slag, Maeve knows that “no one deserves to be shamed, not even Ruby.”

At the end of the episode, an assembly in the school is held, during which the picture is discussed. After an immense amount of awkwardness and pressure, the same person who threatened to humiliate Ruby unexpectedly takes the fall for her and screams, “It’s my vagina!” Seconds later, Maeve does the same thing, creating a domino effect among every girl in the auditorium, and within minutes, every girl is standing up, claiming ownership of the picture. To me, the scene is nothing short of heartwarming and a funny display of strength among the girls at Moordale.

“Sex Education” has some amazing performances, but the soundtrack is also one of my favorite parts of the show. Songs like “Asleep” by The Smiths, “Dancing with Myself” by Billy Idol, and “Can I Sleep in Your Brain” by Ezra Furman help bring out the characters’ feelings in certain instances, such as when “Asleep” played during Maeve’s abortion. The song made everything seem a little dismal but calm and almost soothing, given the song’s dreamy tone.

The only thing about the show I can criticize is its clichés: a mom with no boundaries, the awkward virgin, the gay best friend, and the jock who falls for the silent, mysterious girl. However, by the end, it’s clear that all of the characters share problems that go beyond their stereotypical facades. For instance, though Eric is introduced as the gay best friend, viewers quickly realize that he feels alienated by his own family since they’re very religious and make him feel ashamed of his sexual identity. While Eric starts out as feeling unaccepted and even gets beaten up by a stranger while walking home alone one night, by the end of the season he learns to accept who he is and that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in front of his family. When Eric applies makeup for a party, his dad walks in, extremely concerned. However, Eric explains to him that this is who he is, and that there’s nothing that his family or anyone else can do to change him.

Overall, “Sex Education” is the show that viewers desperately need in 2019. By emphasizing how weird sex and adolescence can be, it appeals to many adolescents who struggle with everything from learning self-love to figuring out their sexuality. A show in which boys talk about sex that’s not demonizing and objectifying is brought to light, making it even more enjoyable to watch. There’s no misogynistic bashing that makes sex seem like an activity that only boys enjoy and are expected to take part in, since we deem sex as the defining factor that turns a boy into a man in society. The show features boys who openly express their feelings, something that’s constantly perceived as feminine yet is important for everyone’s health, regardless of gender. In eight episodes, the show covers body-shaming, slut-shaming, unplanned pregnancies, abortion, sexuality, and mental illness. It includes a variety of representations and couldn’t care less about censorship, making it one of Netflix’s most needed shows for teenagers around the world.