Racial diversity. LGBTQ+ representation. A black gay lead. Mental health. Female masturbation. A non-toxic male friendship. Consent. Gender fluidity. Asexuality. Interracial relationships. Feminism. In Netflix's Sex Education, diversity is the norm and which is what makes it so powerful.
The first season of Netflix’s Sex Education was notable for its honest and humorous approach to talking about teenagers and their relationships to sex. The series continued this trend into its second season, which is currently streaming, by widening its scope and exploring even more topics with cleverness.
Within eight episodes, the British comedy-drama found room for discussing pansexuality, vaginismus, asexuality, anal douching, dirty talk, mutual masturbation, and so much more. It also manages to do this while also functioning as an effective teenage drama complete with multiple love triangles and a high school performance of Romeo and Juliet.
None of the sexual content seen on Sex Education is intended to provoke, nor is it ever gratuitous or unnecessary. Instead, it is educational, stigma-busting and handled with emotional intelligence and humour – in short, the exact type of material that we should be celebrating those in the 15-18 bracket being exposed to.
In Season 1, Sex Education introduced us to Otis (Asa Butterfield), a high-strung virgin who knows a lot about sex, thanks to his mother Jean (Gillian Anderson) and her job as a sex therapist. Otis teams up with outcast and love interest Maeve (Emma Mackey) to open up a makeshift sex clinic at the school, charging classmates for sex advice.
But one of the best aspects of the second season isn’t the sex clinic but instead the series’ #MeToo storyline, one that’s slow-building and dealt with carefully. In the third episode, Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) is taking the bus to school when she notices a stranger masturbating behind her, ultimately finishing (and ruining) her favourite pair of jeans.
Aimee originally tries to brush it off — “It’s silly! I’m fine, honestly.” — but Maeve encourages her to go to the police. Though things at the police station don't go as bad as one would expect, there’s still not much anyone can do. Throughout the rest of the season, she begins to exhibit post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident. She’s unable to go on the bus and begins walking everywhere, regardless of the distance, and often to her great discomfort.
She starts imagining the man everywhere — not just on the bus, but at a party or in her school’s hallway. It also trickles into her relationship. Aimee can no longer enjoy being touched by her boyfriend Steve (Chris Jenks), reflexively slapping his head when they’re hooking up, though she has a hard time articulating why.
The seventh episode in particular strikes a chord with the female viewers. An unlikely group of women on a detention assignment to find something in common. While two of them argue, Sex Education zeroes in on Aimee, focusing on the way her hands are playing with that spot on her jeans.
Finally, she starts crying and blurts out that she can’t ride the bus anymore. It’s not even that she’s worried about seeing him, Aimee explains, but it’s “more that he had this really kind face … so it’s like if he could do something like that then anyone could. I always felt safe before but now I don’t.”
The assignment helps all these women share their own stories - stalking, catcalling, unsolicited dicks, and groping. By the end of detention, the girls realize the only thing they have in common: “non-consensual penises.”
The story follows through with the six girls taking the bus together the next day. Tackling this issue in the manner that they did - without ridiculing anyone, without making you forcefully empathize was the key.
The genius of having Otis start a sex clinic addressing issues that are so common but is never acknowledged. The inclusivity of having a black gay lead, a black straight lead, a bisexual woman of colour, a bisexual man, an asexual woman, a popular gay clique boy, a disabled boy, and so much more.
The show doesn't try too hard, it lets things flow - there's no performance for representation or otherwise - it seems like 15-18-year-olds being exactly as they are. The show is a brilliant display of acceptance and an even better peep into the heads of teenagers.