Teen sex comedy explores female sexuality
Netflix’s new original series, Sex Education, dropped on Jan. 11, and it’s the most recent proof that when it comes to originals, Netflix is a titan in the TV industry. With no shortage of new shows and movies streaming on the platform each month, it has become increasingly harder to land the kind of show everyone will be talking about. Sex Education has potential to enter the realm of other Netflix greats, along with Stranger Things, Queer Eye, and Big Mouth.
The show centers on teenage Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) and his mother Jean (Gillian Anderson), who is a sex and relationship therapist. Rounding out the cast of characters is self-proclaimed “social pariah” Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey); Otis’ very gay best friend, Eric Effoing (Ncuti Gatwa); super-star swimmer Jackson Marchetti (Kedar Williams-Stirling); angst-ridden school bully, Adam Groff (Connor Swindells); and adorably ditzy Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood).
After an incidental run-in with Adam, Otis is persuaded by Maeve to start up a sex and relationship clinic of his own. Hesitant because of his own sex repulsion and inexperience, yet intrigued by the thought of developing a friendship with Maeve, Otis agrees to the scheme, and the pair go into business.
The show has a lot of fantastic strengths. One of which is the unabashed way teenage sexuality is shown. The reality of late adolescent life is portrayed accurately and explores a wide range of different perspectives. From the ostracization that slut-shaming can bring, to the struggles of coming out, from being with someone for all of the wrong reasons, to the just plain awkward run-ins so common for teenagers who are brand new to the world of sexual intimacy, Sex Education covers all of the bases (pun intended).
So often a show can reduce a female character’s sexuality to how she interacts with a partner as an irrelevant plot point or as the butt of a cheap joke. Sex Education breaks all of the rules when it comes to this and is better off because of it. Female sexuality is allowed to be used as a more complex joke instead of filler comments slut-shaming a character. In fact, the harm around slut-shaming is the entire plot of an episode. The female characters in the show are allowed to use the fact that they have sex as a joke that they can own.
Another wonderful and refreshingly poignant aspect of the show is how it talks about female sexuality. The female characters in the show are all extremely different in the ways they consider sex. Maeve is constantly belittled for being a “slut,” but this does not dissuade her from enjoying sex. Another character is encouraged to masturbate, which she does, graphically. And yet another is searching for someone just as weird as she is to take her virginity, sooner rather than later.
Besides being hilarious, Sex Education is full of moments that can make a viewer’s heart swell up. Being such a character-driven show, the relationships between the teenagers are the primary focus.
The friendship between Otis and Eric breaks a lot of barriers in regards to typical platonic male relationships, while the unlikeliness of Maeve and Aimee’s friendship is tooth-rottingly sweet. At the center of it all is the relationship between Otis and Jean, which is bittersweet to say the least.
The constant back and forth between different but very connected characters is at times so familiar it can be difficult to watch. It adds yet another layer to the complexities of teenage life, which at its core, is what Sex Education is all about.