(Editor’s note: While this post was written as season 1 was airing, fast forward a few years and the show has been consistently great and continues to demonstrate a level of nuance and authenticity in its writing that few shows can match. We still highly recommend giving it a watch, if you haven’t already)
I’ll start off by claiming my credentials. I once started and finished all 14 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in less than five weeks. I did the same with Netflix’s Stranger Things, but that time it only took me one evening. Oh, and I also happen to have worked as a sexual health educator for the last three years at the YEP (Youth Educating Peers) Project.
To say that my colleagues and I were excited beyond belief when we saw the title pop up on our screens is an understatement. I actually texted fellow peer educator Amelia Murray during episode 4 telling her to watch this show and at EXACTLY the same time she had sent me a photo of a scene from episode 3!
Without further ado, and with minimal spoilers, 5 Reasons You Need to Watch Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ (and one reason you should definitely NOT):
The show is fairly graphic and frank so it’s hard to miss that it’s about S-E-X (especially given the title). But the true magic of the show happens beyond all the erect penises, contracting vaginas and scissoring. While the protagonist Otis scrambles around looking for clues about his client’s sexual issues like a teenaged Sherlock Holmes, we get to see how every sexual ailment is linked to the normal insecurities and fears we all have growing up. More often than not, the ‘cure’ to a character’s sexual issue is found by dealing with their relationships with their peers or themselves. The show uses sex and sexuality to explore everything else that goes on in people’s lives, demonstrating that when we receive proper sex education, we learn about so much beyond the sticky fumbling physical act itself.
The show does not shy away from ‘taboo’ topics such as (female) masturbation, homophobia and porn. In fact, the show covers an incredible array of topics including: virginity, anxiety, erections, ejaculation, wet dreams, cannabis and male orgasm, female masturbation, lesbian sex, oral sex, body shame, pregnancy, abortion, flirtation, dating, love, sexting, feminism, and much more.
It’s rare to see a show that covers even two of these topics in a nuanced and educational way. I was genuinely learning new things watching the show, or at least thinking about different perspectives on topics I talk about with young people all the time. It is encouraging to see an approach that is free from many of the problematic attitudes that even ‘progressive’ shows such as Riverdale can be guilty of (anyone remember no one talking about Ms. Grundy sexually assaulting her student Archie Andrews?). Overall, the show gets so much right, demonstrating that entertainment doesn’t have to compromise on ethics or quality.
Maeve and Eric are simply sublime characters. Maeve is fierce, smart, opinionated and also compassionate, practical and strong. The show depicts female sexuality positively and Maeve is actively awesomely feminist. The abortion storyline weighs the pro-choice and pro-life perspectives (although probably not equally) and is one of the better on-screen depictions of the actual abortion process.
Eric is the very definition of out and proud. His storyline skips the traditional LGBTIQA+ self-acceptance narrative and dives right into the question of what happens when other people don’t accept you. For Eric we get to see his character pushed into a dark and lonely place where his vibrant outfits are turned in for beige and grey after a harrowing experience. His healing process, involving his culture, family and religion make for uplifting streaming.
The cast is fantastic, and their chemistry is flawless. You probably recognise Otis (Asa Butterfield) from ‘Hugo’ or ‘The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas’, but the rest of the young cast are relative newcomers, with Emma Mackey and Ncuti Gatwa, who play Maeve and Eric, only starring previously in a few TV roles. I was introduced to Gillian Anderson (Jean, Otis’s mother) whom people are apparently obsessed with, and I can definitely see why.
Furthermore, the diversity explored is laudable with actors from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and detailed exploration of different LGBTIQA+ storylines. Have a read of an interview with Ncuti (Eric) where he discusses how he brought such a vibrant, non-caricatured young gay black character to life and the importance of the intersectionality in ‘Sex Education’. With luck next season will bring even more representation to the screen.
‘Sex Education’ has one of the most relatable, realistic, mature and thoughtful takes on love and relationships. In one magnificent speech at the school ball Otis gives some of best advice about love you can buy. He basically goes all anti-Disney and reminds us that real life isn’t a fairy-tale. Being nice to someone you like doesn’t mean they will like you back, and nor do you deserve to have your feelings reciprocated. There are people out there who can and hopefully will love us the same way we love them, but until you find someone willing to climb on that moon for you it’s best just to move on. The complexities of the relationships and the 3-dimensionality of the characters makes the emotional scenes that much more poignant and relatable.
One reason you should definitely NOT watch Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’
I’m warning you now. You won’t be able to stop until you finish all eight episodes, and after you are left lying in your bed as an emotionally purged, physically drained husk with bloodshot eyes, you will frantically google “when does ‘Sex Education’ Season 2 come out?” only to find that they haven’t even confirmed a release date!