A show like Sex Education provides brilliant guidance to students struggling with sex
"Last night I looked at some cheese and I got an erection"
"What kind of cheese was it?"
A conversation like this is pretty standard in Netflix's hit original series Sex Education. Season two was just released last month, and fans are already looking forward to a third — the show was one of Netflix's top ten streamed series for 2019, and its popularity keeps on growing across social media.
The show follows Otis, a teenager whose mother Jean's occupation as a sex therapist has lead to him being emotionally intelligent beyond his years, but also, kind of stunted when it comes to his own sexuality. When a fellow student in his school, girl-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks Maeve, discovers Otis's talent for giving sex advice, she suggests they go into business together, charging other students a small fee for Otis to advise them on their sex-related problems.
The range of subjects the show covers (some in-depth and some with just a passing comment) are endless. Asexuality. Vaginismus. Revenge porn. Erectile dysfunction. The dictionary of sexual terms is pretty much covered here, and paired with a cast of brilliant characters, typical teenage chaos, and a healthy dose of good, old-fashioned rom-com, it makes for pretty addictive viewing.
An audience of teenagers
I love watching Sex Education and can't wait for season three already. But when I watch it, now in my twenties, I can't help but think about how useful a show like this would be for teenage viewers — and how much I hope it has an audience of them, learning as they watch.
The main thing about this show that makes such a difference for teenage viewing is the teenagers in the series themselves. Of course, Jean and Otis are sex-positive — that's their job. But the real positivity comes from the students. The teens who go to Otis and Jean for help might not have all the tools and language they need yet, but the fact that they're even trying to improve their knowledge about sex and relationships is so far removed from the teenage experience that I had.
Even as they walk around the hallways, the fact that Eric and Otis can be given a crash course in douching by Rahim; or that Aimee's boyfriend's main turn on is that she enjoys herself during sex; or that Ola is completely unafraid to explore her attraction to both boys and girls; is such a breath of fresh air.
The teenage experience that I had was so far removed from this sex-positive utopia that it's hard to find any similarities at all. I'm not sure if it was the Irish Catholic background, or the recent advent of home computers (which meant readily available porn for the first time), but my generation seemed more interested in laughing at the word penis for 20 minutes than they were in the idea of healthy sex.
Far from reality
The distinct lack of any kind of real sex education in school didn't help. I have no memories of any kind of formal sex education, bar periods being explained to me in primary school, and an explainer of the biological process of pregnancy when I was a teenager. The topics that could (and should) have been covered are endless. I knew absolutely nothing about birth control, apart from condoms; abortion or the morning-after pill; the signs and symptoms of STI's; consent; the difference between gender and sexual preference. We learned about these things through word of mouth from friends, who got their information either from a doctor (whose advice was very much personalised and should not have been applied to a room full of teenagers) or porn, which gives some very problematic and unrealistic interpretations of what sex is really like.
My generation never had to talk about their sex lives in a healthy and positive way – in fact, they've been encouraged to do the opposite, to stamp it down, and to ignore issues because talking about them would be far too embarrassing. Sex Education shows the power in giving teenagers an opportunity to talk about sex in a judgement-free way – in every episode, the main breakthrough is found by Otis's clients just having someone to listen to them. Their problems aren't laughed at or uncomfortably dismissed — they're discussed seriously and given a lot of thought and attention.
That's why I would love to see Sex Education embraced by an audience of teens, just like the ones on screen — ready to learn, willing to embrace change, and who completely understand different sexualities and preferences.
It sounds like a promising generation.
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