Stuff You Should Be Watching: Sex Education

Three teenagers (a white boy, a white girl, and a black boy) are all crowded into a graffiti covered bathroom.We have a guest Stuff You Should Be Watching from Diana Kirk, who wants to talk about a new Netflix show.

Diana Kirk is the author of Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy, owner of a 92 year old bar called Workers Tavern in Oregon and a five continent world traveler. She enjoys Kozy Shack’s chocolate pudding more than ice cream and talking about girls and politics with her three teenaged boys and hubby in Oregon. She’s currently spending a much needed month in the Dominican Republic.

Sex Education Gives Me Hope

Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat. Sex Education on Netflix is totally cliched. And awesome. Every character is someone you’ve seen in another movie or TV show and yet, you haven’t seen it done quite as well as Sex Education pulls off in its first season. This thing is delicious. It’s heartwarming. And I hope it’s the real future for my own teenagers where there’s a world which can embrace teen sexuality as more than something done drunkenly at the ‘party of the year.’

So what makes this show work so well? Let’s get started with the title. Sex Education holds no punches back with an opening scene of teenaged couple Aimee and Adam having sex in a bed where he just can’t finish the deal. He seems bored and she just keeps trying all the porn moves she thinks she should say. “Do you like my tits?” He ends up faking an orgasm and she catches him. How great is the irony there? HOW GREAT! But Adam cannot finish regularly and the angst it causes in his life gives way to the title…Sex Education.

The show is mainly based around Otis, a nerdy virgin similar to 500 previous movie nerds. He can’t talk around girls, he’s trying to figure out masturbation, he rides a bike to school. Except for one main difference. Otis has a Mom, Jean, that’s a very progressive sex therapist played by Gillian Anderson. Quite frankly, she’s one of the reasons to watch. She steals her scenes with her confidence, her calm demeanor, her perfectly pressed clothing. But her open sexuality embarrasses Otis like Ben Stiller a la Meet the Fockers. Unlike Rozalin Focker, who’s portrayed as happily married perhaps because of the sex therapist hat she wears, Jean shows cracks in her revolving door of one night stands. Her open sexuality has an almost hypocritical fragility to it.

A gif of Otis and his mom sitting on the couch
But despite Otis being the geek of the century (played charmingly by Asa Butterfield) he’s learned a thing or two about sex from listening to his mother teach Yoni classes and helping couples get their hump back on. And one day in the school bathroom, he tells Adam that his problems with orgasming during sex are all in his head. Welcome to the very grown up reality of sex, Adam. With Otis’ future love interest standing nearby, the brilliant goth girl Maive, Otis fixes Adam’s sex problem kinda and it sparks the brilliant idea in Maeve’s head they should charge teenagers for sex advice. Title born. Sex Education.

Maeve suggesting sex therapy to Otis and him looking aghast.

Maeve, said love interest of Otis, is also a main character on the show. She’s the girl from the other side of the tracks, basically Watts a la Some Kind of Wonderful. The fierce goth girl rebel super reader feminist who happens to be humping on the regular the star jock of the school…. the hot AF Jackson. I’d like to pause for a moment and just say Jackson’s name again. Jackson Jackson Jackson. Holy hellhole. He’s just crazy charismatic hot and a star swimmer raised by his lesbian moms who might control too much of his life? But Jackson really likes Maeve while Maeve is too busy trying to make money to pay rent and like pay for electricity since her drug-addicted mom, absent dad, and messed up brother are all MIA. She’s alone in the world. The cliched messed up girl who thinks she cannot date the popular jock. “Because he’s good at all this stuff,” she says to her friend Aimee. Or is he?

A gif of Maeve saying complex female characters

That’s the point of this show. We’re all Freaks and Geeks. Even hot AF Jackson. Who takes anti-anxiety meds and whose beautiful lesbian moms are on their way to a divorce.

My favorite character of the show is probably also the hero, Eric. The gay friend. Eric and Otis have been lifelong BFFs and regularly ride bikes to school together. Eric wants the attention of the only other “openly” gay student Anwar. Anwar is Regina George a la Mean Girls. A plastic with his clique Ruby & Olivia: “we’re vegan this week, remember?” Eric, despite being constantly ignored by Anwar and the Mean Girls, continuously stays optimistic about his life, his style and his future.

Otis asking Eric to dance

And yet, there’s his father, worrying, not about his son being flamboyant but merely for the safety of his child. I’m so glad the writers didn’t play into the cliché of embarrassed father when Eric takes a bus to the city in a full Hedgwig blue velvet. When his father says, “if you’re going to live this lifestyle, you’ve got to be careful,” I was like yeah, BE CAREFUL. What you see is that maybe at times, Eric is somewhat naïve to other people’s fears of his lifestyle and that innocence does make you nervous. Kind of like sex and teenagers can make you nervous. Kind of like innocence can make you nervous.

What I feared on this show, ends up surprising me on this show. Which might be the brilliant point. Sex is awkward and there are sure as hell a lot of awkward sex scenes or almost sex scenes on this show, but emotions can be even more awkward. One of my favorite scenes involves a revenge porn moment. Yes, I said a revenge porn moment, created by a jealous bff, one of the “plastics.” But it’s when Maeve says to the victim, “you can’t be shamed if you don’t feel ashamed” that really got to me.

Show Spoiler
So here’s this awkward TV show moment when everyone realizes who the revenge porn victim is and instead of her sitting in her own pool of “shame,” every girl stands up and claims the photos are of her.

A gif of a girl standing up, saying you're both wrong, it's my vagina

Awkward moment averted because girl power.

But ultimately, this is really a love story. A love story amongst friends, frenemies, but mostly, it’s a love story about self acceptance, and I was totally down with it. There’s a moment in one episode where a young couple are fighting because she wants the lights off when they “do it” and he wants to see her body. Otis, during his sex education therapy session, tries to get them to speak to one another and really listen. The guy, just a normal teenaged boy eventually says, “I wish you could see what I see when I look at you.” And I was like, “Ok, I totally fell for that.”

He accepts her and the flaws she fears about her body, but she’s got to accept herself. The cliché is thick but maybe it’s because they’re just teenagers and not trying to shove it down our throats like so many adult movies about self acceptance. Sex Education and its moral works: love yourself and sex will be better. Just as Otis and his sixteen year old awkward self points out one way or the other throughout the series.

It’s hard in this day and age to invent new characters, so it’s refreshing to find all of our favorite people we loved when we were growing up mixed together in a 2019 version of teenaged life. This show is sweet. It’s kind where people haven’t been in the past, where bad things happened to the vulnerable. It’s a testament to the future that maybe young people are more understanding of who they are and compassionate to that which we were once told to fear or feel shame. It gives me hope which quite frankly, is why I watch womentainment. I need it to get through my own day. So I’m totally here for this and cannot wait for season 2.

Eric saying to Otis that it's weird because Otis is his age, but wise.

Sex Education is available on Netflix.

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