Spoilers for Sex Education ahead.
The word on the street is right. Netflix’s Sex Education is one of the most entertaining TV series available to stream right now. Created and written by Laurie Nunn in her first venture into the big leagues (Nunn previously wrote and directed a number of short films), this dramedy follows a bunch of teenagers as they awkwardly navigate through the complicated labyrinth that is high school, discovering themselves and their sexuality along the way.
The characters that fill up the frames are wonderfully fleshed out over the course of eight episodes and embodied by performers whose collective charm brim like a boiling pot of sweet honey milk. At the centre of it is one Ottis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), a shy virgin whose mom is ironically a sex therapist. The dialogues are snappy and humour, quite often witty and dry, as you’d expect from the Brits. But let’s not forget its warmth and constantly beating heart.
But it’s also an important show, one that tackles the nuances of relationships, sex, abortion, masturbation and so much more. Here are 9 lessons we can all learn from Netflix’s sex education.
Sex is normal, natural and fun.
A quick story: The 7-Eleven at my university didn’t sell condoms. When asked why, we were told that the varsity board of directors didn’t think it was appropriate to sell — and I quote — “sexual stuff” on campus grounds as it would — get ready to facepalm like the Ryan Reynolds meme — “encourage promiscuous behaviour among students.” I don’t know when exactly condoms transitioned from being an important contraceptive to an ‘apparatus that magically causes horniness’ but it’s ridiculous.
I tell this story to highlight just how taboo sex is in our society and how bizarre people can act when the topic is brought up. This is especially true in Asian countries, which is ironic considering we invented the Kamasutra. A common Asian technique is to live in a bubble of denial (i.e. if we don’t address it, it’s not real).
The truth is, people are going to have sex regardless. Period. There’s a reason why prostitution is the oldest profession in the world: People love having sex. Not only do we love it, but there are also many who find it absolutely necessary. Choosing not to sell contraceptives isn’t going to prevent college students from boning their brains out, it’s merely going to encourage them to do so without protection (more on that later).
Netflix’s Sex Education shows you reality (albeit slightly exaggerated for comedic effect): that almost everybody after a certain age has sex or wants to and that’s perfectly normal.
You’re not wrong to feel horny and you’re not wrong to engage in sex (consensual, of course), casual or otherwise. Your friends most likely feel the same way as you do too. It’s only natural. Though ideally, it’s best you wait until you’re an adult (AKA above the age of 18).
Actions have consequences
Sex Education normalises sex, as it should. But it also doesn’t shy away from the very real consequences that can come from it, such as unplanned pregnancies and STDs. In fact, episode three largely centres around Maeve who discovers she’s pregnant and makes the difficult decision to go for an abortion.
Side note: My initial worry was that this was going to be one of those stories where the teen character ultimately decides not to go through with the abortion because it’s “morally wrong.” But to my very pleasant surprise, despite naturally struggling to make the decision — the show does a good job in exploring the emotional weight of the situation — Maeve ultimately decides to go through with it as she’s simply not in the right phase of her life to be having a baby.
Ultimately the point the show makes is that you shouldn’t go skydiving without a parachute. While sex is a thrill ride, we have to be aware of the ramifications and take responsibility for our actions.
Unless you’re at the stage in your life where you’re ready to have a kid, always take all the necessary precautions such as putting on a condom (or making sure your partner does) and if you’re a woman, taking birth control pills.
Unplanned pregnancies aside, condoms also reduce risks of STD/STI transmission.
Our individual differences should be celebrated
In a world where a lot of people are constantly looking for something to hate on, Sex Education is refreshing! It features individuals of various colours, shapes, sizes and sexualities and observes all of them through a non-judgemental prism. In fact, this show is a celebration of our individual differences.
On one corner, we have an awkward teenager in Ottis who isn’t ready for masturbation, let alone intercourse. On the other, we have Lily, a sexually charged individual who cannot wait to lose her virginity, preferably while roleplaying as an intergalactic space alien.
Neither of them is vilified or framed in a manner that would indicate that they’re doing something wrong. There are also black and Asian gay characters and a black swimmer too.
Yes, this is a liberal series, but the liberalism doesn’t come at the expense of conservatives or conservative values. In episode three, the series provides a voice to a conservative Christian girl who wants to save her virginity for marriage. In fact, Ottis doesn’t even judge her when she says that she’s tried EVERYTHING, including anal… just not vaginal sex cause that should be saved for marriage. It’s a brilliant comedic bit.
The only ‘villains’ of the series are those that incite hate such as the homophobes who beat up Eric bloody simply because he was wearing a dress. But even on that front, the series does explore the age-old idea that a lot of homophobes are closeted gays themselves. Towards the end of the series, Adam who constantly bullied Eric for being gay ends up being gay (or bisexual) himself.
It’s easy to hate people who are different. It’s easy to look at someone who’s dissimilar to you and say they’re wrong. But the truth of the matter is, we’re all a bunch of weirdos. And the world would be a much better place if we celebrate our differences. If we get down from our high horses and stop imposing our values on others. If we don’t judge (or at least judge based on the content of their character). If we practice love.
Men, it’s okay if you’re not pro at sex
A lot of the first episode focuses on Adam Groff, an alpha male and bully who’s a legend in the school because of his long schlong. When the series opens, we see him having sex with his hot girlfriend. For whatever reason, he’s unable to cum. He’s never able to cum when he has sex.
Later in the episode, we learn that the reason he’s unable to finish is because of his anxiety. “What if I’m not good at this?” Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe she knows I’m doing it wrong,” he tells Ottis.
A lot of guys (myself included) have felt this at some point in our lives. There seems to be an unrealistic expectation put on us when it comes to sex — that we should be naturally great at it. That our penises are mystical super rods that should make any girl scream our names upon insertion. Weirdly enough, these quixotic expectations aren’t thrust upon us by women. Oh no. We did this to ourselves.
Take the whole ‘penis size’ obsession. Did you know that we men care about penis sizes more than women? We’re the ones who get impressed by/envious of big dicks. Most women frankly don’t give a shit. The same thing applies to our performances during sex. We think that being an expert makes us a REAL MAN — fuck yeah! I’m a stud with a superpenis!
We don’t realise that by doing so, we’re only setting the bar so high, we’re never going to be able to reach it unless we suddenly morph into a Hentai octopus. This in turns creates pressure which then causes anxiousness which ironically makes us lousier in bed.
So, let’s remove our heads from our asses, put aside the ego and the whole alpha-male nonsense and tell yourself that it’s okay to suck, as long as you keep learning and improving. It’s not a competition. Also, just because we’re men, doesn’t mean we can’t talk about our feelings, be vulnerable and share our weaknesses. We should.
It’s important to compliment your significant other
To some, this may sound crazy, but there are a lot of people who are only willing to have sex with the lights off. (I actually know a couple of people who are like that.) Interestingly enough, they also say that it’s weird to “want/expect your significant other to call you beautiful/hot.”
This perhaps has a lot to do with the old school Asian mentality that is to never pass compliments to people you’re close to. The more common phrases used in romantic relationships are “you’re fat,” “you’re ugly,” “you’re flabby,” or the best one yet…not expressing themselves at all.
Look, it’s okay to occasionally make these jokes IF your partner is highly confident and very comfortable in his/her skin. But if your partner is one who prefers to have sex in the dark to prevent you from seeing his/her body then buddy, DO NOT MAKE THOSE JOKES. It’s only going to make them feel worse about themselves, whether they admit it or not.
But not making those jokes is one thing. It’s also important to compliment your significant other; to make them feel appreciated and loved (both inside and out); to make them feel sexy. And that’s perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from episode 2 of Sex Education, in which one of the supporting characters is only willing to have sex with her boyfriend with the lights off. When Ottis asks why, she says, “cause I’m disgusting.”
Ottis then gives her and her boyfriend two valuable pieces of advice. The first aspect is what I’ve already addressed above — compliment your significant other and make them feel good about themselves and their bodies.
The second and more important aspect doesn’t involve external factors, but rather how you look at yourself. Because no amount of sincere compliments can boost your confidence if you’re not willing to believe that of yourself. The significance of loving yourself cannot be understated. “If you don’t like yourself, how are you supposed to believe that your partner does?”
“You can’t choose who you’re attracted to.”
This is one of the most powerful lines in the show, but it also can function as a double-edged sword when taken out of context. A lot of people are going to take this sentence literally and use it as an excuse.
“Yo, Janice! Why are you dating that criminal drug lord?”
“Heh. You can’t choose who you’re attracted to.”
But that is far from the point the show is trying to make. But first, let’s rewind a little.
One of the subplots of episode 4 revolves around a lesbian couple wondering why they’re sex isn’t quite working out. One of them is really into it, the other isn’t. Both of them care about each other immensely, so what’s the problem?
Later we learn that the reason they got into a relationship is that they’ve been best friends all their life. And since both of them are lesbians, they thought why the hell not? Seems simple enough. They care for each other, support each other and love each other.
But why then is their relationship not working out? “When we have sex, it just feels wrong.” The truth of the matter is, the bedrock of a romantic relationship is sexual attraction, without which it will wilt. You can’t choose who you’re attracted to. Or perhaps more accurately you can’t force yourself to be attracted to someone. Sexual attraction is not something you can concoct it in a lab. And as Otis says, “you can’t engineer a relationship.”
It’s easy to break up with someone if they cheated on you. It’s difficult when neither party is doing anything wrong. But in life, you’ve gotta make difficult decisions. The important thing is to always be honest with yourself. And know that you’re not wrong or an asshole to break up with someone because there’s no ‘spark’. Sexual attraction is just as important in a relationship as trust and honesty.
Love isn’t about grand gestures, it’s just dumb luck
Ain’t that the damn truth?
A lot of us — guys especially — grow up believing that persistence is the key to getting a girl. You see a beautiful girl walking down the college hallway. You walk towards her and make small talk. You ask her if she’d like to grab a cup of coffee. She says, “maybe next time.” You help her carry her books to class.
You get her a giant teddy bear for Valentine’s Day and VIP tickets to Coldplay for her birthday. But when you ask her out on a date, she says no. The next day, another random guy walks up to her, flirts with her and asks for her number. She gives it to him, as she twirls her fingers through her hair with a big smile on her face.
You immediately think “I went above and beyond for her, but she doesn’t like me. Nice guys finish last!!”
But buddy, that’s not how the world works. “Love isn’t about grand gestures, or the moon and the stars. It’s just dumb luck. Sometimes you meet someone who feels the same way and then sometimes, you’re just unlucky.” And if the person isn’t remotely attracted to you (remember: beauty is in the eye of the beholder) no amount of effort is going to change that. You can’t engineer a relationship.
When someone says, “I want an intelligent person who will go above and beyond for me” it automatically means I want an intelligent person who I’m attracted to go above and beyond for me. Good news is, there’s plenty of fish in the sea.
There’s also the element of timing. This becomes especially clear in the final episode. Throughout the first season, Otis has a massive crush on Maeve. However, in the season finale, he finally decides to move on and give Ola a proper shot. At the same time, Maeve begins to realise that she likes Otis.
She goes to Otis’ house only to see Otis making out with Ola. She walks away realising that she’s missed her chance, at least for now. This isn’t a big dramatic moment, but one that plays out almost as a matter of factly. Had Maeve gone to Otis’ house just a day earlier, things would’ve been different.
It’s just dumb luck.
Ladies, you can masturbate too, y’know?
I have always found it baffling why a lot of women are ashamed to admit they masturbate. Some seem to find the act of masturbation shameful or weird. “It’s okay if guys do it. But girls? No way!!” Perhaps it’s because society has conditioned women to believe that way. That touching themselves is impure and unladylike. That sexual acts for pleasure is a guy thing.
Ladies, that is complete and utter horseshit. Masturbation is normal, healthy (click here) and just plain old enjoyable. It’s time we bid adieu to the age-old taboo. Masturbation can help you rest and reduce stress (having an orgasm activates endorphins which are essentially the ‘happy’ chemical in your brain)and it also helps you get comfortable with your body.
How do you expect your partner to pleasure you during sex if you yourself do not know your body — your likes and your dislikes? Which brings me to Aimee, one of the funniest characters on Sex Education. When her boyfriend tells her to stop performing and “tell me what you want?” Aimee is perplexed. “No one has ever asked me that before.” She doesn’t know what she wants.
Naturally, she pays the school’s resident underground sex therapist a visit. Otis suggests that the best way to learn what you like sexually is to actually play with yourself. “You’re prescribing me a wank?” Aimee says in the most British way possible. So Aimee goes home and does the deed. And then she does it again. And again. It’s a montage of wanks. At one point she even wanks on her belly. The experience turns out to be both liberating and life-changing, and Aimee goes on to have the best sex she’s ever had.
If you’re not ready, you’re not ready
With all the talk about sex and relationships, it’s important to remember one thing: there’s no rush. You look around and all your friends are sharing stories about how they popped their cherry at the back of a car or how mind-blowing their sex lives are. This DOES NOT mean that you have to do it too. Having sex doesn’t make you cooler, regardless of how some people may make it seem. Not having sex doesn’t make you any less cool. Only do it when you feel comfortable and ready, regardless if you’re 20 years old or 40.
Take Otis for example, who initially thought he was ready to have sex. He takes the sexually charged Lily up on her offer. But just as they’re about to do it, childhood memories are triggered and Otis has a panic attack. He realises that he’s simply not ready for sex, not yet anyway.