Let’s talk about sex, baby: From jizz faces to stinky spunk, Sex Education’s positivity is its greatest strength

Netflix's brilliant teen drama opens up previously off-topic conversations with deft humour and a lightness of touch

Warning: this contains spoilers for Sex Education Season Two… 

In one of Sex Education’s finest scenes to date, a group of mismatched young women are slung into after-school detention together. Accused of slut-shaming their teacher Ms Sands, they’re tasked with putting together a presentation on the things that unite them – the problem is, they have about as much in common as a rubber glove and a satsuma.

Viv’s favourite pastime is Dungeons and Dragons, but Aimee Gibbs prefers shopping. The whole gang agree on chocolate… apart from Maeve Wiley. Soon enough the situation turns sour, and a pissed off Ola Nyman accuses Maeve of being a boyfriend-stealer who pretends to be “all radical and feminist” for clout – before Aimee bursts into tears. “Stop fighting over a stupid boy,” she yells. “I can’t get on the bus!”

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She’s referring to the sexual assault that took place on the bus earlier in the season – now, she’s too frightened to catch it to get to school, and walks for miles each day to get there instead. As her classmates squabble over mundane boy dramas, her anger reaches a tipping point, and the women begin to open up about their shared experiences. “It was like they thought my body was theirs, or something,” says Olivia Hanan, telling the group about a man who groped her at a train station. “Yeah, like we’re public property,” Ola – who was followed home by a man at night – agrees. Despite their many differences, they eventually complete their assignment. The thing they all have in common? “Unwanted dicks,” they all announce, before strolling out of the school in formation.

It’s rare and refreshing to find such a nuanced discussion taking place on a show that simultaneously wields comic relief as a tool. Repeatedly, this is the balance that Sex Education strikes perfectly. For every one-liner about corduroy-fuelled boners and spunk that whiffs of kimchi, there are valuable moments of sincerity sprinkled through the script – though overwhelmingly silly, screenwriter Laurie Nunn also knows when to be more reflective.

As its main characters constantly chase simple fixes to thorny problems, Sex Education shows us that there are no easy answers. Every character in the show ultimately messes up when they don’t communicate effectively about their worries and desires – whether it’s Maeve failing to admit her feelings to Otis, or Olivia smothering boyfriend Malek with a cushion because she’s embarrassed about people seeing her jizz face.

Many of the students of Moordale High pile an enormous amount of pressure on themselves when it comes to losing their virginity; all of them seem to think that doing so will grant them admission through a hazy portal into adulthood – where they suddenly know all the answers. And who can blame them, really? It’s a myth as old as time, proliferated by virtually every teen flick going. But as we watch Mrs Groff struggling through a loveless marriage, and Jean Milburn hiding Jakob away in her bedroom because she can’t bear to come clean to Otis about their relationship, it becomes clear that these adults really have no idea what they’re doing either. They’re just slightly better at hiding it.

These are things that a one-stop sex clinic can’t sort out – and the main takeaway when it comes to the actual sex education of Sex Education is that honesty wins out.

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Think back to when Anwar seeks out the douching expertise of Rahim, the school’s resident French hunk. Rahim (who is more than qualified for this question, having previously delivered an in-depth presentation on douching complete with diagrams) is more concerned about Anwar’s fears around telling his boyfriend he’s a virgin. “If you’re not ready to talk about this with your boyfriend, you’re not ready to have his cock in your ass,” he deadpans.

Obsessed with finding all of the answers (including the magic key to being a fingering expert, thanks to the questionable ‘clock method’) Otis is taken aback when he’s told that he should be asking Ola what she likes instead.

And on the flip-side, when characters open up – even if it might be a tricky conversation at first – their experiences are altogether more positive. When Anwar heeds Rahim’s advice and speaks to his boyfriend about how he’s feeling, his fears suddenly don’t seem like such a big deal anymore. “You should’ve said,” Nick tells him. “Anwar, I didn’t know how to do any of that stuff either. I’ll show you if you want?” And when Ola and Lily Iglehart talk things through and navigate Lily’s vaginosis together, the takeaway is similar. When was the last time you ever saw a lewd teen drama even discussing the topic of vaginosis, let alone framing it in such a thoughtful light?

The best thing about Sex Education is how it deftly handles various topics like this – ranging from asexuality to dirty talk – without feeling like a drab TED Talk or posturing moral broadcast. And of course, it’s also hilarious.

Most importantly, it’s both entertaining and sex positive, without smacking viewers around the face, or leaning on tired old tropes surrounding inexperience. It’s remarkable there hasn’t been a show like this sooner.

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