‘Sex Education’: intimate and relatable

March 11, 2019 — by Leo Cao and Alex Wang

Sometimes, it is interesting to see a story that ignores formalities and embraces the truth. Human beings, like many other creatures, like to have sex. But that doesn’t mean they are automatically good at it, know what they want or know how to get it. This fundamental drive is evident throughout the majority of Netflix original series “Sex Education,” directed by Ben Taylor and Kate Herron, but the sex portrayed doesn’t compromise the show’s heartfelt situational comedy and eccentric cast.

“Sex Education” is a British Netflix show set in an affluent neighborhood with a private academy. The show mainly follows the teenage lives of Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), the son of a sex therapist who is afraid of sex himself, and Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey), a rebellious loner with an absent family. Otis and Maeve unexpectedly become friends and start a sex therapy clinic, where Otis gives advice on sex and relationships for money.

Otis and Maeve’s friendship and the clinic end up putting both of their relationships with others to the test, deeply affecting each of their personal lives. The obstacles they face and the people they encounter encapsulate much of the teenage experience, albeit on a more dramatic scale.

When we first watched the show, we were taken aback at the amount of sexual content that the directors chose to portray, but the captivating storyline kept us hooked.

The show presents a great irony that carries on throughout the series: How does a boy who is afraid of sex and has no experience give advice on such matters? This irony drives the story along and creates a rich characterization of Otis. While many teen comedies involve male virgins and their struggles in pursuit of sex, Otis proves to be a caring and observant protagonist who supports other people’s desires.

Furthermore, the show really struck a chord in us because of its relatively accurate interpretation of teenage life.

One aspect that it portrays well is the relationships between friends and classmates. The obstacles they face show the toxicity and peer pressure that happens in school. The character Aimee, played by Aimee Lou Wood, feels this especially because the popular kids that she hangs out with always push her around. She ends up being more of a servant than a friend and recognizes that she is always fake. In fact, she does not even know what she wants out of a relationship because she always does whatever pleases others. She finally overcomes her struggles and becomes more independent, eventually ditching the group of popular kids.

Another part of teenage life that the show depicts accurately is family life. Otis and his mom, played by Gillian Anderson, have a stressful relationship, characterized by his mom’s constant intrusions of his privacy regarding his relationships and sexual behaviors. For Otis, he just wants independence and to have his sex therapist mom stop stalking him and his activities; meanwhile, his mom just wants him to be happy and safe. This tenuous relationship between parents and students is often apparent in teenage life, and the show does a good job of portraying it.

The show also pays its dues to the LGBTQ community. One of Otis’s main beneficiaries is Eric, played by Ncuti Gatwa, his gay best friend. In addition to homophobia, Eric has to deal with bullies who tease him about being a band geek. He earns an unflattering nickname after having an erection in public. Eric, enthusiastic but inexperienced, understands his sexuality but is trying to figure out how to present himself to the rest of the world.

However, it does blow up some aspects to an unrealistic proportion. For example, the show mainly focuses on characters who have sex often, portraying it as a very common occurrence among teenagers. Eric even says in the first episode that “everyone has had sex over the summer.” Later on, though, the show acknowledges that this belief is wholly incorrect through the character Lily, who feels pressured to have sex in order to fit in. Otis eventually tells her that while it may seem like everyone is doing it, in reality, most people aren’t.

High school students at many schools, including Saratoga, have encountered similar false beliefs, therefore making “Sex Education” relatable for many high school teenagers.

Overall, the show will keep viewers binge-watching. Despite the amount of sexual content (or perhaps because of it), the show manages to tackle many serious aspects of teenage life, while still incorporating humor and sending a positive message. The characters and plot are both well developed in a way that will make viewers feel empathy in times of distress and excitement for the characters’ successes. We recommend this show for all teenagers looking for a relatable story.

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