For many of us, school is a place that overwhelmingly shapes our personalities. The pressures of wanting to be popular and fit in—all the while trying to figure out who you are and want to be—can be incredibly hard. Not to mention the overwhelming flood of hormones that cause awkward erections in the halls and unwanted mid-algebra periods. And although it is an unavoidable aspect for student’s lives, seeking sexual advice or counseling is still seen as taboo.
“Sex Education,” a new Netflix original series, focuses on Otis (Asa Butterfield), a sexually repressed teenager whose mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson), is a sex therapist. Although Otis has sexual issues that prevent him from enjoying sex himself, he has picked up his mother’s knack for sex therapy. When rebel and outkast Maeve (Emma Mackey) witnesses his talent firsthand at school, the two go into business offering sex therapy to other students for a small fee. In this sense, Otis is the talent and Maeve is in charge of the finances.
I was caught off guard by the first episode in which students have sex in the schoolyard and yell sexual profanities and slurs across the hallways. Although the first episode seemed over the top, I was able to quickly become engrossed in this zany, funny, high-school-centric world. I began to love the show, in fact, as I found its employment of raunchy yet clever physical humor to be hilarious.
Another detail that stands out right away is the show’s beautiful cinematography. The show usually takes place during the school day, offering gorgeous shots at the rolling green landscapes of England and Wales. The lighting is typically very bright and well lit, making the landscape and characters’ personalities seems even more vibrant.
However, what really gives the show its substance is its fantastic cast of characters. Otis’ best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) is struggling with bullying and backlash as an outgoing, openly gay student. Jean is coming to terms with her failed marriage and the fact that Otis is no longer the little boy he once was. Adam (Connor Swindells) is buckling under the pressure failing classes despite being the principal’s son.
Although “Sex Education” regularly enjoys breaking the veil of realism, the struggle of these characters feel very real. Each actor plays a particular high school stereotype with an intriguing twist, which makes them feel even more relatable and familiar. These serious moments do not feel corny or forced because there are natural ups and downs in various character arcs, just as there are in life.
Nearly everyone in “Sex Education” has a sexual issue that they need help with. Moreover, I was able to witness characters grow and change as people. Characters I started off hating because they seemed mean or annoying become more tragic and sympathetic. And that is precisely what “Sex Education” does so well: making the audience actually care about the characters. If the show was just a lot of gratuitous sex and inappropriate jokes, it would not have the same lasting impact. But the realism of its characters makes the intimate sexual struggles relatable (if not still humorous).
Although it depicts high school, I find many of the the themes incredibly relevant to my college experience. Dating is an everyday part of college life. It feels as though no matter what age you are that the elementary school playground tactics of flirting and gossip seem to abound. Yet, even in one of the most politically and ideologically liberal places in the country, sex is not discussed openly whatsoever unless it’s in a classroom setting. In this way, it makes it harder for people to feel comfortable asking for help because there is an unwelcome social stigma regarding anything with a sexual nature. I do not believe that people do not want to nor are unwilling to talk about sex, but rather people do not want to be shamed for sharing their thoughts and questions publicly.
Otis, the series’ protagonist, who is supposed to help everyone with their sexual issues, has deep psychological issues that prevent him from enjoying or even wanting sex. Yet, in a unique paradox, he is incredible at helping others with their own intimate problems. This is “Sex Education”’s underlying message, as it shows that starting a discussion or asking for help with one’s sex life is not only important, but essential for healthy growth. Just as importantly, it illustrates how everyone, no matter who, has sexual issues or questions that they need help with.
Jordan may be reached at