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‘Sex Education:’ A Contribution To Fantastic Television With Sex Comedy

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Netflix’s British teen sex comedy-drama “Sex Education” is back with another impressive season. Created by Laurie Nunn, Season 3 continues to explore its eclectic ensemble of teenage and adult characters all seeking to find answers to their personal dilemmas. The show tackles the hardships faced within adolescence and adulthood, occupying a sweet spot in the hearts of millions of viewers who can easily find themselves identifying with any of the stellar characters. 

Season 3 opens with a typical montage of some of the characters having sex with their significant other — a scene that screams to its die-hard fans: welcome back! Unlike other TV shows that glamorize sex, “Sex Education” does not hold back when it comes to displaying the good, the bad and the ugly of sex. The term “censorship” seems to have lost its place in the show’s vocabulary, but in the best way possible. 

Otis (Asa Butterfield) returns as the awkward yet empathetic protagonist beginning to explore sex. Following his fling with Ruby (Mimi Keene), this season explores their relationship status amid Otis’ lingering feelings for Maeve (Emma Mackey) and Ruby’s romantic feelings toward Otis. Meanwhile, Maeve grapples with guilt after calling the cops on her mother for her raging addiction, which led to her sister Elsie being placed in foster care. Due to her forced independence from a young age, Maeve struggles to ask for and accept help despite urgently needing it. 

Photo provided by IMDb.com

Fan-favorite couples also make their comeback to the big screen. Ola (Patricia Allison) and Lily (Tanya Reynolds) hit a rough patch when Lily’s alien-fantasy obsession impacts their sexual intimacy. As Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) seeks therapy after her sexual assault, she begins to distance herself from her boyfriend Steve (Chris Jenks) in order to discover herself as an individual, only to realize she is happier without him. The peculiar yet electrifying relationship between Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam (Connor Swindells) continues to blossom. However, Eric begins to feel distant from his heritage while Adam struggles to embrace his identity as a gay man; both pose as critical obstacles that may make or break their relationship. This season also introduces new queer characters to its brilliant cast, such as non-binary student Cal (Dua Saleh), who strikes up a friendship with Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling). 

Meanwhile, Otis’ mother Dr. Jean (Gillian Anderson) goes through a geriatric pregnancy as she is expecting a child with Ola’s father Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt). They attempt to form their own blended family but quickly discover the innumerable challenges that are lined up in front of them. 

At the same time, Adam’s father, Principal Groff (Alistair Petrie), grapples with a midlife crisis brought on by his ongoing divorce. Following his failure to prevent an alien orgy-themed “Romeo and Juliet” school musical during the previous season’s finale, Principal Groff was ordered to take some time off work. This gave way for Hope (Jemima Kirke), who is portrayed as a villainess, to replace him in the new season as the new headmaster. As she establishes strict and controversial rules to redeem Moordale Secondary from its status as a “sex school,” Otis and other students fight back, which serves as the main plot for the new season.

Photo provided by Netflix US @netflix/Instagram

Although there are other television shows that present typical teenage struggles, “Sex Education” stands out among all with its sex comedy, which is a challenging concept to introduce to the young masses without feelings of cringe, disgust and embarrassment. “Sex Education” succeeds in avoiding these feelings by treating its teenage characters with a degree of respect and maturity, which allows room for their growth on the big screen. While the show itself places heavy emphasis on its characters’ flaws and insecurities, it refrains from criticizing them and grants them agency to make mistakes and act out in order to teach the audience that this is what makes us humans. 

While each “Sex Education” character embodies a commonly-used teenage stereotype, the show’s portrayal of them as complex and vulnerable individuals further deconstructs the notion of a perfect person with a perfect life. Instead of abiding by the so-called “happily ever after” ending, “Sex Education” reframes this narrative by presenting its characters as people who all live in a chaotic and messy, but realistic, lifestyle —  something that resonates with teenagers and adults all around the world. 

Above all, the show’s heart lies in the relationships formed between its characters. Instead of sugar-coating the intricacies of a relationship, “Sex Education” acknowledges and exposes the imperfections and frustrations that every individual may face, regardless of the type of relationship they find themselves in. In a sense, sex itself brings people together in unexpected ways. As seen in Season 3, the entire student body unites together to defeat Headmistress Hope’s reign by taking pride in their status as a “sex school” that preaches to normalize sex. 

Photo provided by IMDb.com

The concept of sex has always been perceived as taboo in many cultures, which causes perplexity on when and how to introduce it to young adults in a correct and appropriate manner. “Sex Education” suggests this introduction should take place at school while kids go through puberty so that they can learn how to make safe and healthy choices. 

As said by head girl Vivienne (Chinenye Ezeudu), “[a] lot of shame comes from old-fashioned views on sex. Sadly, schools have taught a lot of people to feel ashamed of their identities and bodies. The cycle continues today. But the world is changing, and young people have had enough. So if you agree that communication and empathy are better tools than silence and shame, then join us by asking your school for better.” 

The modern and mature take on sex and the relationships between its sensational cast makes “Sex Education” so worth the watch. 

Annabella Johan is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at ajohan@uci.edu.