Review: Netflix's Near-Perfect 'Sex Education' Is Less About Sex and More About Insecurity
The 1980s teen sex comedies (Porky’s, Revenge of the Nerds) were typified by sexist tropes, very questionable date-rapey behavior, sex-shaming, and straight up misogyny, in addition to its weird, hypocritical puritanical streak. Meanwhile, the ’90s and 2000s didn’t really do a lot of R-rated teen sex comedies outside of the American Pie franchise and their ilk, and those were mostly about using sex as a way to humiliate its characters for laughs. Ha!
But what if — and hear me out here — someone were to make an R-rated teen sex comedy that was … sex positive? What if sexual performance anxiety were treated as … normal in teenagers, because, like, it is normal. What if virginity wasn’t treated as an albatross? Or what if teenagers weren’t depicted as “whores” or “sluts” if they engaged in regular intercourse? What if you were to create an entire movie about dealing with very typical teenage problems surrounding sex and made it funny, and heartfelt, and yes, dead sexy, but did it without doing so at the expense of the characters?
Good news! That movie exists, and it’s called Blockers. But there’s ALSO a television series that’s even better and accomplishes all those same goals. It’s called Sex Education, it’s on Netflix, and it is phenomenal. It’s also known as that show where Gillian Anderson plays an incredibly hot sex therapist, but that’s kind of the C-plot of Sex Education (a very good C-plot, mind you). It’s primarily concerned with Otis (Asa Butterfield), a high-school student so traumatized by his father’s affairs that he can’t even masturbate to completion. However, thanks to his sex-therapist mother, Jean (Anderson), he’s well versed in sex education, so when another student that he fancies, Maeve (Emma Mackey), asks him to offer his own underground sex therapy sessions to other high-school students in exchange for money, Otis rises to the challenge.
It’s also money that Maeve needs because she’s essentially been orphaned in a trailer home by her drug-addicted mother. That is to say that Sex Education is not just about sex. It’s also about socioeconomic insecurity, something that Maeve feels intensely because she’s dating Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), a well-to-do son of overly committed parents, and he feels insecure in his ability to live up to his parents’ standards. Meanwhile, Otis’s gay best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) is also dealing with a host of problems surrounding his identity and how it conflicts with his religiously conservative (but nonetheless loving) family. There’s a host of other characters, too, including a sexually active teenager, Aime (Aimee Lou Wood), who is too afraid to ask for what she wants — both in and out of the bedroom — and an insecure bully with his own sexual identity issues.
In fact, I would suggest that Sex Education is less about sex and more about dealing with insecurity during the most insecure time of our lives. And it is splendidly done. It is hysterical but heartfelt, and creator Laurie Nunn treats all of her characters with love and respect. She finds comedy not in humiliating her characters, but in finding things with which her viewers can relate, and what is more relatable than insecurity? But rather than poke at those insecurities, or shame her characters for them, she treats them as normal, something which all teenagers (and most adults) can relate.
It is so witty, and so sweet, and so smart, and I would have given anything to have had a show like this available to my generation as teenagers. And yes, Gillian Anderson is also a total smoke show, an amazing, confident sex therapist, but also someone dealing her own insecurities as a parent. I genuinely cannot recommend this show enough, and great news: It’s — already been picked up for a second season, so we don’t have to worry about losing these characters anytime soon.
Header Image Source: Netflix