Art & Culture

Here’s what we learned from Sex Education season two

After returning to Netflix on Friday 17 January, the television series has consolidated its reputation as a new kind of teen classic.

Sex Education’s first series, with a viewership of forty million, provided the blueprint for a new kind of high school drama. Banishing the uniformly straight, white casts and melodramatic plot lines of the shows that many of us grew up watching (Gossip Girl, we’re looking at you), its well-crafted characters transcended restrictive stereotypes and opened the door to discussions of sexuality and identity that many young people today actually face. Moreover, the show’s foregrounding of issues around sexual consent and pleasure served to plug a gap in accessible, reliable information around sexual wellbeing and early relationships. 

Its second season had a lot to live up to and could’ve, very easily, failed to capture the zeitgeist quite like its debut. However, we can confirm (after binging it in a single sitting) that it’s back on top form. After focussing on its protagonists in the first season, the follow-up gains much of its tenacity through the secondary characters who are given more space to breathe and develop within the wider narrative. In particular, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) provide nuanced explorations of issues around queer shame, self harm and the psychological repercussions of sexual assault.

Whilst the show riffs off of established teen classics – with a The Breakfast Club-style group detention and a distinctly Mean Girls-esque twist involving Dr Milburn’s private notes – it delivers the kind of life lessons that would have been unthinkable from any of predecessors within the genre. Below, we round up our top four takeaways from Sex Education season two.

There are no “one size fits all” rules when it comes to sexual pleasure

Whilst season one saw Otis (Asa Butterfield) run a DIY sex clinic, in season two the teacher becomes the student. In his relationship with Ola (Patricia Allison), a hook-up goes terribly awry thanks to some hazardous fingering advice he found online. Hoping to right this wrong, Otis seeks out some more reliable information on how to please a woman from Ruthie, the lesbian who consults him in season one. After having him demonstrate his technique on an unsuspecting orange, Ruthie delivers some right-on advice: no vagina is the same, so you have to get to know what works for each partner as an individual. This teachable moment for Otis is applicable to everybody else looking to please a sexual partner: if you want to make them feel good, you first need to listen to what they want and need. 

Not everyone wants to have sex – and that’s okay

All too often, the focus on overturning restrictive norms around sexuality can overlook the fact that not everyone experiences sexual attraction in the same way. It felt particularly important, then, that the show took the time to shine a light on the asexual experience through character Florence (Mirren Mack), an ambitious student actor who wants to be the Scottish versions of Meryl Streep. As the show hints at, by suggesting that some asexual people might desire romantic relationships whilst others do not, asexuality exists on a spectrum. Identities on the asexual or “ace” spectrum include asexuality, aromanticism, grey-asexuality and greyromanticism, and demisexuality and demiromanticism. To truly be sex positive, it’s necessary to have an awareness of these identities and to work towards reducing the stigma that affects this group. 

Honesty with your partner is the most important step towards having good sex

One of the major developments of the second season is the emphasis it places on the fact that Otis is under-qualified to be doling out sex tips to anybody (albeit, in a similar way to many of the adults within the show). In particular, his lack of awareness surrounding queer sexual wellbeing is dramatised through a spectacular failure to pass on helpful knowledge to cool kid Anwar (Chaneil Kular) as he prepares to have penetrative sex with his boyfriend for the first time. Ultimately, Anwar learns that he can rely on his boyfriend for this information and that openness and honesty about his sexual history is the best tool towards having the kind of sex he wants. For viewers watching at home, it’s a reminder that openness and transparency with your partner is paramount for safety, comfort and pleasure.

Recovery from sexual assault takes time

One of the major arcs within the season follows Aimee as she deals with the psychological fallout from sexual assault. Treating this difficult topic with sensitivity, the show depicts how events like this have wider repercussions that can impact victims’ day-to-day lives and relationships. Encouraging people who have been affected to open up about their experiences, lean on their inner circle for support and discuss the ways this might impact their approaches to intimacy, it is refreshingly honest about the healing process and the internal turmoil that sexual assault survivors might carry with them. Further information about recovering from sexual assault can be found via the NHS.

Season 2 of Sex Education is out now on Netflix. 

20 January 2020