As a sex educator, I dread onscreen depictions of teen sexuality. Too often, they provide us with implausible situations, bounce between raunchy humor and melodrama, and rely on stereotypes and dialogue that is clearly written by adults.
In the usual depictions of television adolescence, teens are lithe and horny. They own remarkable collections of lingerie and engage in soft-lit, well-choreographed sex scenes. Of course, they’re also irresponsible and suffer post-sex consequences such as a bad reputation, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or pregnancy.
Netflix’s new series Sex Education premiered this week, and it avoids most of these tropes—at least in its first three episodes—and gives us complicated, relatable characters who have genuine concerns about sex.
Everyone at Moordale Secondary, a proper British upper school that’s the setting for Sex Education, is either thinking about shagging, about to shag, or shagging right now.
But as Maeve (Emma Mackey), one of our main characters, points out while explaining her scheme to provide classmates with sex therapy for a price, all this teen sex comes with a lot of angst. There’s the young woman in her first lesbian relationship who is terrified of her girlfriend’s vagina; the girl who thinks masturbation may make her clitoris fall off but does it every day anyhow; and the boy who seems to be at the center of an outbreak of pubic lice.
School-based sex education—which seems limited to condom demonstrations and fill-in-the-blank pictures of reproductive anatomy—is failing them. But Maeve believes that Otis (Asa Butterfield), the son of two sex therapists who shows a knack for the family business, can save them all. And, thus, the plot of this funny, poignant, and, yes, very explicit eight-part series