Right off the bat, we learn two very important facts after watching the very first scene of “Sex Education”: first, the intensity that the show starts with will surely grab viewers’ attention, and second, British television beats American television by a landslide.
Laurie Nun’s “Sex Education” delivers the brutal truth about sex and relationships for boys and girls in high school through a realistic British comedy-drama web-television series. Asa Butterfield plays the protagonist, Otis Milburn, a 16-year-old boy who lives with his mother, who is a sex therapist. He has a serious lack of sexual experience, naturally coupled with an ongoing socially awkward high school career.
On the brightside, this teenager has absorbed enough sex therapy from his mother’s sessions to be a “shag specialist” himself. When Otis and Maeve, a strong, witty classmate, played by Emma Mackey, are able to provide sexual therapy to a “sexually distressed” school bully, the two realize the potential for the business opportunity lying ahead of them. While Netflix only produced a relatively standard eight episodes for the first season, the show has more than enough opportunities to delve into the real-world stresses that accompany sex and relationships.
The very first thing the audience will notice about the protagonist is that he is an awkward, lanky teenager who cannot masturbate unlike the rest of his extremely sex-crazed high school. Otis struggles, and his mother’s sex-therapist-fuelled expectations for his sex life don’t help.
Most viewers likely questioned the fact that he offers sex and relationship counseling to other students despite still being a virgin who has never been in a relationship. In truth, I think his lack of experience on both fronts significantly defines his character and helps with showing that he himself must also eventually face the inevitable progression into sexual relationships.
Clearly, Otis’ mother’s occupation and sex paraphernalia lying around the house have a dual effect on him; on the one hand, they allow Otis to develop a successful business and gain popularity. On the other hand, they simultaneously impede his sexual growth and development until much later in the series. His “business” with Maeve, however, does assist him in realizing that he has strong feelings for his therapy partner.
When it comes to the sex therapy business, even though this concept is somewhat unrealistic, the problems that Otis’ clients encounters are very real. Luckily, sex and relationships are represented in more than one light. As a result, blatantly honest conversations ensue about topics like oral sex, masturbation, open LGBTQ relationships during high school, lesbian intercourse, having sex with the lights off and much more. The discussion of such subjects make this series educational and addresses actual issues present yet still deemed taboo within college and high school hook-up culture.
In a search for clients at a classmate’s house party, Otis comes across a girl drowning her sorrows in an empty bathtub with a bottle of white wine. For the sake of helping a struggling couple and recruiting new clients, Otis offers some free advice. Following the boyfriend’s entrance into the scene, Otis make the two sit back-to-back in the bathtub and list out five things they each like about each other. He attempts this strategy to help the girl get over her insecurity about her body, as the girl refuses to have sex with her boyfriend while the lights are on. This vulnerable exchange highlights an issue that plagues couples and individuals: body insecurity. With its wide scope of sexual and social topics, “Sex Education” can end up helping its viewers as much as the patients.
“Sex Education” sends a powerful message to our youth about sex and relationships truly being far more blurred than your average rom-com makes them out to be. For a select few, the transition into adulthood may come naturally, but it may be a messy process for many others. “Sex Education” sets the record straight: Everyone matures at their own pace, and complications in teenage sex and relationships are inevitable.
Rohit Mahtani is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. Netflix and No Chill appears in print every other Friday.