The return of Sex Education
Esmé Tilling explains how Netflix’s Sex Education exposes the problems with sex education taught in schools.
Last month the much-loved Netflix TV series Sex Education returned to our screens for its third season. The series has been praised by viewers and critics alike for calling attention to the lack of proper sex education that young people receive. This is accomplished through its completely non-judgemental and non-censured approach to sex. The students of Moordale High masturbate, have sex, use contraception, deal with STDs, explore kink, and have abortions, all whilst navigating the emotional aspects of relationships.
The New York Times’s James Poniewozik stated in his review of Sex Education that “sex, in this show, isn’t an ‘issue’ or a problem or a titillating lure: It’s an aspect of health.”
Flaws in the education system are especially highlighted in the latest season. Moordale High’s new authoritarian headteacher, Hope Haddon, encourages an abstinence-only approach to sex education in a bid to remove the school’s label of “sex school”. The students are separated by sex into two classrooms and inflicted with fear-based and shame-inducing tactics as a form of prevention against sex.
images of STDs at their worst and stories regarding teen pregnancy and single monthers are all forms of intimidation that demonise sex.
Many young people will, unfortunately, relate to this experience. Images of STDs at their worst and stories regarding teen pregnancy and single mothers are all forms of intimidation that demonise sex. Sex education should instead be a safe space to explore sexual identity, healthy relationship behaviour, reproductive health, bodily anatomy, and so much more.
The Young People’s RSE poll 2019, highlighted key areas within sex education that remain to be adequately integrated into teaching. 69 per cent of students felt that they had not been sufficiently educated on sexual pleasure, 64 per cent on FGM, 57 per cent on pornography, 46 per cent on how to recognise when someone is being groomed for sexual exploitation, 44 per cent on how to tell if a relationship is abusive and 46 per cent on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT+) issues.
Creator and writer of Sex Education, Laurie Nunn, remembered her own experience of sex education as being “practically non-existent”. She followed on from this by saying, “I’m in my 30s and I feel like I’m only now starting to get the right language to talk about my own body. I think, ‘God, I wish I’d known this stuff when I was in my 20s.’” It is, therefore, understandable why Nunn sought to create a show with a mission to resolve these issues.
Season three presented new areas of educational importance. The character Aimee Gibbs and her ongoing trauma following her sexual assault in the show’s previous season is a significant storyline. One cannot simply recover from a sexual assault, and the show highlights this through Aimee’s therapy sessions with Jean Milburn. Trauma expert and therapist Janine Wirth says that “counselling provides a safe, non-judgemental environment to talk about the experience, process subsequent emotions in a healthy manner and come to terms with their safety and boundaries being violated.” Statistics from the charity Rape Crisis have found that one in five women have experienced sexual assault in the UK. Making it more crucial than ever for young people to be educated on not only the various forms of assault but the process of healing.
Another area of educational importance that is highlighted in season three is the existence of medication that can help to prevent HIV. The character Anwar Bakshi becomes concerned about developing HIV however, he is reassured by a nurse who explains that: “So long as you and your partner, or partners, are practising safer sex, getting tested regularly, you’re very unlikely to contract HIV… and for those that do contract the virus, there’s medicine now that enable them to live a long healthy life, even get to the stage where the virus is undetectable, which means it can’t be passed on to somebody else.” Viewers responded positively to this scene, suggesting that the show does more for sex education than the school system.
Sex Education thus serves as a reminder of the progress we still must make. Whilst sex education in secondary schools is compulsory in the UK, the statistics from the Young People’s RSE poll 2019 reveal that it is insufficient in its teaching, and it must be improved.