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A Feminist’s Review of Netflix’s Sex Education Season 2

Sex Education is one of the best programs currently on Netflix. If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen or heard of the show, allow me to set the scene for you. A Netflix original, the plot of Sex Education season one revolves around a British high school boy named Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), who has little to no sexual experience but happens to know quite a bit about sex because his mother is a sex therapist. Otis and his best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) are sort of wallflowers at school until Otis and the school’s mysterious and intimidating hot girl, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) decide to start an underground sex therapy clinic. While making money off their classmate’s sexual troubles, an unexpected spark begins to form between Otis and Maeve. The season then pulls watchers into a web of sexual experiences, love triangles, and plenty of other tension and drama.

I fell head over heels for the show after watching the first season and was thrilled to begin the second when it finally was released. Sex Education season two was no letdown— the lovable, complex characters were back with even more drama. Otis has an official girlfriend, Ola (Patricia Allison), Eric has two potential love interests, Maeve is dealing with the return of her addict mother, and Otis’s’ sex therapist mom, Jean (Gillian Anderson) begins to work at the high school to implement a new-and-improved, well, sex education program! And though the sex clinic is on a (temporary) hiatus, the sexual confusions and encounters are as present as ever.  

But I am not writing this article to simply summarize the plot or rant about how much of a fan I am of the show. I am writing this to examine the show from a feminist perspective—to lay out the feminist issues it deals with and discuss why I feel they were handled so well. Though there are many feminist motifs throughout both seasons of Sex Education, for the purposes of this article I want to focus on the themes of powerful and diverse female characters, positive female sexuality, and sexual assault/ harassment.

The writers, directors, and actresses of Sex Education have seriously succeeded in creating some badass female leads. The main female protagonist, Maeve, is an enigma of a character. She is cool and popular in the sense that everyone knows her, and almost everyone who’s into girls is attracted to her. However, at the same time, she is unapologetically herself— cynical, feminist, and generally not traditionally “likable.” Maeve can always be seen reading classical feminist novelists such as Virginia Woolf, and is intelligent but does not “try” at school. She also has a complex family situation, as she lives alone in a trailer park, but throughout the two seasons, we see the come-and-go of her brother, mom, and baby half-sister. We see Maeve struggle with romance, friendship, and navigating the relationships in her life in both seasons.  Another strong female lead in the show is Aimee Gibbs, played by Aimee Lou Wood. I love Aimee’s character because she defies all the stereotypes of what she appears to be. Aimee is initially presented as the archetype of the dumb, blonde, hot, popular girl. However, as the show continues, and especially in the second season, we get to know much more about Aimee’s character. She is endearing, funny, passionate, and on a quest for self-discovery both in regard to her sexuality and her work-related interests. One of my favorite aspects of Sex Education is the friendship between Maeve and Aimee. Their unlikely, wholesome friendship develops mainly in season two, and it is the perfect example of female solidarity. 

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My second feminist compliment for Sex Education is the representation of positive female sexuality. This theme can be seen throughout the series in many forms. One of the main critiques of the sex education program offered at the high school is that they do not discuss pleasure, specifically for women. The first major display of positive female sexuality in the show is through female masturbation. In the first season, Aimee realizes that she has never once considered her own pleasure during sex, and therefore sets out to discover her preferences through masturbation. We see an even more evolved plotline around female masturbation in season two when best friends Ola (Patricia Allison) and Lily (Tanya Reynolds), hook up for the first time. Lily confesses to Ola that she struggles with vaginismus, a condition in which her vagina tightens before penetration as a result of the mental pressure and anxiety she feels around sex. In response, Ola suggests the two girls masturbate together rather than try to pleasure one another. This scene is quite the reclamation of female sexuality, not only in regards to self-pleasure, but also self-pleasure represented in a lesbian couple. This brings me to my next point on positive female sexuality in Sex Education, which is the way Lily and Ola’s sexual relationship is presented. The Lily-Ola hookup scene was powerful because it showed two women experiencing intimacy and pleasure in a way that was best for them. In most mainstream media, female-female sex scenes are still VERY carefully staged to be sexy and to appeal to the male gaze. And look, I get it, women having sex is hot. I’m with the straight dudes on that. But sex is about pleasure, and we need more media representation of real, accurate lesbian hookups. We need more shows with lesbian sex scenes that aren’t concerned with how sexy the male audience will find them but rather with representing authentic female pleasure and intimacy. Sex Education season two achieves exactly this. 

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Sex Education season two also does a great job in addressing the more serious issue of sexual assault/ harassment. This issue is first brought to light when a man standing behind Aimee on the bus masturbates on her jeans. For a while, Aimee is in denial that this was a big deal and not just something she should accept and be able to easily move on from. Later on, there is a Breakfast Club inspired scene towards the end of the season in which six of the main female characters are in detention because they are all suspects of writing graffiti calling their female teacher a slut. The girls each have very different personalities and serve different roles in school, but while in detention their “assignment” is to find something that they all have in common. After hours of bickering and struggling to find a commonality between them, the girls stumble upon the thing that connects all of them: sexual assault and/or harassment. They realize that walking through the world as women is in itself a shared experience, though not necessarily always a positive one. I think this #MeToo moment in the show was a carefully considered and well-handled way to address sexual assault. At the end of this episode, we see all of the girls standing at Aimee’s bus stop, ready to stand by her side and help her reclaim her space. I was moved by the way the girls bonded through their trauma, and absolutely loved how they began to stand by one another and form a strong girl gang. What I appreciated most about this scene, however, was the way in which it shed light on how even what may seem like the most trivial examples of sexual assault/ harassment can be extremely traumatizing and damaging. Oftentimes, when tv shows deal with sexual assault, it usually revolves around rape or something extremely severe. Of course, it is important to deal with severe cases of sexual assault on tv, but I think it’s just as necessary to show the damaging harassment women face constantly that is oftentimes shrugged off as minor. Aimee thought she should be okay after her experience with the man on the bus, but her friends made her realize that it was natural to go through trauma afterward. I think this is a really important message to demonstrate, particularly to a young female audience because Aimee’s confusion and dismissiveness around her assault is a very common and relatable notion for young women. I know that for me, there were many situations I was put in as a high schooler that I genuinely did not realize were sexual harassment until recently because I didn’t think they were “bad enough” to be. It is for this exact reason that it is so important to raise awareness of the scope of sexual assault/ harassment. 

Sex Education does an impressive job addressing a lot of feminist issues beyond the ones I decided to discuss in this article, including toxic masculinity and strong, complex women of color representation. I think the show does a great job dealing with raunchy and sometimes uncomfortable content in a light-hearted, yet constructive way. As a hardcore feminist, I rate Sex Education season 2 a strong 12/10.