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Having Dr Jean Milburn as My Sex Education Teacher

As Season Three of Sex Education has recently been released on Netflix, the writers and producers once again prove to me that school taught me nothing about sex. 

When the third season was advertised on Twitter in August, with posters of each character and their qualities; the slogan ‘Growth is a Group project’ was used. This phrase summarises what the show is aiming to prove to its audiences as each season seems to end with the strong community of Moordale High, displaying integrity and expressing sexual freedom in some way.  The reason this season was so captivating, was because of how it beautifully strings together different lives, both young and old, into a harmonious group of people.  However, it also raised the question of whether the UK school curriculum of sex education is flawed and ‘useless’.

‘Growth is a group project’, as a slogan, sheds light on how growth comes from having an important education on sexuality as a society.  This is captured with the depiction of the LGBTQ+ community, with a particular focus on non-binary individuals in this season. After speaking to many of my friends about this season, this was the topic that sparked the most discussion. There is a deeper education surrounding gender fluidity, especially with regards to ‘queer’ relationships. Cal and Jackson have a beautiful bond in this season, yet its progression proves difficult.  This difficulty is educational for both young and old audiences as it forces us to have a new perspective and appreciate how challenging non-binary identity can be.

This season also teaches us how growth comes from having an important education on sexual health, especially as we see the impact that Otis and Maeve’s clinic has on the year group, compared with the headteacher Hope’s ‘outing’ of individuals. In the final episodes of the third season (spoiler alert!), all the students joined forces in a sort of rebellion against their superficial and toxic headteacher, with the intention to abolish the shame surrounding sex. The power dynamic shifting in these final moments is energising for young audiences to watch and it also critiques traditional teaching on sexual health. 

Shame is such an important concept in the series, as it teaches teenagers to take pride in expressing themselves.  Watching Jean Milburn educate the teenagers in the show about sexual health feels very personal, almost as if she is comforting me through the screen. Jean has taught me more about sex than my own school did because she teaches us that we should always feel comfortable. Although the UK school curriculum teaches us about consent, coming from a girl’s school, I do not think they ever discussed consent correctly or mindfully. They only ever showed us the classic ‘Tea and Consent’ video which, in retrospect, is comedic and therefore dismissive of the topic.

Teaching us about contraception in school but nothing about sexual violence or abuse is, in my opinion, a dead end.  The fact that 31% of women between the ages of 18-24 report having experienced sexual abuse in their childhood (NSPCC, 2011) is staggering; especially as it shows the lack of knowledge they would have had as young girls, not knowing that what happened to them was sexual assault. This season of Sex Education attempts to almost shove down teenagers throats that inappropriate sexual behaviour is never ‘okay’ and that their feelings are always valid. 

Aimee is a loveable character who represents the confusion surrounding abuse and how it can have detrimental effects on your personal life, without your full awareness. Again, Jean Milburn helps her to not only make sense of what happened to her when she was assaulted but also to help her get more in touch with her anatomy, so she can gain self-love and awareness. ‘Growth is a group project’ is such an important slogan which I believe sums up the TV series beautifully. This idea of collective growth is evident when we see all of Aimee’s friends get on the bus with her after the ‘incident’ to tackle her trauma.  It alerts viewers, particularly teenagers to reach out and destroy the stigma around such trauma.

Sex education in secondary school was a PSHE room filled with nervous laughs and exchanging looks of disgust when discussing contraception and menstruation. That is the most I remember. The UK school curriculum’s (RSE) first section under ‘Secondary’, is ‘The Law’. Obviously, this is vital to be learnt and understood, however controversially there seems to be a large focus on marriage, pornography and even parenting. The TV series focuses on the more personal aspects of sexual education and seeking confidential support. I see this as a fault of schools, in that teenagers don’t always feel like they can receive support from teachers. 

The UK curriculum merely states that it is a ‘guide’. This is recognisable from conversations with my friends about their sex education in school, there are a lot of alarming differences. I think that the TV show bridges these gaps in an enjoyable and easy way.  Granted, I am aware that this show’s sole purpose is not to critique the UK schooling system and that it is a beautifully depicted piece of fiction that follows the characters through a significant coming-of-age period. However, there is no denying that the interweaving of genuine professional advice throughout the storyline is such a creative technique within the show’s production.

I think that Sex Education has been received so well by so many different audiences due to its infectious quality and the interesting lessons it offers. It’s one of the only shows that my family and I have watched (separately) and surprisingly it’s the only time I’m not embarrassed to talk about anything remotely ‘sex-based’ with them. I think it has made me see sex as less of a taboo and more of a talking point and something to be able to talk about with friends, etc. 

The fact that it appeals also to the older generation initially shocked me, however after thinking about it, it makes perfect sense, especially with characters such as Jakob, Jean, and Michael Groff: who are all shown in a more vulnerable light in Season 3.  Showing such vulnerability adds relatability for an older audience.  The montage of lives and struggles of both young and old characters gives the show a bittersweet and almost familial quality.  ‘Growth is a Group project’ is brought to life on the screen as we see everyone come together in acts of bravery and rebellion

Having Jean Milburn as my sex education teacher has been the route of my love for this show and I know so many people will agree. With her soft voice, remedying words, and female integrity, she envelopes the purpose of the series and inspires its viewers. The vulnerability of its characters is relatable and so it stresses the universal need for GOOD sex education. With schools simply ‘outlining’ sex and relationships, I would recommend that everyone watches this show (over the age guidelines) as everyone can relate to elements of it without necessarily realising.

Words by: Ava Heeney

Edited by: Tilly Fairgrieve

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Ava Heeney

Leeds '23

A second year aspiring writer and English Literature student
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