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Why the Representation in Sex Education is So Important

Class is back in session at Moordale. Our usual cast of classmates returns after a cliffhanger, ending in season two, and some new characters are along for the ride. Season three brings a resolution to some previous plot lines, while also introducing a few extremely important concepts.

CONTENT WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

Season three revolves around familiar relationships while still stringing along a couple new — and shocking — pairings. We have a complicated love triangle between Maeve, Otis, and Isaac, a tumultuous fling/relationship between Ruby and Otis, and some heartwarming and complicated love stories between Eric and Adam, Ola and Lily, Aimee and Steve, and surprisingly, Jean and Jakob. 

However, there are also crucial aspects of this season beyond the scope of the character’s love lives. Specifically, this season mindfully tackles LGBTQIA+ relationships and struggles, sexual assault, and disability. These are topics in which the media has, for the most part, covered incorrectly and/or in an insensitive manner, whether it be intentional or not. What differentiates this show — and this season, in particular — from other coverage is how right they did it.

This season introduces us to Layla and Cal, two non-binary characters. Throughout the course of the season, Layla and Cal are met with both personal issues and societal issues surrounding their gender identities. For example Hope, Moordale’s new headteacher, insists on breaking the students up into groups of boys and girls for a sex ed lesson. As a result, Layla and Cal are clearly forced to the side, baffled and upset about having to be categorized under the strict gender guidelines. An attempt is made to challenge Hope’s order, but it is soon dismissed, ending with both characters joining the girl's line. In this season, as well, students were issued mandatory uniforms, one for girls and one for boys. Cal shows up to school in the boy’s uniform and is reprimanded for it on multiple occasions. 

There are multiple situations in this season that cover the lives and issues surrounding these characters, and there are multiple aspects that make this portrayal as accurate as possible to the lives of non-binary people in the real world. Firstly, the actors that play these roles both identify as non-binary, making everything feel more authentic. Secondly, this show perfectly walks the fine line of having these characters blend in with the crowd while also emphasizing their unique qualities and differences — both from other cis characters and each other. The lives of these characters are not infantilized; they are given storylines beyond their identity that highlight their many personality traits without overshadowing their many struggles as NBs. By showing the multiple layers and personal conflicts of these characters, non-binary viewers get the opportunities to see themselves and their struggles properly represented.

TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT

On another note, in season two, Aimee is sexually assaulted on a bus ride. Though Maeve takes her to the police station to report it, nothing really comes of it. The trauma from this assault becomes more apparent in Aimee’s life this season, as it begins to affect the intimacy in her current relationship and eventually drives her to see Jean, a sex therapist. Sexual assault is a difficult topic that is often ignored or poorly depicted. Sex Education’s careful approach to the sensitive subject, however, was handled beautifully. Jean helps Aimee in her recovery and talks her out of the victim-blaming narrative that so many of us have subconsciously stored due to how society treats victims. Sexual assault, especially among teenage girls, is constantly mocked or dismissed. Through the way Aimee’s healing process is approached, viewers who can relate to what happened to her are able to find some sort of comfort, which can hopefully influence their healing processes, as well.

Another aspect that is covered so well this season is disability. Isaac, who is wheelchair bound and paralyzed from his upper chest down, becomes a core character in the show. Isaac is played by a disabled person, allowing for even more authenticity with his character — something the casting directors have repeatedly taken the time to do well. As with Layla and Cal, Isaac’s life as a disabled person is given dimension and not just infantilized. He’s given personality, struggles, and an emotional and physical romantic relationship. The physical aspect given in his relationship to Maeve is what really makes his representation stand out. Disabled characters are rarely given a chance to grow any kind of storyline, let alone physical intimacy. By including this and the other layers of his characters, this season can hopefully change the perspectives and biases many viewers may have of disabled people.

In summary, season three of Sex Education is a crucial piece of media. It provides a master class in different aspects of representation and correctly covers the topics many content creators shy away from. It challenges the way we think and demands to be heard without having to raise its voice. If there is one thing you should watch this year, make it this show and, specifically, make it this season. 

Hi there! My name is Emily, and I'm a senior Media Production student and I'm a staff writer for Arts & Entertainment! Some of my interests include reading, listening to music, and photography!
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