Why "Sex Education" is the Greatest Gift to Television in 2019

So let’s confront the ugly truth: “diversity” and “inclusivity” have become annoyingly prevalent hot button words, and well-known verbal crutches used to avoid the necessary emotional and intellectual labor required to achieve actual, real-life equality (see any corporate advertisement or beauty campaign that claims to be diverse or inclusive, when in all actuality they’re just featuring real humans, with normal skin colors, normal body types, and normal sexualities.) So you think your television program or movie in-the-making is “inclusive?”—well think again, folks. Remember it’s not diversity, if you’re simply using a model with the same skin color of 1.3 billion other inhabitants of the world. But besides criticizing the reoccurring use of “diversity” and “inclusivity” as social airbags utilized to cushion any potential claims of you being a bigoted corporation that worships white, cis men, I want to use this space to properly advocate for very real value of accurate, nuanced, and complex media representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans identities. And you might be thinking, of course it’s important; that’s not an unpopular opinon. But believe it or not, not everyone believes that hiring more queer actors/actors of color and depicting more queer relationships is a central facet of the movement for equality. 

Unfortunately, when social justice warriors advocate for greater representation of queer folx and people of color in the media (television, movies, music, etc.), the representation the world most certainly deserves, the general public continues to shrugs off their demands. There’s “bigger fish to fry” they say. If you really want to be an ally, you must devote your energies and efforts to advocating for favorable legislation that effectively (and successfully) offers lesbian, trans, and gay folx basic human rights: homeowner protection, marriage equality, and protection from discrimination in the workplace. But despite popular belief, the primary goal of allyship doesn’t always have to be legislation-centric, just as allyship is not gauged by your ability to single-handedly organize a political movement and/or protest. It can be as subtle as being pronoun-conscious when you write about romantic love (i.e. when offering advice about gifts for boyfriends on Valentine’s day, address both women and men audiences who may be in the market for that must-have H&M sweater.) It can even be as simple as retweeting more queer relationships on your timeline or following more “inclusive” accounts that inspire you to remodel your current perceptions of love, or it can be as groundbreaking as using your television platform to stir political change.

It’s crucial to remember that the media has shaped us all in unthinkable ways. It’s affected our sense of personal style (thanks to one-too-many Hannah Montana episodes, I, on several occasions rocked the jeans over dress staple of 2009).  It’s influenced the slang we use, our perceptions of what the “normal,” nuclear family looks like, how we communicate with our friends, and it’s even been the initial push in the domino effect that is our sexual awakenings (looking at you High School Musical 1 Troy Bolton). With this in mind, let’s properly commend the movie and television producers who use their platform for good. Applaud them by giving them the good press they’ve so rightfully earned. So, without further ado, let’s talk about the creator of Netflix’s “Sex Education,” Laurie Nunn, who has ticked every box on the diversity/inclusion checklist (in the least obnoxious way possible). Though I could rant endlessly about where “Sex Education” goes right, I’ve narrowed it down to its most commendable achievements in proper queer representation.

Warning: this article is stocked full with spoilers, so read at your own risk.

It tackles the taboo of female masturbation and female sexuality: Breaking News, folks! Women actually masturbate too. Because if they didn’t, then men would truly have the monopoly on everything good in life (equal pay, respect in the workplace, the luxury of walking by yourself at night, and, you guessed it, the ability to have orgasms on command.) In episode 6, I had the pleasure (no pun-intended) of witnessing the first on-screen depiction of female self-pleasure (that wasn’t actual porn). And honestly, I cannot even begin to explain how liberating it was for me, as a sex-positive audience member, who has previously struggled with internalized shame surrounding masturbation, to encounter an actress openly and unabashedly simulating female masturbation—on television, no less! This show, and this moment specifically, has set a history-making precedent for television producers for years to come/cum.

It presents romantic relationships that rejuvenate the archaic cis, white, and hetero model of romantic love: Unlike the vast majority of early television series and movies which only feature romantic love in cis/hetero contexts/white contexts, love comes in all shapes in sizes in the world of “Sex Education.” To name a few: Maeve and Jackson (mixed race couple), Otis and Ola (another mixed race romance), Jackson’s two moms (a lesbian, mixed race relationship), and Ruthie and Tanya (yet another mixed race lesbian couple Otis counsels in Episode 4).  

It features queer love/sex scenes: Not only is the representation ratio of queer to hetero couples nearly equivalent, but the queer romances/relationships featured are depicted in an authentic, nuanced light, rather than relying on toxic stereotypes that actually hurt queer people. And unlike other shows that feature queer love, it isn’t profiled as a “gay show.” Because believe it or not, television shows and movies can have gay characters, without it being a program whose plot is based on LGBTQIA+ issues. It can just be a show, with completely separate and un-political ambitions. Besides this, Laurie Nunn is not afraid to go where very few shows have gone before, i.e. two women scissoring and an unexpected same-sex (Adam and Eric) hookup, mid-detention.

It addresses the importance of consent

From the very first episode where Aimee so shamelessly asks Adam if he’d like to “cum on her face” to the later episodes where Lily asks Otis if she can “touch his penis” during their almost-sexual encounter, consent is always at the forefront of every sexual exchange in the show. These moments, along with countless others, refuse and subtly critique the tendency of pop culture to present sex as a dialogue-less performance, where consent is assumed, and every sex position is orchestrated without any verbal choreographing (not accurate at all—try arranging yourself in the 69 position without saying the word **spoiler alert: it’s impossible.) But consent isn’t only a number one priority in encounters of a sexual nature—fast forward, to Episode 7, Otis gives a good ole’ fashioned lesson in the “no means no” timeless classic, when one of his “clients” consults him for advice in the pursuit of a date to the dance. In one of the final scenes of Season 1, our main character so movingly explains to this hopeless romantic that a woman’s refusal is not an invitation to ask again and/or try harder, but simply means “no” (shocking, right?) When we have this conversations in sources of mainstream media, these sentiments become common knowledge, rather than occasional lectures.

 

Uses explicit and clear terms for sex acts, rather than popular slang or euphemisms

Americans love sex symbols and subtle hints towards sex, almost as much as they love actual sex. Because Sex Education is a British comedy-drama set in Wye Valley in England and Wales, For some, rather alarming reason, the US has internalized body shaming to such a severe extent that they refuse to be transparent about any issue or topic pertaining to human sexuality or human bodily function. Apparently the glamorization of “telling it like it is” only applies to Trump’s racial slurs, microaggressions, and violent sexism. Say it out loud, people: menstruation, ejaculation, cum, sperm, jizz, erection, and masturbation!

Doesn’t treat female or male anatomy like a disgusting taboo (truly the epitome of a body-positive

Not surprisingly, this European television series dares to go where very few American TV shows have ever gone before: full nudity. Brace yourselves, everything from Adam’s “elephant cock” to Mimi’s less than photogenic vagina is fair game. There aren’t just allusions to common sex symbols like wet dreams, or jerking off, but actual visible, normalized, and unignorable depictions of penises poking through boxer briefs, and jizz stained bedsheets.

Reminds viewers that that female sexual pleasure is just as important as male sexual pleasure

Without a doubt, one of my favorite interactions in the series are Aimee and Steve’s sexual encounters. Why you might ask? Because Steve (Aimee’s second featured love interest), is arguably one of the most complex characters in the series. Not only does Steve take very little pleasure in the party culture of Aimee’s world (despite his macho-jock-party-boy appearance), but is entirely invested in his studies, opting to dedicate his time to his studies, rather than engaging in illicit drug use Besides his studious personality, Steve seems to be a feminist powerhouse in sexist white man’s clothing. In one episode, he insists that Aimee reevaluate her perceptions of sex, and prioritize her own sexual needs/pleasure.  Don’t let the macho jock image fool you, Steve is the man all hetero women need in our lives.

Again, I want to reiterate that this is far from a comprehensive list, these are simply the moments that were most influential in my experience as a viewer. “Sex Education” is available to watch to all Netflix account holders. Watch it now! (But be warned: your standards as a television-watcher, feminist, and ally will be forever changed after you’ve experienced the best, aka “Sex Education).

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