Sex Education is back, and it hit the ground running! This season brings our favourite Brits a lot of joy and a lot of heartbreak, and reminds them that their healing is in their own hands.
Kicking things off, we learn that since his initial experience with “hand to gland combat,” Otis has developed a little bit of a masturbation addiction and is popping boners everywhere. Although a relatable struggle for those who have penises, but to our sex novice, it has become an enormous problem, mainly because he has a girlfriend with whom he can’t get an erection.
Ola is one of the best characters in the show. She displays a sense of emotional intelligence and self-awareness that is rare in shows about young people, which is really refreshing to see. When Otis comes out and tells her that he’s got a bit of a wanking problem, she takes it in stride, and they have a discussion about the topic and move on. When Ola and Otis try to get more sexual and Otis tries to stimulate her digitally (aka he fingers her), he sucks at it. They have an awkward period because Ola fakes an orgasm, and Otis struggles to learn how to properly please his partner, and the resolution comes from him just asking her, ‘how do I do this?’ and that is huge!
Not only does the show focus heavily on sex for pleasure, but specifically pleasure for women and queer people, it explicitly says that pleasure is based on the individual and communication is key.
This becomes a vital theme of this season. Several conflicts come up and happen simultaneously, and the majority of them are worked through by having an open, empathetic and honest conversation.
When Mavis is faced with her absentee mom, she runs after her and demands an explanation for her presence. The two of them have a sit down to discuss her mother’s actions in the past, how she has now sobered up, and how she intends to make up for all the hurt she caused. Mavis is very clearly not having it, and it may come across as cruel and dismissive, but it’s really not.
In the words of Elena Alvarez from One Day At A Time, “I know you’re trying, but that doesn’t erase all the bad stuff that happened, and everything’s not okay yet… I should not have to be doing all of the work. The bigger person shouldn’t have to be the kid.”
That holds true in all cases of trauma, especially childhood trauma.
When you’re a child of a dysfunctional or abusive home, you often feel the need to mould yourself to suit the needs of others so that you can maintain peace. But seeing Mavis taking ownership of her anger and demand actual change was incredibly heartening because teenagers and young adults are rarely given that level of control over their relationships without being painted as brats.
But just because you’re in control of a situation doesn’t make it easier in the long run.
This idea is explored really well in the discussion of sexual harassment in public. Aimee grapples with trauma after being subjected to a predator masturbating on her on a bus while she is going to school. After the initial incident, she tries to move on with her life, but slowly the trauma starts to affect her day to day life, she sees the face of the aggressor everywhere she goes, she can’t get onto the bus and has to walk everywhere because she no longer feels safe.
For the longest time, she tries to deal with this by herself. It’s not until the Mean Girls papers in the hallway scene/Breakfast Club detention scene mash-up happens that Aimee gets a chance to openly talk about what happened to her. As all the girls try to figure out what they share, they come to the sad realization that being survivors of unwanted sexual harassment is the only thing they have in common. Aimee goes on to say one of the most powerful line of the season, “I think the man on the bus liked that I was afraid.” It reaffirms the truth that assault isn’t the fault of the survivor because they “aroused” the attacker, it’s about control.
But sadly, this apparently doesn’t apply to queer men. Eric, who has been having a great year, has a beautiful French boyfriend who loves him (yes, they explicitly said the L word), gets a rude awakening when his bully and lover, Adam, gets kicked out of boarding school and has to come back to town.
Adam being very cliche, comes to Eric’s window at night with a handful of pebbles and a boatload of sexual frustration. The two of them slip off into the night to go break things and make-out. It’s a continuation of this idea that somehow you can get over the bullying you endured because your bully turned out to be into you, and that’s not what we are going to do in the year of our Lady 2020. Queer kids and young women deserve a love that doesn’t come with punishment, no more “if he pulls your pigtails, it’s because he likes you.”
About halfway through the season, there is a moment where Eric tells Adam that they can’t keep meeting because he (Eric) deserves to be loved unabashedly, which is excellent! But when he does get that type of relationship with his boyfriend, Rahim, we’re told by Eric’s mother that “he doesn’t make you sparkle,” and it just leaves you feeling conflicted.
Part of you melts because here is a religious, immigrant mother who not only loves her queer child, she also wants them to find a partner that uplifts them. But, this narrative is used to set Eric up into going back to the arms of his bully, which is really disturbing, mainly because they had this great storyline that assault and abuse don’t equate to attraction.
Overall, the season leaves you feeling frustrated.
The way it handles women, women aligned folks and queer folks’ relationships, ownership of their sexuality and autonomy is refreshing and really well done. Aimee working through trauma and finding safety in her friendship with other women; Ola ending her relationship with Otis and exploring her pansexuality with Lily; The normalization of non-penetrative sex and dilators when Lily discusses having Vaginismus; Open discussion of anal sex and prepping for it; Maeve’s incredibly difficult decision to call child protective services on her mother after she suffers a relapse and starts using drugs again.
But the way it glosses over toxic men’s abusive behaviour just because they acknowledge that they did something terrible, leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Adam’s public declaration of his attraction to Eric somehow makes up for bullying and physical abuse; Otis feeling bad about how he treated Maeve and Otis is supposed to be apologetic enough, even though he never explicitly apologizes for his actions or tries to make amends; Mr. Groff, the school’s tyrannical headmaster, faces no real punishment for claiming the reward and recognition that come from Maeve’s award-winning essays. When he violates Dr. Milbur, and everyone else’s right to privacy by stealing her session notes and goes all Regina George with them posting them all over his school, nothing happens. He goes on to publicly shame her, and everyone else for taking ownership of their bodies and sexualities and his only consequence is that he’s put on leave –not fired, not under review –just a little extended paid time off till this all blows over.
But, I guess it fits this season; the creators made some good and some god awful choices, and now we have to deal with the consequences.