If you want to watch a binge-worthy TV series that has you cackling with laughter and gives you all the feels then you must watch Sex Education.
The hit Netflix show explores the sex lives of sixth formers at Moordale High as shy, introvert Otis (Asa Butterfield) runs a 'sex clinic' with the school’s super intelligent and kind-of-scary bad girl Maeve (Emma MacKey). Otis offers sex and relationship advice learned from growing up with his sex therapist mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson). He offers emotionally intelligent and insightful advice to help his schoolmates navigate their sexual problems, but he struggles to solve his own issues.
We spoke with award award-winning sex and relationships broadcaster Alix Fox, who consulted on the script, to hear her take on why Sex Education is exactly what we need more of on TV. This post contains spoilers.
What was your involvement with Sex Education?
I was employed to get together with genius series creator Laurie Nunn and a whole room full of screenplay writers and directors about 9 months before Sex Education ejaculated all over our screens. I immediately thought the concept was highly original and hugely promising, and even the first draft version of the script had me gripped tighter than a hormone-flooded teenage guy's hand around his wangdangdoodlehammer when the house is empty (although not if he's Otis, of course!).
Which bits can we see your influence in?
There were a few lines and ideas that didn't quite ring true when compared to my own true-life conversations with young adults about sex, sexuality and relationships. For instance, the opening scene of the inaugural episode sees Otis laying out pornographic magazines on his bed in an effort to convince his mum, Jean, he's busily masturbating. In reality, most young people who view porn while 'rubbin' the nubbin' or 'doing the five knuckle pelvic shuffle' will access it online via mobile phones or laptops, rather than using printed material.
There's now a line included a few episodes later where Jean remarks that it's this outdated, unconvincing detail that gives her son away as faking his 'intimate handshaking'".
We spoke for hours about the kinds of things today's teens tend to be worried and excited about, mystified and intrigued by when it comes to their bits, bodies, and bonking - and we also discussed the eyebrow-raising, horrifyingly amazing list I've collected of everyday items that inventive young folks tell me they've used to pleasure themselves with. Beef tomatoes; fridge doors; jars of raw liver; rumbling video game controller pads; Magic Markers; plush soft toys in the shape of dolphins... Keen ears will hear a line about a guy cutting a hole in a watermelon and using it as a highly unusual way to get his 5-a-day, which definitely originated from that chat!
What aspect of the show have you been particularly pleased to see on screen?
I'm beyond chuffed at the positive reactions the show has received from professional critics and public audiences alike. One thing I think is particularly admirable and constructive about the storylines is Eric's (Ncuti Gatwa) plot; all too often, the key predicament faced by gay characters is that they're not yet out to their friends or family, and their story arcs centre around whether or not they're going to reveal their sexuality and what will happen if they do.
Whilst the coming out tale is an important one to represent in mainstream media, Eric's situation is more nuanced: his African family already know he's gay, but his father's acceptance of his sexual identity is limited by his desire for Eric to be more traditionally masculine and less flamboyant - not just because campness doesn't sit comfortably with him, but also because he fears that presenting himself as a carnival of sequins, spangles and charismatic sass, Eric will be a target for violence.
I think it's a deeply useful conversation starter to present an LGBTQ character with a more complex, multilayered plot and whose story - and challenges - don't stop when they come out. Indeed, coming out is the just beginning of a whole host of experiences and emotions for queer youth, both positive and negative, and I applaud some of that being represented and explored on telly.
What sort of reactions have you had to the show?
The only criticisms that have been levelled at me - apart from the demand for more, now! - is that certain problematic scenarios have not yet been addressed, like the fact that Adam bullies Eric because he's attracted to him but in denial of his own impulses. I have total faith that Sex Education will confront these issues in Series 2.
Lots of Brits have also been outraged by the fact that the show fuses both UK and American influences; for example, the school shown is in Wales, but the kids there don't wear uniforms. I've had a lot of British viewers on social media getting their knickers in a right territorial twist about the correct composition of Curly Wurlies!
Stylistic decisions were made in an attempt to make the show appeal to as wide an audience as possible, both here and across the pond - and if that's helping to start thoughtful, progressive conversations about sex across the world, then I'm all for it.
Plus, it's been a brilliant launchpad for a big bunch of supremely talented young UK actors. Overall, I don't think it matters where it's set too much.
The bigger question is: "Where's the spunk, Adam?!"
Award-winning sex and relationships broadcaster Alix Fox is co-host of BBC Radio 1’s Unexpected Fluids comedy show, which shares "real life tales of sexual fails, then extracts the learning from the LOLs"; resident X-rated Agony Aunt on The Modern Mann podcast; and an ambassador for young people’s sexual wellbeing charity, Brook.
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