I am typically quite cautious about seeing television written by adults with the intention of teaching teenagers a lesson. Frankly, after I read the synopsis of “Sex Education,” I wasn’t expecting much. A British teenager who provides sex and relationship counseling to his peers after growing up with a mother who works as a sex therapist? There was no way this show could provide an accurate portrayal of high school sex culture in its total madness.
Yet five minutes into the pilot, I recanted. Creator and writer of “Sex Education” Laurie Nunn had done it, and she’d done it four or five times in the first episode.
There have been other breakthrough shows like “Sex Education” that don’t try to sugarcoat the teenage experience. “Glee” did it in the US by exposing the not-so-trivial problems that American teenagers face at home and in school like being closeted, pregnant or disabled. Around the same time, in the UK, “The Inbetweeners” portrayed a realistic A-levels experience for young men with yelling mothers, visible acne and all.
Yet, despite their forward-thinking ideas about showing closer-to-home portrayals of the teenage experience, both shows still stuck to prime-time television’s guidelines surrounding sex, meaning they referenced it with colloquialisms and rarely showed authentic sexual interactions. In essence, they left it up to the imagination. “Sex Education,” thanks to its status as a web-series, has no such constraints.
There is no body part involved during sex that isn’t shown up close and personal in “Sex Education.” And, not to be too obscene, but nothing is particularly disproportional or pornographic. More importantly, “Sex Education” acknowledges that there’s more than one way to have sex. In an empty classroom, in a car, on a bed, in a pool, half-clothed, naked, with a boy, with a girl, as friends with benefits, as partners, with protection, without protection… you get the picture. More importantly, “Sex Education” shows the mostly overlooked aspects and aftermath of sex.
“Sex Education” has scenes that depict violence against transgender women, male impotence, PTSD and abortion. These are real issues that aren’t shown on prime-time television or porn. These are real issues that are never mentioned in sexual education classes. These are real issues that your parents never told you about. Yet, there they are in “Sex Education,” unapologetically raw.
The show, however, isn’t as heavy as it may seem. Between the uncomfortable moments are, well, more uncomfortable moments, but at least this time they’re funny. There are teenagers humping each other off the bed and into casts, women discovering masturbation for the first time and an overly enthusiastic band teacher (I told you it was like “Glee”). The show is dynamic and not easily defined, which is, unfortunately, a lot like being a teenager.
Email Claire Fishman at [email protected].