There’s a moment in Sex Education, Netflix’s new British comedy-drama series, when Adam (Connor Swindells) – a swaggering, cocksure bull of a boy – lets his bravado fall away as he’s sat in one of the stalls in the derelict, asbestos-riddled school toilets, where students meet to swap gossip and share a cheeky fag.
Adam, usually all bombast and bluster, walking like a Ballad of Buster Scruggs gunslinger, is nursing a bruised ego, his confidence kicked into the dirt after sex with his girlfriend Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) didn’t unfold according to plan. In a bid to solve the problem, he’s taken too much Viagra, leaving him with a very swollen, angry member.
After some prompting by the show’s protagonist Otis (Asa Butterfield) and his friend Maeve (Emma Mackey), Adam reveals the crux of his anxieties, and a facet of his self that he’s beaten down into submission: “I wish I could be a normal kid with a normal dad.”
For a show about sex and all its myriad ins and outs, if you will, it’s not sexy in the slightest – and therein lies both its strength and its charm.
Moordale High is teeming with libidinous teens who, like Adam, are wrestling with a vast spectrum of sexual conundrums and closeted desires – “I’m addicted to wanking,” “My pubes are out of control.”
Spoken out loud, they do sound somewhat outrageous. But pretending that you and everyone around you hasn’t experienced those exact same dilemmas and complications when learning the ropes – does it ever really stop? – and getting to grips with sex, working out the minutiae as well as the bigger stuff, is unhelpful because it’s simply not true.
We’ve all been there and Sex Education is pushing that notion hard. This is a comedy with a bigger purpose – the show will appeal to youth as well as an older crowd – and that, in itself, is rare.
“It’s absolutely fine to be different and to be a bit odd and to have these hang-ups, and to not find it easy to do certain things,” Butterfield told Digital Spy and other press.
“The show shows all these weirdness-es and doesn’t shy away from them. So hopefully it’ll make people realise that this is normal…It’s not something to be ashamed of at all.”
That’s a life lesson that Otis himself hasn’t yet grasped when we first meet him. He can’t masturbate, something that every other teenager in his orbit seems to be able to do on cue, and it hangs over him like a cloud.
“I don’t like how it feels” he confides in his vivacious, vibrant, here-for-a-good-time-not-a-long-time best mate Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), who doesn’t exactly ease his wanking woes, referring to Otis as his “sexually repressed friend”.
But Otis’s initial insistence on pretending everything is FINE is a running theme, as every character in Sex Education ultimately covers up the truth about their inner sex life. Because what could be more human than that?
He even tries to convince his eagle-eyed sex-and-relationship therapist mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson), that he is a “normal” teenage boy, endearingly leaving porn magazines and “used” tissues lying around his bedroom.
Jean, as anyone would, takes her son’s overt display as a sign that despite the evidence, Otis isn’t okay at all, and is grappling with a subject that people young and old, regardless of race or religion have experienced.
Sex Education will have you chuckling, blubbering and wincing in equal measure. We’d go as far to say that you could, if you’re feeling brave, even enjoy it with your own kids or parents because as much as it is about “doing it”, this rich, textured comedy is laced with so much more.
“It’s not gratuitous, like just stupid, like: boobs,” says Wood. “Everything is there for a reason. Every sex scene is there because it supports the story, and you learn so much about the characters through how they have sex.”
Writer Laurie Nunn added: “It was really important that the nudity and the sex scenes – which there are definitely a lot of in the show – never felt gratuitous. There’s no sex on the show that’s just there for the sake of it.
“[It’s about] encouraging people to rip the bandaid off and have those uncomfortable, awkward conversations about sex, rather than bottle it all up inside, or think that they have to go online to get the answers. To try and talk to their partners or – if they can handle it – to their parents, or to their friends.
“We really think that that’s going to help them have healthier sexual relationships.”
If only Adam had substituted Viagra for Sex Education. How different his story would have been.
Sex Education is available on Netflix now.
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