“Sex Education” season 2 brings realness to teen relationships

Sex Education poster via Netflix

By Siddhi Shockey, Senior Staff Writer

A rhythmic thumping ensues as the camera pans over Adam Groff’s (Connor Swindells) living room. His mother quietly lets the dog out of the house as the view moves to the window where Adam’s girlfriend, Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood), is riding him in bed, much to his boredom.

“Sex Education,” a Netflix series, is — at its most basic level — a coming-of-age story about the challenges of exploring sex and sexuality. With its raunchy and sometimes cringeworthy opening scenes of failed attempts at sex and nuanced relationships, “Sex Education” offers a hilarious and sometimes deeply moving view of adolescence.

In the first season we are introduced to Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), the son of a sex therapist — Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson) — and the show’s protagonist, who suffers from a chronic inability to masturbate. Despite the fact that he can’t please himself, Otis ironically finds his talents in acting as a sex therapist for the students at his school.

Although the series utilizes typical coming-of-age tropes in its plot, it does more than graze the surface of what it’s like to be a horny and awkward teenager. The second season attempts to crack farther beneath the surface and, unlike most sequels, does it well.

Otis’ classmate, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) — a mysterious bad-girl fantasy — quickly grasps at this lucrative opportunity and convinces him to turn his advice into a full-fledged business in order to support herself. Sitting in his office — an abandoned bathroom stall overgrown with ivy — Otis begins to discover just how complex the world of sexuality can be.

By the beginning of season two, Otis has a girlfriend, Ola Nyman (Patricia Allison), and has gotten over his aversion to masturbation. In fact, he can’t seem to stop masturbating. Meanwhile, his mom, Jean, has been hired to work as a sex consultant at his school, causing Otis and Maeve’s business to dwindle.

Although Otis’s escapades and love story are obviously central to the storyline, season two of “Sex Education” does more than simply move along the plot. Instead, it attempts to reach beyond a coming-of-age tale, and instead attempts to achieve its literal goal — to teach its viewers about sex.

Season two boasts a couple of subplots that, while still intertwined with Otis’ narrative arc, seem to hold the weight and true value of the show. Most notably, this season featured the coming out stories of characters who identified as gay, bisexual, pansexual and asexual.

Some of these stories included teenagers coming from family members who were not accepting of their sexuality. In particular, Adam — whose father, Mr. Groff (Alistair Petrie), is homophobic — has to grapple with not only his father’s homophobia and his own, but with his continued attraction to Otis’ best friend, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa).

Another student struggles with feeling ostracized because she doesn’t experience sexual attraction the way others around her do. And after a nasty breakup with Otis, Ola discovers her unrequited attraction to another girl. Both characters come to grips with their sexualities after having an experience they are made to think is atypical.

But the most beautiful thing about all of these plotlines isn’t just that they introduce a wide variety of human experiences, but they do so effortlessly. Each character is written to embody a different aspect of sex and sexuality, but it doesn’t feel like each minority character is there to be a token.

In another subplot, the show also attempted to tackle the issue of sexual assault, but from an unconventional angle. During a bus ride, Aimee, Maeve’s good friend, is assaulted when a man standing behind her masturbates and ejaculates on her jeans. She arrives at school complaining he “ruined [her] favorite pair of jeans!” not thinking that what he did was sexual assault.

Maeve is able to make Aimee realize the gravity of the situation, and the two file a police report. But Aimee quickly finds the psychological effects of the assault overtaking her time with friends, family and her boyfriend. She begins walking — sometimes for hours — just to avoid taking the bus around town.

Fortunately, she is able to find a supportive community among the girls at school when they all realize that in one way or another, they were all victimized by men. As the show progresses, the girls band together to try and help Aimee through her trauma.

Although Aimee’s story doesn’t follow the narrative of the average sexual assault survivor — or typical TV portrayals of assault — the show is able to portray the horrors of being a victim. But at the same time, it also sheds light on the power of what it means to be by someone’s side in a time of need.

In the light of the Me Too movement, such a plotline was expected to make an appearance — in fact, it was arguably a necessity. But it made audiences aware of how even seemingly small, gross sexual encounters are assaults if the act is in any way nonconsensual.

The nuance of each subplot drives the show forward and educates its audience on what it means to be assaulted, the importance of mental health, various sexualities and the importance behind community support. Whether it’s buying a morning after pill, procuring an abortion or uncovering an intimate part of your identity, “Sex Education” captures it all in a comedic, sometimes explicit and powerful way.

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