"Nice soundtrack," Mum says, grooving to a cover of 'I Think We’re Alone Now' as the opening credits to Sex Education’s third season roll. We are watching together, in an attempt (mine) to bridge a generational gap in attitudes towards sex, and out of innocent curiosity (hers) as to what makes me yammer on about this show so much.
Sex Education is not only entertaining, it’s important. Since its launch in 2019, the show has been dismantling the norms around teenage relationships in an undiluted, if slightly cartoony, rendition of what school is like.
Its much anticipated new season features storylines addressing gender identity and abstinence teachings, along with the usual cartful of cleverly written characters. But what happened when I tried to show my mother the show can be a real resource for modern sex education, as opposed to a bunch of horny teenagers going at it?
Right off the bat, Mum and I differ. After Dex Thompson (Lino Facioli) fails to deliver his girlfriend an orgasm and she tells him so, Mum baulks. "Bit savage," she winces, to my dismay. When I press her – "Should she have pretended, then?" – she rewinds somewhat. "It’s not an easy conversation to have, I guess," Mum replies. "Men still assume women should orgasm from sex alone, and there can be a lot of male pride involved."
That might be true, but it's still something that needs discussing. The disparity in how often men orgasm (72% of the time) compared to women (25%) in opposite-sex relationships, is large, and now that sex-positivity has had an Instagram-friendly makeover, numerous accounts are suggesting we simply dump anyone who doesn’t make us come.
But is it really that simple? Shouldn't we be talking about whether having an orgasm is the only way to decipher whether you’ve truly enjoyed a sexual experience? Is focusing so much on an “end goal” actually making sex less fun? Mum? Your thoughts?
Season three introduces new Headteacher Hope Haddon (Jemima Kirke from Girls), who endeavours to turn around Moordale’s reputation as "sex school" with a concentration on “family values”.
My Mum, also a teacher, had a similar sex-ed experience to the one Hope is hoping to apply. "It was pretty clinical," she remarks, unconcerned as Dex parades naked across the screen holding a goat by his genitals. "The focus was on biology and not emotions. I wish [there were more] open discussions about the emotional side of sex. Sex for pleasure was just never talked about, and the inference was that only ‘bad’ girls enjoyed sex."
Sounds a whole world away from the inclusive and informative lessons from Otis and Maeve's sex clinic, which would be far better placed in all secondary schools.. Right?
Two of my favourite storylines in the show are those of Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson) and Maureen Groff (Samantha Spiro) – as an enlightened sex therapist and a newly reinvented diva, respectively. Sex Education covers adult relationships well, but it was the part I was most nervous to watch with Mum. None of us wants to imagine that our parents actually have sex.
As we enter season three, Maureen has shed her submissive cocoon and is loving her single lifestyle. I ask Mum about the power dynamics in older relationships. “It’s so important that people feel they can be themselves,” Mum muses, “and not have to conform to what others want them to be.” So far, so good. “Yes, there are times when we have to fit into society’s expectations, but in a relationship, you need to be authentic to yourself.” I nod vigorously, Nice one, Mum.
Say what you want about being young and progressive: watching sex scenes with your parents will always be a bit awkward. I inwardly cringe at some of the more graphic sex, wondering what she’s thinking. After watching Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam (Connor Swindells) discuss the particulars of anal sex, Mum remarks, "You know, watching all this stuff is very important. It’s happening in the real world, and young people need to know how it works. Better to be well-informed than to have to Google it and be potentially misinformed."
Wow Mum you legend. Couldn't have said it better myself.
But when the show is essentially a comprehensive sex-ed resource, packed with diverse and important castings and storylines, it really is worth it. Mum was not only open-minded, but happy to have conversations and be challenged on the bits she was less informed about. So hey, maybe it's about time you sat down with a parent to watch Sex Education, too.
Sex Education seasons 1 -3 are available on Netflix now
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