The Importance of Representation; and How Sex Education Nails It
(This post contains minor spoilers for season 3 of the Netflix show Sex Education)
Content warning: mentions of sexual assault, gender identity and sexuality.
On Friday 17th September, Netflix released the third season of one of their most popular shows. Sex Education is a comedy drama aimed at a teen and young adult audience. The show is based on a sexual premise, but when you watch it, you see it goes a lot deeper than that.
When you first hear the title Sex Education, it’s easy to assume what the show will be. Pictures of overly vulgar and raunchy television fly through your head, but that isn’t what this show is at all. In fact, it’s one of the few shows these days that talks about sex in a healthy, unexaggerated, realistic way.
In previous seasons, the shows been praised for its portrayal of accurate sex education. The main protagonists Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve (Emma Mackey) run their own ‘advice’ service, helping students at their school who are miseducated about sex and all that comes with it.
In a digital age, good verbal communication can often be overlooked. The third season of Sex Education tackles this head on. Many of their characters have flawed communication tactics, and it is explicitly said that this is a toxic way of living.
The characters of Adam and Eric are a great example of this. Their new relationship has some rough spots, and some miscommunication between the two. Gradually, though, they learn to tell each other what they want and how they feel, and it shows a healthy example for viewers, especially those who are younger. These smaller moments of growth in their relationship and communication really show how great this show is at developing their characters.
We also see a good example of communication from the character Aimee, portrayed by Aimee Lou Woods. After struggling in season two due to being sexually assaulted on a public bus, Aimee seeks help this season. Although not a main plot point within the series, we see her speak to Jean, a professional therapist, about her struggles. This sends a healthy message to viewers, that there’s no shame in needing therapy, and wanting to talk about the things that have traumatised you.
Motherhood has always been a focal point of the show. The main protagonist, Otis, often has storylines relating to his mother, played by Gillian Anderson.
This season saw Anderson’s character go through pregnancy as an older woman. It was shown honestly and openly, without any sugarcoating, and without weakness. Her strength and confidence from previous seasons still shines through, and so does her times of vulnerability and softness.
This is juxtaposed by a new addition to the series, Hope, the school principal. The recent character, played by Jemima Kirke, is shown to have trouble conceiving a child with her husband. The only scenes in which we see her be vulnerable are related to this struggle, and it represents another, more saddening side of motherhood. Watching two characters have different views of pregnancy makes their representation of motherhood in this season a lot more inclusive.
One of the newest editions to season 3 was the character Cal, played by Dua Saleh. This character was important, as they bought non-binary representation to the series.
In fact, in one of Cals first scenes, they described their pronouns as they/them in a very casual way. What makes this scene important is just how casual it was, they stated their pronouns and then the conversation swiftly moved on.
The normalisation of this is what programmes these days need. Real life is as simple as that, stating pronouns and continuing as normal, and for non-binary viewers, this small addition to the show probably meant a lot.
Gender expression has been tackled throughout the entire show. Most notably in the character Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) who has consistently been shown wearing makeup and traditionally feminine clothing at times. In season 3, his boyfriend Adam joins in with this.
The nonchalant view of men wearing makeup from the very start of the show has created a platform on which characters can express themselves without it being jarring.
In every show, there are the characters that people immediately dislike. When Sex Education first began, this was Adam and Michael Groff. This father-son duo were standoffish, rude, and frankly unlikeable in the first season of the show. Season 3, however, is a different story.
Having already shown growth in season 2 with the acceptance of his own sexuality, Adam, portrayed by Connor Swindells, learned a lot about himself and communication this season, as mentioned previously. The standout example of growth though, comes from his father. Michael Groff lost everything in previous seasons, including his job and his marriage.
Now, in season 3, Groff is living with his brother, and attempting to put his life back together. Viewers get to see this character learn more about himself as a person, and begin to reject the toxic masculinity that he has previously shown.
Although only four categories of representation are discussed in this post, that doesn’t mean this is all the show has to offer. In fact, topics such as race, sexuality, and sexual health and well-being have been constant themes throughout the entire show.
Personally, I think this show will be remembered and talked about for a long time. It’s such a refreshing representation of young people and sexuality.
Not only this, but it also continues to be entertaining, funny, and heartwarming all at the same time.
The cast do an amazing job in their roles, and the representation they bring to a mainstream audience is outstanding.
Watch season 3 of Sex Education now on Netflix.
Sex Education on IMDb:
Seen “Sex Education” on Netflix yet?