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What did we learn from Sex Education?

By Amy Kan, BA International Relations and Japanese

This article contains mentions of sexual assault.

If I told you that the first sex scene of this show happened within 45 seconds, would you have believed me? Sex Education holds a label of being unique and eccentric in that regard, with extremely blunt depictions of discussions involving sex.

It has frequently been in conversations as a contemporary Gen Z show, featuring identities, minorities, and problems that have so often been avoided or misrepresented in the entertainment industry. There is never just one token character, and the inclusivity in the teenage lifestyle portrayed is realistic and unlike what other shows often have on offer. Nearly all the main characters do not fit a stereotypical identity, revealing that everyone has problems to work through. 

The fourth and final season of Sex Education was released in late September 2023. It follows the main characters adjusting to their last year at school amidst various obstacles thrown at them; with each character going through a journey of discovering what it is to be a teenager with identity problems. The season further explores topics including postpartum anxiety, disabilities, both visible and not, and how they can be accommodated in places like schools, as well as a personal journey with religion and sexuality. Personal struggles of transgender characters who experience problems that are commonplace in society – like waitlists for referrals or expensive treatments for private sectors – are also addressed. 

A prominent character in the show with a well-developed storyline was Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood). In season two, a sexual assault incident occurs and she is convinced by her friend, Maeve (Emma Mackey), to report it to the police. This represents the unfortunate reality of the lack of charge available from authorities – but does not remain an isolated event. Throughout the final season, the memory remains casually intertwined with Aimee’s story, helping her to heal herself through art. The representation of girlhood and empowerment is prominent, though cliques are also not forgotten in this universe of bullying, rumours, and gossip.

“The standout feature of this season was its ability to effectively convey to the audience the significance of ensuring accessibility for all and the issues that can arise from everyday societal barriers.”

The discussions of toxic masculinity (depicted by a straight white man) are created in the earlier seasons, and then developed and worked on in subsequent ones. A major example in the show is Adam Groff (Connor Swindells) and his dad, who pushes these expectations on his son. In the new season, the former comes out, saying, ‘I’m attracted to men and women.’ Though his character development challenged conventional norms, this subsided with the growth of an enemies-to-lovers trope as Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) – who later became Adam’s boyfriend – romanticised and excused the relentless physical and verbal abuse Adam gave him, something which was rooted in homophobia. The Groff men eventually work on their father-son relationship and understand each other after years of pressure, ultimately achieving a comfortable relationship.

Sex Education concludes with a mix of some underwhelming and some satisfying character arcs. When expelled and pushed away from friends, Ruby (Mimi Keene), is expected to be given a final wholesome friendship with Otis (Asa Butterfield), but instead, she receives a blunt apology, and they end up as shallow friends.

Nonetheless, the show has perfected authentic inclusivity. The standout feature of this season was its ability to effectively convey to the audience the significance of ensuring accessibility for all and the issues that can arise from everyday societal barriers.

The show ends on a note of peace and sincerity with a heartfelt tone to conclude the farewells of the characters. Played out by Aretha Franklin singing ‘Let It Be’ – the lessons learned during the past four years of the show are reminisced and reflected upon.

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