Sex Education Season Three: How Important Is It To Be Authentic?

Art by Sian Williams

Honestly, when I think back to high school, I think about how awkward the entire experience was and how bloody awful the sex education was. Maybe it’s the fact that I went to a tiny religious school. Or maybe sex was just a kind of taboo topic for teens outside of porn and heavily censored movie depictions. But in the end, I was left with a very strange and unhealthy depiction of sex.  Enter Sex Education, a TV series that brings to life the inner workings of sex and young adulthood. If you need something else to watch during our extended lockdown, I would highly recommend watching Sex Education. The plot is extremely engaging, and it is even more binge-worthy now a whole new season has been recently released. 

Sex Education is a Netflix Original comedy-drama, first aired in 2019. Just over a week ago, Netflix released its third season. The show is set in the United Kingdom and follows Otis (Asa Butterfield), the only son of a sex therapist and a student at Moordale Secondary school. We follow Otis as he inevitably sets up a sex therapy business with another student, Maeve (Emma Mackey), to help students with their unaddressed sex problems. The subsequent three seasons explore the unfolding relationships within the school through the lens of its sex education (get it?). I think the concept is really interesting, and it’s nice to see sex portrayed in all its messiness, awkwardness, and just general grossness within the show. Don’t get me wrong, sex can also be enjoyable and fun, but the joy found in this show is that it presents all facets of sex in all of its different forms. The colour palettes, fits and setting are also really aesthetically pleasing, so even if you’re not interested in the subject matter, it’s still a nice show to look at. 

 However, I think the show shines the most with its writing and its characters. Each character, outside of the protagonists, are just as complex, interesting and entertaining to watch. Some standouts for me were Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Aimee (Aimee Lee Wood). Eric stood out for his loud and hilarious personality that is equal turns bright and sincere when the situation calls for it; Aimee, for her character development and her naïve optimism. If I can say anything at all for Aimee, it’s that I would genuinely love to be friends with her. I also really appreciate the refreshing representation of various genders, sexualities, and ethnicities. I think with such a big cast, it’s difficult to portray with any real justice the myriad of different experiences for so many people. But again, as a sheer testament to its writing, the show manages to pull it off. Not only this, it also manages to balance some very heavy concepts and themes with light-hearted humour. The show does this in a way that pays respect to the topic without making the whole thing emotionally difficult to watch.  

 Now let’s get into the new instalment Netflix has given us and what it means for the show. Generally, I think season three is the weakest so far. The original concept of Sex Education was really refreshing and simple – ‘let’s start a business helping students with their sex problems’. However, by the third season, the business has completely been abandoned. Now, we’re following a vast cast of characters without a single unifying concept, leaving some character development to be left by the wayside in this season. I think a lot of the previous flaws of the writing really show up here too. One of the greatest aspects of Sex Education is how open, upfront and honest it is about sexual experiences and learning to laugh at them. The issue with this is that the show touts itself as a true-to-life portrayal of teenagers and their sex lives. But often the characters themselves are absurdly mature and unrealistic because of this open and upfront attitude. Yes, the characters are growing and changing, but often the confidence and introspection that they show reminds us that we’re watching adults playing teens. And with this, the target audience of the show is reframed for an older audience. For example, I know when I was a teen, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to open up to someone else. Especially to sit and unpack all of my traumas with them, which is shown quite a lot in this season. Again, I am aware characters are getting older, but they’ve aged up writing-wise to the point that those journeys of self-discovery, learning to cope with and expressing destructive habits are gone. As well as just general mistake making that happens through adolescence feels lost amongst it all. I also think the humour wasn’t quite there as much as it had been in previous seasons, leaving the show to feel a lot more heavy-handed and dull.

 Overall, I think this new season was a reasonable continuation of the show and its concept. I also think it matched the maturing of many of its characters in many ways. However, I also think that the show is really starting to wind down. At the same time, it’s starting to feel a bit messier as the characters go their separate ways and life really starts to set in. In some ways again, the show is staying true to its true-to-life portrayal. But in others, I think it left this season feeling rushed and messy compared to the previous two seasons. This truly leaves me to think about Sex Education in a new light. In many ways, it shows how difficult it is to create a good story that remains authentic.