What we learnt from Sex Education that we should have been taught at school

Let’s face it: sex education lessons in the UK are a mixed bag. Far from the sensitive, in-depth chats they should be, they’re still usually run by whichever unlucky member of staff has the misfortune of drawing the short straw (often the PE teacher, weirdly), conducted to an orchestra of sniggers, and woefully lacking in detail. Anybody else remember being taught how to put a condom on an anatomically inaccurate banana?

Which is why Sex Education, when it came along in 2019, was such a breath of fresh air. Yes, the official PSHE classes provided by Moordale Secondary were also dreadful – that was kind of the point. But the series’ sex clinic (run by Otis, the uptight son of a sex therapist) offered a jumping-off point for the show to offer guerilla sex advice about everything from the right way to douche (complete with blackboard illustrations) to the complexities of gender identity; while the brand-new season four teases phone sex, dick pics and shags galore.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. With the last season now out on Netflix and those sex education lessons (ahem) drying up for good, it’s time to celebrate all the things that the show has taught us over four seasons of glorious insanity– and, in turn, what lessons we should have actually been taught on a Thursday afternoon instead of cringeing out of our skins and wishing it was over. Sweet memories.

Girls, masturbation is normal

 (Sam Taylor/Netflix)
(Sam Taylor/Netflix)

Who’d have thunk it? Women like self-pleasure, too. Fortunately, Sex Education knows that: in season one, we find out that Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) has never masturbated. She’s only ever had sex – and when her boyfriend Steve asks her to “tell me what you want,” she has no idea how to answer him.

Cue an epic quest that involves Aimee testing and rating multiple different vibrators, going to sex therapy, and an epic masturbation montage involving a hairdryer, sofa and windowsill. All of which goes to make a rather eloquent case for other girls doing the same thing – as well as highlighting the discrepancy between the way male self-pleasure is viewed (necessary) compared to female (still slightly taboo). Can anybody say girl power?

“You cannot catch an STI from a pitch whistle!”

Newsflash, everybody: some people get chlamydia, and it’s totally normal! But there’s still an awful lot of misinformation about STIs floating around. The start of Sex Education’s season two saw an outbreak ravaging Moordale High, and the plotline highlighted just how little is understood about how STIs spread. Not to mention that it led to a fair amount of slut shaming of the girls who contracted it. As Otis says, “you cannot catch an STI from a pitch whistle”, or indeed from a doorhandle – but you can from having unprotected sex with an infected partner.

Plus, an ick-worthy fact: as Otis explains, one can actually catch chlamydia of the eye, if you’ve got infected fluids on your hands and happen to touch or rub them. Yikes. But on the plus side, it’s very easily sorted with a shot of antibiotics.

How to get an abortion (and that it’s fine)

One of season one’s biggest storylines involved Maeve (Emma Mackey) realising that her casual fling with popular boy Jackson has resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. Her subsequent decision to get an abortion is by no means unusual – by the age of 45, one in four women in the UK will have had one – but it’s still something that is rarely depicted onscreen. Enter Sex Education, which covered Maeve’s journey to and from the clinic from start to finish. According to Mackey, the show went to great lengths to show the procedure as accurately as possible, thereby demystifying something that, for many young girls, would be seen as pretty terrifying. Hats off.

Everybody develops at a different rate

While the students of Moordale High are shagging away, pity poor Otis: season one of Sex Education actually opens with him experiencing some severe... ahem... performance issues that mean he’s not able to masturbate at all.

Over the course of the series, this theme crops up again and again: everybody matures differently, and what’s normal for one person might not be for another. What about Lily, whose journey in the earlier seasons involves her coming to terms with a) her sexuality and b) her vaginismus? Or Adam, who slowly comes to realise that he fancies Eric, who’s been out and proud for almost as long as he can remember? Breathe, release the pressure, and realise that there is no right answer.

Parents also have sex (and feelings)

Gillian Anderson as Jean in Sex Education (Netflix)
Gillian Anderson as Jean in Sex Education (Netflix)

Crush any thoughts of teenage squeamishness: yes, parents are adults, and adults have sex. Horror of horrors, they also have casual flings, and messy relationships. Gillian Anderson’s Jean proudly states that she doesn’t “do” serious; teachers Miss Sands and Mr Hendricks spent much of season two trying to master the art of dirty talk (who knew the words “baba ghanoush” could be so erotic?). And what about the put-upon Maureen, who ditches uptight Headmaster Groff to give herself some much needed self-care? Though the show’s teenagers would doubtless self-combust rather than admit it, the way Sex Education gives its adults well-rounded sexual journeys of their own is one of its greatest strengths (and, as I creep ever further from my teen years, a way for the show to remain relatable).

The importance of consent

Why is it that some people still have such a hard time understanding the word no? From the man Aimee catches masturbating onto her leg on the school bus (easily one of the show’s best storylines) to the many, many sex scenes it depicts; the show’s producers are clear about one thing. Consent is vital, and both parties have to agree, enthusiastically – regardless of whether or not they’re in a relationship, hooking up or just flirting.

But that’s not all: Sex Ed also makes time to delve into the more nebulous grey areas around consent, such as when Otis and Ruby drunkenly get it on after a party, and Ruby ends up taking Otis’ virginity. Can you still give consent when you’re drunk? The show doesn’t have easy answers, but the fact it raises the issue at all is important food for thought.

Sex Education season four is streaming now on Netflix