Sex Ed Beyond the Health Classroom

Netflix’s “Sex Education” exposes the not so glamorous aspect of high school romance from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old sex therapist


In one scene, Otis can be seen advising his fellow classmate.

Nehal Chakraborty, Staff Writer

Let’s talk about sex. Movies and TV shows featuring teenagers are sure to incorporate romantic and sexual tensions amongst characters to hook the viewers. But when a long-awaited relationship is finally on the brink of a new beginning, producers often breeze through the complexities of their sex life.

“Sex Education” does the complete opposite. Rather than skipping over the nitty-gritty details of sex, the TV show openly explores various unique aspects of high school relationships and also human sexuality. The comedic portrayal of the difficulties of teenage sexual relationships and the heart-warming transformation of the main characters are what makes “Sex Education” a worldwide success.

Garnering over 40 million views within a month of release. the eight-episode series has racked up many positive reviews and ratings, including a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and 84% on IMDb.

The British comedy series features a wise-for-his-age teenager who lives with his sex therapist mother. Using his acquired expertise on the subject of sex, he opens a clinic at school in which he provides “therapy” to classmates who are having problems in their sex lives. This show provides a unique, uncensored perspective of teen lives that many shows often steer clear from.

The story begins with the underwhelming summer experience of sixteen-year-old Otis Milburn, who hasn’t had his first ejaculation yet while the rest of the class seemingly already had sex. His best friend Eric, also one of the two known gay students in the class, insists that Otis is lucky enough that is mom, Jean, is a sex therapist and therefore shouldn’t have any problem reaching his sexual awakening.

Otis keeps his mother’s occupation under the wraps until the school bully also the headmaster’s son comes to Otis’s house for a project and stumbles into Jean’s office. This event proved to be the turning point for Otis’s relatively uneventful life.

Within a day of the incident, the whole school learns about Otis’s mom being a sex therapist. While being embarrassed and ridiculed for it, Otis’s classmate finds this as a possible business opportunity. This classmate of his, Maeve, is known to be unapologetic and clever. Together, Maeve and Otis start a sex therapy clinic as a business venture in which Maeve helps garner high school clients for Otis to provide sex therapy to.

Throughout the show, Otis earns a name for himself by helping students resolve their conflicts and insecurities when it comes to sex. While she initially intimidates him, Otis begins to form a strong friendship with Maeve. This new relationship and the clinic transforms Otis’s high school years.

Maeve and Otis’s friendship began through very unique means. Not many friends can say that they got to know each other through running a sex clinic. As they spend more time together in the name of their clinic, Otis gets to unveil more of Maeve’s personal life which she usually keeps under the wraps. In fact, Maeve lives on her own in a trailer park with her mother in prison for substance abuse and brother MIA for most of the show.

The fact that Maeve even brought Otis to her trailer while refusing to allow her own boyfriend to take her home really shows how she trusts Otis and can confides in him. Maeve eventually opens up from her outer shell and becomes more comfortable with Otis, which is definitely satisfying to see, considering the stressful circumstances at home.

While Maeve grew as a person through her friendship with Otis, the shy guy-in-the-corner transforms into a more assertive individual in school and at home. While he initially only hung out with Eric, Otis spends more time with clients and, of course, Maeve. Although it’s great that Otis is expanding his daily interactions with new people, I feel that he neglected his role as being a friend to Eric.

From the first episode, we see how Eric backs up Otis in any conflict or endeavour, including the advertisement of his new business. As Eric goes through important events of his life, like swing band auditions, and even gets attacked by a homophobe on the streets at night, he can’t even look to Otis for support. In fact, the attack wouldn’t have happened if Otis didn’t ditch Eric to spend time with Maeve.

I found myself sympathizing with Eric when he isolated himself and carried a gloomy aura around himself as he recovered from the trauma. In the end, however, Eric is able to embrace his homosexuality and dresses in full drag to the school dance. It was inspiring to witness a cheerful, bubbly teenager go through such a harrowing experience and yet come back more confident than before.

Otis’s life may have transformed in during his mid-teens, but his relationship with his mother has developed over his entire life. As his mother, Jean, is a sex therapist, she finds it important to be very open – maybe even too open – with her son when it comes to sex.

Otis often feels that his mom has crossed many boundaries including following Otis to his first party and even telling her clients about his first ejaculation without even discussing it with him first. Jean’s attitude toward her son’s sexual conflicts has left me taken aback multiple times, and what I kept longing for was an opportunity for Otis to confront his mom about the lines she’s crossed and for her to admit her wrongdoings.

In almost each episode, we see Otis venting out only a little bit of his frustration to his mom, but we see no progress in their dispute. His mom continually doesn’t seem to understand what she’s doing wrong. After much waiting for a confrontation, he finally loses it when his mother writes a book about Otis’s “sexual phobias” without even understanding what Otis is going through in his life and never listening to what he tells her.

In an emotional scene near the end of the show, Jean finally owns up to her mistakes and sincerely apologizes to her son. Once again, I was satisfied with the way Otis and his mother resolved a conflict which has been tarnishing their relationship for many months.

What makes the TV series stand out amongst the other options on Netflix is its focus on a sixteen-year-old boy being a sex therapist. Otis’s clients range from a girl who insists on having sex in the dark, a lesbian couple who have trouble getting intimate, and a guy who can’t accept rejection from the love of his life.

Other movies and TV shows often airbrush and idealize sex amongst teen couples, when it’s really a fumbling and awkward learning experience. Otis’s interaction with various clients shows viewers just how awkward the journey can be to discovery oneself in terms of sexuality.

Otis maneuvers through the complicated lives of his teenage clients and helps them discover the source of their insecurities, the wrongdoings of their own, the value of their distinctiveness. As I watched all of the episodes in a span of three days, I could experience the ups and downs of numerous teen relationships in a short amount of time.

Watching various students of all kinds of social standpoints and family lives come to Otis for the common purpose of getting advice but for a vast range of unique reasons helped me realize just how much teens have to learn about themselves and the world around them. It was also intriguing to see such a young student apply what he learned from his mom’s profession to his own classmates.

Throughout the TV series, we see Otis forming new relationships for himself and others while reviving old ones. “Sex Education” provides a refreshing portrayal of the sex lives of teens as a trial-and-error process rather than having a laid-out structure.

Viewers are able to recognize the vast complications of relationships and learn to appreciate the significance of having supporting friendships. From the meaningful character development to the ironic moments, “Sex Education” serves as a comedic twist to typical teen romance that is bound to leave you with an altered perspective of high school.