Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) is the son of a sex therapist (Gillian Anderson) and he’s so terrified by sex, he can’t even play with himself properly. His daily routine shows how hard being normal can be, even in the UK, even in the 2000s. In order to let his mother think he’s a regular guy, every morning he gets Kleenex dirty with a hydrating cream and leaves them on his bed, near a porn magazine. His mother Jean, for her part, pretends to believe Otis plays with himself every morning before school.
Created by Laurie Nunn, Netflix‘s original series Sex Education puts lightly into play heavy topics. Such as communication between different generations, love, friendship, the discovery of sexuality and adulthood. A surviving guide in a nutshell, in dramedy format.
Nearly a double life
Jean is very open and tries hard to talk with his son about tricky topics, too. But Otis is frozen up and can’t face intimate problems with her, despite the fact that it’s her job. The only one aware of Otis’s problem is Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), his best friend. Eric is totally different from Otis: not only because he already accepted and declared his homosexuality, but because he feels very comfortable talking about sexual intercourses and relationships. Only with the arrival of Meave (Emma Mackey) will Otisl be pulled into action to change his life.
Meave is one of the most beautiful girls at school, but she doesn’t display it. She has an alternative look and is much more intelligent than most of the teachers think. She has a very problematic family nobody knows about, too. It’s natural for Otis to have a crush on her, but also denying it and not knowing how to behave. When Meave discovers he’s very talented in giving advice about sex (despite his total lack of experience), she proposes to him to start a business. Otis will be a “sex therapist” for other students; she will find clients, a quiet place to talk and they will split profits. Shy and extremely reserved at home, he has to become friendly and professional at school. Otis is very skeptical, but she’s Meave: he has to accept her.
Teenagers and sexuality: a taboo still to be broken
Laurie Nunn achieves the aim of talking about teenagers for what they really are and how they really feel. As she declared when interviewed by The Guardian, she was inspired by her own adolescence. She shows how hard being normal can be, especially for a teenager who doesn’t know yet who he truly is. And she does so by avoiding the label that shows teenagers as “grown-up children”, describing them as young adults who have to deal with loads of new, complicated, and somehow huge issues. Issues about school, love life, friendship, family, and obviously sex. And that, in particular, involves exploring and accepting one’s own sexuality.
Every character faces an inner fight in order to understand and achieve personal fulfillment. For a very long time, an honest talk about adolescence and sexuality has been a real taboo on TV. Sex Education not only dares to break it but describes sex as teenagers experience it, with their language. Dialogues are brilliant, humorous and rich in slang. Characters’ life are messy and complicated, but very realistic for viewers who either lived or live that period of life during this century.
Through mistakes, gags, and misunderstandings, the series points out what growing up means nowadays. What problems teenagers have to face and what makes them suffer. Moreover, it displays how much a proper sexual education would be useful and how much easier is to ask and accept advice from a peer. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a matter of age, but rather a bond where communication is key. One that’s able to overcome culture, gender, and generations.