Season 3 of Netflix’ hit teen drama, Sex Education, starts with a raunchy but never gratuitous montage of sex scenes. The Laurie Nunn created show continues to educate viewers about common but rarely spoken topics. No matter how sensitive the topic is, it is always delivered with a frank honesty that is unmatched on television.
After the season two finale, which saw Isaac (George Robinson) delete Otis’ confession of love from Maeve’s (Emma Mackey) phone, the pair are no longer friends. The sex clinic is now closed, but Mooredale Secondary School is still nationally famous for being ‘The Sex School’. Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam (Connor Swindells) are making progress with their romance, whilst Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) is still struggling with intimacy in the aftermath of her sexual assault. The adults aren’t doing much better romantically either. Jean (Gillian Anderson) is now heavily pregnant, and her ex Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt) still has no idea, whilst former headteacher, Michael (Alistair Petrie), is struggling alone after his divorce from Maureen (Samantha Spiro).
To repair the damage done by the many sexscapades Mooredale Secondary School have done over the years (a mass STI breakout, the sex-themed end of school musical is just two examples), the board bring in Hope (Girl’s Jemima Kirke). She tries to reform the school, bringing in abstinence classes, school uniforms and strict punishments, but the kids aren’t lying down and taking this new dictatorship.
Sex Education does a decent job of checking in with each character. With an ever-growing cast, some characters get less airtime than others. Rahim is just one of the characters we see less off in favour of new characters and exploring more of the adult and their issues. Eric and Otis have also been pushed aside for a great chunk of the serious in favour of new people and new issues. Although Eric has a meaningful trip to his parent’s native Nigeria (where homosexuality is illegal), the hugely talented Gatwa is severely underused.
One of the noticeable new additions is Dua Saleh as a new non-binary student called Cal. Their refusal to fit into a neat category becomes an issue for Hope, who wants Cal to wear the assigned uniform and stand in the right gender-assigned line. We also get to see new sides to characters like Lily (Tanya Reynolds), who wonders if she has outgrown her love of aliens (and explicit alien stories) and Jackson, who is looking for a life outside of swimming and being head boy. Ruby (Mimi Keene) is also rounded out as a character, turning her from more than a cliché popular mean girl.
Sex Education never buries any previous season plotlines under the rug. We get to see the fallout from that deleted voicemail, watch Adam deal with his sexuality and see Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) come out of her shell. Some audience members were unhappy with the actions of certain characters and season 3 does well to give the choices context. The aftermath of Aimee’s sexual assault is refreshingly addressed, where so many shows would move on, as she struggles to be intimate with her nice but dim boyfriend Steve.
Sex Education does verge on being too cluttered with characters and plots, but the smart and funny writing always keeps it engaging. It’s clear the writers have gained confidence in writing these characters, focusing less on thematic connections and plot arcs. Whilst the cast have spoken about this season being centred around shame; it’s really about discovering your identity. Like everyone on the brink of adulthood, these 16 and 17-year-olds are trying to learn who they are, what they like and what they believe in. Whether it’s worrying about still liking the things you did as a kid, trying to understand your gender and sexuality or just struggling to know what to do with the rest of your life, the comedy-drama smartly addresses the feeling of belonging. It’s not just the teens, the parents struggle with who they are without work, marriage, or parenthood to identify themselves with.
What makes Sex Education stand out from the crowded genre of high school content is how it’s not afraid to address things that others skate over. It doesn’t just talk about what it’s like to be non-binary, it talks about the language to use and explicitly shows chest binding. It doesn’t just show a healthy gay relationship, it talks about the mechanics of gay sex. It doesn’t use sexual assault as a plot device, it treats it as a serious life-changing event that leaves the victim with PTSD. It never uses diversity as a tick box exercise, giving disabled characters sexual appetites and queer characters plots that have nothing to do with their sexuality.
It’s not all doom and gloom. There is a farcical school trip to France, inappropriate glee club covers and a randy pet goat. All of this is set in the unique almost fantasy world of an Americanized school, 70’s home décor and a quirky indie soundtrack. The whimsical world and likeable characters help stop the frequent sex-ed lessons from feeling like a PSA.
Season 3 of Sex Education delivers its message with immense clarity. Whilst we are all different, we are united in our humanity. We all have sex, we all fall in love, and we all struggle to find our identities, whether we’re teenagers or into our middle age. No matter how society tries to suppress us, no matter how fragile we are, we should all be loud and proud in our sexuality, our experiences, and our beliefs.
Sex Education Season 3 begins streaming on Netflix on September 17th
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy