Commentary

How Sex Education Season 2 Delivered Specific, Teenage Takes on #MeToo

Sex Education, Netflix

The first season of Netflix’s Sex Education was notable for its honest, raunchy and humorous approach to talking frankly about teenagers and their relationships to sex. The series continued this trend into its second season, which is currently streaming, by widening its scope and exploring even more topics with cleverness and candor — not to mention a specificity that might make you cringe from secondhand embarrassment. Within eight episodes, the British comedy-drama found room for discussing pansexuality, vaginismus, asexuality, anal douching, dirty talk, mutual masturbation, and so much more. It also manages to do this while also functioning as an effective teenage drama complete with multiple love triangles and a high school performance of Romeo and Juliet.

In Season 1, Sex Education introduced us to Otis (Asa Butterfield), a high-strung virgin who knows a lot about sex, thanks to his mother Jean (Gillian Anderson, unsurprisingly perfect) and her job as a sex therapist. Otis teams up with outcast and love interest Maeve (Emma Mackey) to open up a makeshift sex clinic at the school, charging classmates for sex advice.

But one of the best aspects of this second season isn’t the sex clinic but instead the series’ #MeToo storyline, one that’s slow-building and dealt with carefully. In the third episode, Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) is taking the bus to school when she notices a stranger masturbating behind her, ultimately finishing (and ruining) her favorite pair of jeans. Aimee originally tries to brush it off — “It’s silly! I’m fine, honestly.” — but Maeve encourages her to go to the police. Though things at the police station doesn’t go as bad as one would expect, there’s still not much anyone can do.

Throughout the rest of the season, Aimee begins to exhibit post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident. She’s unable to go on the bus and begins walking everywhere, regardless of the distance, and often to her great discomfort. She starts imagining the man everywhere — not just on the bus, but at a party or in her school’s hallway. It also trickles into her relationship; Aimee can no longer enjoy being touched by her boyfriend Steve (Chris Jenks), reflexively slapping his head when they’re hooking up, though she has a hard time articulating why.

This all comes to a head in the seventh episode. When six girls, including Aimee, are accused of vandalizing and slut-shaming a teacher, they all end up in detention until someone ‘fesses up. Their teacher comes up with a unique assignment: “Preparing a presentation on what binds you together as women.” The Breakfast Club-like scenario finds the group struggling to find anything in common — games, shopping, chocolate — but failing. While two of them argue, Sex Education zeroes in on Aimee, focusing on the way her hands are playing with that spot on her jeans. Finally, she starts crying and blurts out that she can’t ride the bus anymore. It’s not even that she’s worried about seeing him, Aimee explains, but it’s “more that he had this really kind face … so it’s like, if he could do something like that then anyone could. I always felt safe before but now I don’t.”

Aimee telling her story indirectly encourages the other girls to share their stories, too. Olivia (Simone Ashley) recalls that the year before, she was groped at the train station. “Sometimes I feel funny in crowds, too,” she admits. “It was like they thought my body was theirs or something.” Ola (Patricia Allison) agrees and shares the time a man followed her home from work, only finally running off when he saw her father which “made me angry because I don’t want to be dependent on another man to protect me.” As the girls are sharing their stories, we also see them in flashback: the shock and confusion on Olivia’s face when a random stranger grabbed her breast, or the fear on Ola’s as she splays her keys between her knuckles.

It isn’t just recent events, either. Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) recalls how unfair it was that as a kid she was no longer allowed to go to the public pool — her favorite place — after a man flashed his penis to her underneath the water. The episode also depicts how different people’s responses are. When Maeve was younger and catcalled at by a group of guys, an older woman blames her for the way Maeve is dressed. In response, Maeve went home and cut the shorts even shorter. “Good,” Olivia responds. “Why should you have to change your behavior because of what they did?” By the end of detention, the girls realize the only thing they have in common: “non-consensual penises.”

It’s a great episode of Sex Education and one that’s indicative of how refreshing and truthful the entire series is. There is no set answer or cure for how Aimee is feeling, but instead it just depicts the realities that plague women and nonbinary people, and shows that sometimes just opening up about your experiences is one of the most powerful and cathartic things you can do.