How “Sex Education” Is Honest About Relationships

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This article contains spoilers for seasons one, two and three of Netflix’s “Sex Education.” There are also mentions of homophobia and sexual assault.

Netflix’s original series “Sex Education” has received critical acclaim for its witty and honest depictions of adolescence. The British teen dramedy, which premiered in 2019, is one of the streaming site’s most beloved shows, commended for its diverse ensemble cast, representation, heartfelt relatable stories and its refreshing tendency of defying traditional character archetypes.

Created by screenwriter Laurie Nunn, viewers primarily follow the life of teenager Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), a student at the fictitious Moordale Secondary School. His mother, Dr. Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson), is a sex therapist. Despite being quite ambivalent to sex, Otis becomes a reluctant expert on the topic through Jean and decides to open an underground sex therapy clinic with classmate Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey).

Through its three seasons and confirmed renewal for a fourth, the show tells the stories of the students, staff, and parents of Moordale — dealing with a multitude of subjects ranging from sexual health, sexuality and identity.

Moreover, the variety of relationships represented is one of the many characteristics making the series personable for viewers. Characters endure arcs relating to their friendships, romantic interests, family and self-love. Here are some of the most notable.

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Perhaps the most charming platonic pair, Otis and Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) are the heart of “Sex Education.” The scenes where they cycle to school together are some of the most memorable, filled with lively chatter and laugh-inducing one-liners. They show viewers no matter how starkly different two personalities might be, an unbreakable bond is sustained through unconditional love and connection — helping build bridges in times of friction.

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At first glance, this friendship seems unexpected. Maeve is a sarcastic social outcast that has been on her own since she was young, whereas Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), is a popular people pleaser with an affluent background. Neither character pays much mind to this juxtaposition, arguably enriching the remarkable nature of their relationship. They are “each other’s mums,” as Aimee says in season three, demonstrating a reliable support system is the foundation of a strong bond no matter where you come from.

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After befriending Otis in the first season, Ola (Patricia Allison) dated him until halfway through the second installment of the series. She then realized she was pansexual and had feelings for Lily (Tanya Reynolds). Lily was initially surprised by her attraction to Ola, saying “this wasn’t in my plan,” but later accepts her sexuality. The pair have since been cherished by fans, specifically by how deeply they care for each other. Their relationship exemplifies how sexuality can take time to explore and is unique to the person.

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Eric, a bright, fun-loving personality and who is also one of the few openly gay people at Moordale Secondary, is responsible for some of the show’s most iconic lines (“Wash your hands, you dirty pig!”). He expresses himself through colorful clothing and sparkling eyeshadow — lighting up every scene he is part of.

Eric also comes from a religious Nigerian/Ghanian family. Viewers might anticipate this would cause a rift between him and his parents, but it’s the opposite. Despite some tension, his parents — especially his father — do not want him to change, but instead desire to protect their son from a society still riddled with homophobia. This shows how vital communication is, no matter how well you think you know someone and their views.

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Arguably one of the most significant relationships in the series, the dynamic of Otis and Jean can be described as both humorous and meticulously on point. Like any mother and son, they have their quarrels and disagreements — particularly with how Jean has pushed the boundaries between being a mom and her profession — but, unlike most parent-child relationships portrayed in teen dramas, their attempts to reconcile speaks volumes about their connection. Their relationship illustrates not only the importance of finding a middle ground, but the impact of listening to your loved ones.

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From the beginning of the series, it’s apparent to viewers that Aimee puts others before herself. Her nurturing nature is often taken advantage of by others, causing her to be passive to bad friends and not prioritize her happiness until she stood up for her friendship with Maeve and met her boyfriend Steve (Chris Jenks).

In season two, Aimee is sexually assaulted on a bus while on her way to school. At first, she brushed it off, but the trauma caused her to push away those she loved most. She opened up at the end of the season, sharing her experience with other female characters as they served detention.

She starts therapy sessions with Jean in season three. She shows courage and power when discussing her relationship with her body, voicing her readiness to begin healing. Aimee’s strength is not only exemplar of her growth as a character, but how loving oneself starts with permittance to feel all your emotions, no matter how uncomfortable, and taking it one day at a time.

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For someone who was initially a polarizing figure, Adam (Connor Swindells) quickly became a fan favorite. He started as the anger-prone, closed-off school bully, constantly tormenting Eric and anyone else who stood in his way. It is revealed his behavior largely stems from his strained relationship with his father and that his deep-rooted insecurities contribute to his lack of self-worth.

He spends the early parts of season two at military school before returning to Moordale. Here he begins his journey of self-understanding by recognizing his romantic feelings for Eric and bisexuality.

Throughout season three, Adam tries to better himself by becoming more comfortable in his sexuality, learning how to effectively communicate his emotions, putting effort into his schoolwork and dedicating time to his passions. His development builds as he realizes he is worthy to love and to be loved, showing the audience how living intentionally can constitute a complete turnaround.

Tweet us, @VALLEYmag, with which “Sex Education” relationship is your favorite!


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