Kinks, Quirks, And Fantasies: What ‘Sex Education’ Gets Right About Our Own Sexual Habits
Just how closely does 'Sex Education' reflect what's going on in our bedrooms?
Sex Education’s much-anticipated third season opens with a no-holds-barred montage of — no surprises here — sex. There’s main character sex and dalliances between more obscure characters. There are passionate unions and booty calls and even alien sex.
But it’s not a gratuitous way of picking up where season two left off. Sex Education established early on that it wasn’t looking for easy wins in the shock value department. Why would it, when the premise — two inexperienced teens running an on-campus sex clinic for their insecure and straight-up clueless peers — is already outrageous enough?
Rather, this montage — and everything that comes (sorry) after it — holds a mirror up to us, the audience, and says in no uncertain terms, “It’s okay to like what you like”.
So… What Are You Into?
In the lead up to the series’ new season, Netflix commissioned research to understand what, exactly, us Aussies are into. In news that will surprise precisely no one, our sexual preferences are as eclectic as the kinks, quirks and fantasies embraced by Sex Education.
The Sex Ed Pleasure Survey found 1 in 10 Aussies rate themselves as “great” lovers, while just over a third reckon they’re “good”. Millennials, and particularly millennial women, are the most confident group, with 59 percent rating themselves “good” or “great” in bed. I love this for us, but I’d really like to see that increase to 69 percent next year.
On top of that, 33 percent of those who are coupled up use sex toys, while 31 percent watch porn together and 27 percent partake in a bit of role-play. More than half of us fantasise about our friends or colleagues — significantly more than those who jerk it to Hollywood hotties (27 percent) or those of the Instafamous ilk (21 percent). Spicy.
Speaking of, more than 65 percent of people say they go it alone, with 1.9 million Aussies masturbating every day. The number of men masturbating at least once a day in lockdown has increased by 18 percent, proving we are not, in fact, in this together.
The take-away? Aussies are primarily focused on what gives us pleasure — something that makes sexologist and fertility counsellor Aleeya Hachem extremely happy. “[It’s] really important in helping us own what we like and really fostering that within our relationships and within ourselves.”
They’re Just Like Us
Hachem says the diverse range of gender identities and sexual experiences — particularly as they relate to “first times” — is what makes Sex Education so relatable, even to those of us for whom certain firsts might be a distant memory.
“I love the representation, the way that they have been able to show a number of sexualities, gender identities, as well as — in this series in particular — sex and disability. And I think it provides a really good platform to be able to discuss and normalise a conversation around sexuality in a really safe and sex-positive way.”
It seems wild that we’re still looking for ways to talk about sex — and especially about pleasure and sex — in 2021, but Hachem says Sex Education is breaking taboos in a considered, thoughtful, and ultimately extremely entertaining way. That’s likely because, when it comes to commentary around the increased representation of sex and sexuality in the media, we’re mostly at a loss for the vernacular we need to discuss it in a productive way.
“The more we’re exposed to [these types of conversations], the more comfortable we become with them. And what I love about this show is that, because it’s on Netflix, it’s watched by a huge diverse range of people from different ages and backgrounds, so it does a really good job of portraying those topics [and experiences],” Hachem says.
Sex Education might be making it up as it goes along, but it’s resonating with people who feel a little less alone because of it.
Kids These Days
Of course, it seems equally strange to think it took a series about horny teenagers for grown adults to feel open and comfortable in their sexuality, but Sex Education is hardly the first to broach the topic in a real and relatable way. Big Mouth, Pen15, and Skins before them all explored the lingering questions and complexities of the teenage experience and how it shapes who we are as adults, but Hachem says Sex Education’s particular resonance is likely thanks to the never-before-seen inclinations of Gen Z.
“I think we can learn a lot from the younger generation. The study that Netflix did reflected quite well how the younger generation are more comfortable with talking about sex, how they rate themselves better at sex, how they’re more comfortable with masturbation and things like that, which shows that they’re is normalisation,” she says. “They’re changing the game in terms of how we talk about sex and how we view sex.”
And while Sex Education isn’t completely devoid of conservatism (you could argue the series needs it to prove its point), it does perhaps have a surplus of open-minded and supportive adults from whom those of us raising kids — or planning to in future — can take notes.
“We’re all still learning and so long as we can remain open and curious and non-judgmental, in particular, we can foster that dialogue with the younger generation and learn from them,” Hachem says.
Everyone’s At It
One of the most surprising impacts of Sex Education’s broad sex positivity is one most of us don’t see, but which all of us can benefit from: the normalisation of sex therapy as a profession.
“Jean [Milburn] is a fantastic character. She’s done a lot for normalising our field of work, because there was a lot of misconceptions about what we actually do as sexologists or as sex therapists,” Hachem says, admitting she’s shouted “Yes, Jean!” at her TV on more than one occasion. “It’s quite nice to see that she’s actually really normal — she also struggles with her relationships — but she takes such a nonjudgmental approach to sex, gender, and sexuality.”
And while none of us ever doubted Gillian Anderson would save the world, Hachem says she’s started working with a number of clients who reached out to her after seeing the show.
“Some of my patients have [mentioned] in sessions with me that they love the show because it normalised so many of the experiences they were having,” she says, adding that Sex Education’s unique ability to reduce the stigma and shame that surrounds sex is perhaps its greatest accomplishment.
“Everyone has their own turn on, everyone’s got their own thing… I think we really need to tap into that and foster what makes us unique and not be afraid to communicate that with our partner if we’re in a relationship or to own it if we are by ourselves,” she says. “I see so much shame even within my patients for thinking that something that turns them on is wrong or is bad, but when it comes to sex, nothing is off-limits.”
Kristen Amiet is a writer and editor who lives and works on Gadigal land. She writes about everything from pop culture to food and personal finance.