I am now thirteen years removed from high school. While it very much falls under the term “many moons ago,” the memories from high school have not left me. There is something so unique about those teenage years. They’re so formative, informative, scary, weird, dramatic, and, well, horny. Many teenagers most likely received The Talk when the clock struck just right in their life. Others learned from what movies and their imagination taught them. I fell into the latter category.
Through the gift of Netflix and quarantine, I had the wonderful opportunity to watch the newish show Sex Education. I heard about it from friends at work and how great it was. When I first started, I felt extremely uncomfortable with the fact that it was a portrayal of high schoolers exploring their sexual lives. It wasn’t long before I began to see the genius behind Sex Education. I say this as someone who identifies as Christian, someone who did not get The Talk, and as a person who cares deeply about those in high school. I wouldn’t do it again, but I love to help you walk through it.
Everyone should watch this show. Every teenager, parent, youth leader, pastors at every level, grandparent, adoptive or foster parent. Here’s why I champion this show for all:
This was the most diverse show I have ever come across, and it was portrayed as nothing short of absolutely normal. The most popular guy in school? Attractive, African American young man with two moms. The most confident guy? A sweet, charming, vibrant young man whose family hails from Africa. The dorky one? A young white guy from a single-parent home, who happens to be best friends with the confident guy. The angsty one? A girl with pink hair living in a trailer park, raising herself. I could go on and on and on. It was like stepping into a fresh universe where nothing was in question.
Well, except sex. Hilarious scenes where there’s a rumor of gonorrhea running rampant that is contagious through the air. How does the school respond? They talk about it. They bring in the local sex expert to normalize what is happening. There is also a scene with abortion, a story that brought the young girl there, and what happens when she goes through the process. You can’t forget the two “Christian” protestors outside the clinic (it wouldn’t be realistic without them, right?). That scene itself is raw and emotional.
So much of this show unravels the deep insecurities that high school seems to hand us upon entrance. From the popular kids, the bullies, the jocks and nerds, a trailer park girl, and a new kid — not one corner of high school goes untouched. And this is how I got over the fact that it was a portrayal of teens discovering themselves and others: I very deeply wish I had this show growing up. I doubt I would have made the reckless decisions I did in high school, strictly out of curiosity. Now, when I say “reckless,” in no way do I mean having sex. More on that in a bit. What I mean is letting myself be taken advantage of or acting out of character to who I was becoming.
Now, onto the topic you’re probably here for. The Sex in Sex Education. I have a mixed history when it comes to Christianity and The Sex. As mentioned, having never received The Talk, my discoveries were eager and early (too early). I didn’t become a Christian until 18, and even then, I was still having sex (and underage drinking). At that time, sex said belonging and being seen. It wasn’t until I felt the first sting of shame and blame within Church walls that I felt the need to give it up. I then swung hard into what can only be explained as Christian Purity Culture. I doubt I’m the only one with this history and it is not lost on others who have had a taste of it and got out soon enough. It took a lot (a lot, a lot, a lot) of therapy to undo so much of what it meant to belong and be seen outside of sex — and thank God for that. By the time purity culture stepped in, I was walking around in a blanket of shame. Hell, I even had a boyfriend who did not let it go unknown that I wasn’t a virgin “for him.” It was awful, hypocritical, and emotionally abusive.
There is a particular scene in Sex Education that summarizes a lot of what sex can look and feel like for many of us, especially teens. A young girl begins to explain that she feels pressured to have sex but is not attracted to people like that. She says she is “broken.” Jean, the sex expert, (so brilliantly played by Gillian Anderson) explains that she might be asexual and lovingly replies, “Sex does not make you whole. And so, how could you ever be broken?” A show placed in my life 13 years after high school spoke to me. Because of Purity Culture, I spent so many years with the idea that if I messed up or thought wrongly or didn’t pursue the right guy, that I was plopped on a broomstick straight to hell. It just wasn’t true.
I didn’t have a parent comfortable enough to tell me otherwise. Or a sex expert in my life to wake me up to the truths of what biology or science says is natural. Which (side comment), I think this is why waiting for marriage is so fascinating to others. How does anyone deny something that’s just there?! That might deserve its own post, but I can see why people wait and why people don’t.
When we Christians judge one another based on a personal decision others make in their life, we disempower a piece of a person. Sexuality is normal and healthy, and it is extremely important that Christians begin to understand the notion that sex isn’t just about our bodies being sacred; it is about how we understand the whole of who we are is sacred. Sexuality is just a piece of that. Shut that down or disempower it and there is a rupture to how someone can see themselves, how they should be treated, what can be healthy or unhealthy.
Another favorite scene? When Eric, our sweet, affable, goofy gay teen decides that he can believe in God and be gay. He soon finds he is accepted by his pastor and his parents. His little scales fall off and it’s so freaking beautiful. There is no curtain or line to cross. It’s enough for Eric to be who he is and love himself, too. Are you hearing me, church leaders? Small group leaders? Those who have any role speaking into another life?
Sex Education does a brilliant job of breaking down stereotypes, normalizing what should have been normal all along, and letting us know that “vagina” or “penis” or “vulva” or “abortion” or “douching” should not be off-limit words or topics. It’s like this show lifted the couch up to show what’s been sitting stale for far too long. And because it does normalize these things we just are not used to, it will make you feel uncomfortable at first. Good – let it! I was until I let go of the little things society has placed on me as being abnormal.
So, hey, give it a shot? There’s feminism with depth, redemption, sarcasm, silliness, and, well, sex. Have fun. Ask yourself questions. Ask your kids questions. Let it wash over and challenge you.