What schools could learn from Netflix’s Sex Education

Not a condom on a banana in sight


If your school's sex ed was lacking, you are not alone.

A recent survey by Contraception Education Reform Team, a policy research team affiliated with the Buchanan Institute, found that over 82 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with the sex education they received in school.

The survey found people felt ill-informed due to a lack of breadth in what was covered.

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In our research last year, many people reported feeling uninformed, unprepared, and unsupported in their experience of side effects of contraception. They felt they were not warned of these side effects, or given enough information about them at any stage, and many felt that, when they did tell health professionals about their side effects, that sometimes they felt dismissed and not sufficiently supported. At CERT, we want to campaign for reforms to contraceptive care and education so that people have better access to information on side effects, are more prepared for them, and better supported by health professionals. Come along on the 22nd November to learn more about these problems, CERT's aims, and how you can get involved in the campaign for change. #contraception #contraceptionchoices #malecontraceptive #contraceptivereform #reproductivehealth #medicalreform #healtheducation

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This could not be more different to Netflix's Sex Education. In its two very binge-worthy seasons, it has hopped, skipped and jumped through a wide range of topics that are often ignored in schools. It treats nothing as off-limits and explores all topics around sex sensitively and considerately.

So, what is Sex Education getting so right that many schools are clearly getting so wrong?

It's sex-positive

Most people have sex because they enjoy it. This simple fact often feels ignored by schools. I remember in year seven biology lessons learning very briefly about when contraception is used, which swiftly moved on to a very brief outline of what contraception is and how it works. There was no linkage made between the two.

Meanwhile, the very premise of Sex Education is sex-positive. Most of Otis' time is spent counselling people on how to have more enjoyable sex rather than managing its harms. Even with the chlamydia plot-line at the start of season two, any slut-shaming of the a capella group by other characters is treated unsympathetically by both the main characters and the general narrative of the series.

It's hella feminist

Sex Education is not afraid to tackle big themes that school SRE lessons often shy away from addressing properly. This is especially true of female-specific and gendered issues.

Unfortunately, most girls have a story similar to Amy's, yet gender-based violence is rarely given the prominence in education it deserves. This is especially true of its less extreme forms and the everyday sexism that normalise the worst examples of it.

Also, that ~awkward~ scene in the pharmacy after Ruby and Otis drunkenly shagged is important because not only does it show that mistakes sometimes happen in the heat of the moment; but also it shows that contraception is both partners' responsibilities.

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For our third day of CERT’s 2020 strategy, we want to look into the common issue of stigma around contraception, and the steps that we can take to reduce it, so that talking about your contraception – your worries, your queries, your experiences – is just as normal as talking about anything else. Stigma: We want to overcome the stigma and discomfort that often surrounds conversations about contraception, so that more people are empowered to discuss their contraceptive options and experiences, and have greater access to information. We plan to produce a research paper into the causes, effects and solutions of contraceptive stigma whilst also running a grassroots awareness and policy change campaign, to get more people talking freely about contraception. #contraceptionuk #contraception #reproductivehealth #womenshealth #contraceptivereform #malecontraceptive

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It's queer as fuck

A whole range of sexualities feature in Sex Education and each are treated sensitively. Not only is a main character a gay man who dabbles in drag and gender fluidity but asexuality, bisexuality and pansexuality all feature. There is even an entire subplot about anal douching!

Meanwhile, it is an understatement to say LGBT+ individuals have been let down by the SRE education delivered in schools. Despite 49% of young people identifying as something other than completely heterosexual, many schools completely ignore LGBT+ issues.

In the UK, this can be traced back to an infamous law passed by Thatcher's government in the 80s called Section 28. This banned the "promotion of homosexuality" by publicly funded bodies like schools and hospitals. However, it wasn't repealed in England and Wales until 2003 and the current compulsory guidance provided by the government on SRE was published in 2000. A new, more LGBT+ friendly curriculum is being introduced in September but this has already been met with backlash from a very small number of parents.

In Scotland, one of the first laws passed by the devolved parliament was to repeal Section 28. But this doesn't matter because the Scottish government lacks the power to force individual schools to teach certain things – it can only encourage.

So, how the hell are Netflix doing better than ~actual schools~ in educating people about sex?

Well, for one, they're not shying away from difficult topics. Schools need to realise that they are educating real people with real lives that aren't perfectly textbook.