When you watch Sex Education showing on Netflix, there’s something you cannot help but admire – the freedom of these characters. These teenagers are carefree, wild, mature, intelligent, in tune with their emotions. They explore, make mistakes, find a way to correct their mistakes, and they have loads of sex.
In the series, parents and guardians give their teenagers the freedom to explore their sexuality, be comfortable with their humanness – that is recognising who they are, coming to terms with who they are, making mistakes, facing the consequences of those mistakes, and correcting them. Many of the kids are not hiding their relationships or secretly having sex; they are doing this so blatantly and unapologetically.
Their sexual freedom is admirable, but one cannot help but wonder if this portrayal of teenagers as frequently horny humans isn’t a bit exaggerated. Are they really having that much sex? And in public? Like fondling each other or selling vulva cakes and kissing in the school environment?
While we may not be sure about having sex so publicly in schools, the truth is that teenagers are having sex. Plenty of it.
One of the differences between teenagers in Sex Education, and teenagers in the “real world” is that many, especially in this part of the world, cannot relate to the sexual freedom these teens have and the openness with which they talk about their relationships and sexual activities at such young ages. Here, many teenagers do not also have the sex education the characters are being exposed to. Their sexual life goes beyond just having sex to seeking knowledge about their bodies, about sex and their relationships. One cannot fail to notice that they also have access to help. They can freely talk to their parents about their feelings and relationships, their school has a SRE curriculum, there are sexual health clinics where these teenagers could go see a sexual health professional and talk about their sexual problems without being preached to, judged, or condemned.
While many may not be in total support of teenagers spending the bulk of their time worrying about and participating in sexual activities, sex, sexual health and sexuality is a big part of our existence that we cannot wish away, particularly for teenagers. That leaves us with two options: come to terms with the fact that your teenager could be thinking about or having sex and put a system in place to guide him/her, or live in denial or in hope that your teenager would want to have nothing to do with sex.
Beyond offering abstinence-only sexual education, many schools have no provision for sex education. There is no SRE curriculum, neither are there sexual health professionals students can talk to about sex. Sex is being talked about in hushed voices, and discussing topics like masturbation, STIs, genitals, and the like are (almost) taboos. Teenagers are meant to be sexually naive, and the only sexual advice many people were given was abstinence.
Exaggerated or not, teenagers are having sex and, no, it isn’t just in movies. Many are fantasizing about it and curiosity is fingering their genitals. The only way they can gain satisfaction is through knowledge. While abstinence is great, we seem to have gotten to a point where abstinence and the fear of pregnancy are not sufficient enough to be the only sex education teenagers get. Teaching children about sex using the fear of pregnancy or hellfire as a tool may just be counter-productive; we may be raising children who are scared of their own emotions, minds and bodies, and adults who have very little knowledge of sexual intimacy.
Secondary school students talk about sex a lot. They read books and watch porn. They go into closets and touch each other’s bodies. Some are caught in bushes or empty classes after school hours and are shamed on assembly grounds. Some are caught masturbating and are shamed. Some get pregnant and are shamed. The typical response or reaction to teenagers’ sexual desires and actions is usually shame, as opposed to teaching them and imparting knowledge.
Teenagers will have sex whether we like it or not, and failure to create a safe space where they can talk to us about it or seek guidance will result in them either doing it without our knowledge, them learning from the wrong sources, or pushing back as they did to Hope, their new headmistress.
The best we can do, when it comes to sexual matters, is to teach and guide children and teenagers, both at home and in schools, so their actions or inactions can be done from a place of knowledge.
From teaching people about consent, the importance of therapy, and many more, it is commendable that Sex Education is tackling complex sex, relationship and life topics. Hopefully, measures like this would be taken in the real world.