Why Sex Education Season 3 Is a Force of Positivity & Destigmatization - VRGyani News and Media


Thursday, September 30, 2021

Why Sex Education Season 3 Is a Force of Positivity & Destigmatization

Sex Education has never shied away from destigmatizing sexual topics that are typically deemed shameful or taboo. The British dramedy series has been praised for its celebration of sex and sexual identity in all forms, particularly in how it has explored sensitive storylines about sex that are often underrepresented in media, such as Lily's (Tanya Reynolds) struggle with vaginismus ("My vagina’s like a Venus flytrap”), Florence's (Mirren Mack) asexual awakening last season ("Sex doesn't make us whole, so how could you ever be broken?"), or Anwar's (Chaneil Kular) anxiety over douching before sex ("I'm really freaked out by bumholes"). The Netflix hit is clearly not afraid to dive headfirst into conversations that are typically swept under the rug due to embarrassment, ignorance, or a combination of the two.

The long-awaited Season 3 of Sex Education premiered on Netflix on September 17, and with it came a new chapter in Moordale's narrative as the infamous "sex school." Season 3 introduces a new antagonist in Hope Haddon (Jemima Kirke), the new headteacher to replace Mr. Groff (Alistair Petrie) after he is put on a mandatory leave at the end of Season 2. Hope is determined to restore Moordale back to its former glory as a prestigious institution dedicated to the rigorous acquisition and application of knowledge. As expected, Moordale continues to find itself in the news for its not-so-sterling reputation (see: a very panicked Dex (Lino Facioli) running naked across the quad). Over the course of the season, Hope begins to crack down on the students of Moordale, from implementing school uniforms — a choice which poses a severe disadvantage for the school's nonbinary students — and a strict behavioral code including walking in single file to class. Despite her alarmingly rigorous attempts to get Moordale under control, it seems that ship has already sailed: Moordale's reputation as the "sex school" has been sealed.

RELATED: 'Sex Education's Aimee Lou Wood Shares Vital Advice Received from the Show’s Intimacy Coordinator on Doing Sex Scenes

Hope resorts to a curriculum of shame that includes a new sex education program advocating abstinence and a new set of consequences for rule-breaking that involves publicly shaming students in front of the entire school by making them wear a sign around their neck that bears their "crime." As if it can't get any more dehumanizing, part of the punishment also requires the other students to ostracize the punished students, to not look or speak to them until their punishment is lifted.

This is where Season 3 of Sex Education veers into territory that is a bit hyperbolic. It is no secret that the public education system stifles sex positivity and often contributes to the widespread misformation about safe sex practices and sexual identity. And as Jean (Gillian Anderson) says in Season 1, "Intercourse can be wonderful, but it can also cause tremendous pain. And if you're not careful, sex can destroy lives." However, Hope's punishment of public shaming, especially the enforcement of signs, toes the line between realism and dramatization. That being said, the philosophy behind Hope's methods still rings true in not only our schools, but also in our embedded social norms of what is considered "normal."

Lily's storyline this season is perhaps the best example of public shaming. While it is highly unlikely that a student would ever be forced to wear a sign around her neck for writing erotic fan fiction, the sentiment that alien-erotica is grounds for humiliation echoes the widespread stigma that surrounds the culture of sexual fetishism in our society, especially for kinks or fetishes that are less common.

The immense popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise — despite its frustrating, and oftentimes dangerous, misrepresentation of the BDSM community — created a space where conversations about sexual fetishes don't always have to happen behind closed doors; but unfortunately, the newfound excitement surrounding BDSM was largely based on the inaccurate "Hollywood treatment" of kink and fetishism. Lily's role-playing kink is nearly as common as BDSM, but fandom role play such as alien-erotica is more commonly stigmatized in media as foolish or funny, or something to keep to oneself.

The ending of Season 3 sends a clear message. The stifling, and furthermore, shaming of sex, especially sexual fetish, goes hand in hand with the oppression of one's identity as a sexual being. At Moordale, or "Sparkside Academy," sex is viewed as a shameful act, especially when one's sexual desires are viewed as humiliating or inherently wrong. Lily's love of alien-erotica is more than a hobby, it is a passion that brings Lily joy and stimulates creative expression. Under Hope's backward curriculum, however, it is an embarrassment that can only be stifled by public humiliation. Hope's entire arc this season serves to propel Moordale forward into accepting their status as "Sex School" as something beautiful and celebratory, a welcome environment that stands unashamed in the face of social norms and sexual stigmatization.

Aimee's (Aimee Lou Wood) arc this season also brings to the table a conversation that is long overdue: the culture of vagina-shaming and its impact on how young people view their bodies. Since Season 1, Sex Education has created an atmosphere of body positivity ("Everyone has bodies, right? It’s nothing to be ashamed of"), particularly when it comes to disputing widespread stereotypes and beliefs about what is "normal" genitalia. In an interview with Refinery29 back in 2019, Emma Mackey (who plays Maeve Wiley) shared:

“There are lots of young women who feel like they have an ugly vagina or their vagina is wrong and it has to look a certain way … There’s this whole generation of young women who feel like they’re not adequate enough . . . I just find it so sad, and I really hope … this show will open conversations around topics like that.”

Arguably one of the most impactful — and surprisingly poignant — scenes in all of Sex Education is in Season 1, after a picture of Ruby's (Mimi Keene) vagina gets dispersed throughout school. One by one, many of Moordale's students choose to stand in solidarity with Ruby as they proudly proclaim at assembly, "It's my vagina!" In Season 3, Aimee becomes an advocate for vulva-positivity after Jean introduces her to a website called all-vulvas-are-beautiful.com. It's an important step for Aimee who is still learning how to heal after being sexually assaulted on the bus last season. Her iconic "vulva cupcakes" this season are more than just a comedic relief in a season tinged with deep heartbreak; they represent Aimee's journey to reclaiming her body on her own terms.

In light of recent shows that explore the dangerous or scary side of sex (see: Euphoria), Sex Education and its atmosphere of sex positivity is a welcome reprieve. It teaches the importance of knowledge, honesty, and consent, and it also teaches about pleasure, about not feeling shame for who or what you like. As everyone's favorite complex female character Maeve Wiley says in Season 3, “We shouldn't be shamed for having sexual desires. You make sex sound terrifying, but it doesn't have to be. It can be fun and beautiful and teach you things about yourself and your body.”

Sex Education is streaming on Netflix.

KEEP READING: ‘Sex Education’ Gets Season 4 Renewal

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