By depicting the reality of ‘everyday’ sexual assault, Netflix’s Sex Education does something vitally important

Almara Abgarian
Ncuti Gatwa and Asa Butterfield in Sex Education: Netflix

As a journalist who specialises in writing about sex, I had very high expectations for season two of Netflix’s Sex Education, which was released last Friday.

For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s a quick recap: it follows Otis, a teenager who takes it upon himself to dole out sexual health and relationship advice to his peers for money, harnessing the knowledge he has picked up from his mother, a sex therapist, as well as the lives of his friends.

The beauty of the show is that it tackles some of the biggest topics in society, among them LGBT stigma, slut shaming, sexual exploration and the overall intricacies of sex and human behaviour.

But while season one was glorious in all its sex positivity, this time around the writers have taken on a more harrowing issue, one that most women can relate to: sexual assault.

Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood) is standing on a packed bus, holding a cake that she’s baked for her best friend Maeve (Emma Mackey), when she notices a stranger moving behind her. There’s a man masturbating on her leg. She yells out for someone to help. No one does.

She then tells the driver to stop the bus and promptly gets off – and that’s when she sees the large semen stain on her jeans.

What follows is a show of female strength and friendship, as Maeve asks Aimee to go to the police and report the incident by way of a “birthday present”. But sexual assault can leave deep wounds; over the next few episodes, tension builds as Aimee decides to walk to school every morning because she’s too afraid to get on the bus, and breaks up with her boyfriend because she can’t stand him touching her.

For me, the reason why this storyline hits home is twofold.

Let me start by saying that rape scenes in TV shows and movies are important, because we should never shy away from showing the harsh reality of sexual assault. But sometimes, what makes a bigger impact is showing normalised “everyday assault” that may not always be considered as serious (though it is) and how it can change a person’s life.

Secondly, what happened to Aimee was oddly similar to what happened to me when I was a teenager.

I too was on a bus, on my way to visit my dad who lived on the other side of the country. A man sat down next to me, closer than he needed to, and warning bells started going off in the back of my head.

Half an hour into the journey, he slowly and deliberately ran his hand down my thigh. I froze, then suddenly stood up, at which point he got scared and moved to a different seat.

Like Aimee, I got no support from the people who were on the bus with us. Not even when the man ran off at the next stop and I was crying down the phone to my mother did anyone ask if I was OK. I was 13 years old.

The interesting thing about Aimee’s scenario in Sex Education isn’t the assault itself, but a scene that comes later on, where she and fellow female students are told to come up with something that they all have in common. Their answer? “Non-consensual dicks”.

And there it is – the golden moment of the show that ties all women together. Every woman I know has experienced sexual assault. Two of my best friends have been raped. A relative of mine was told to perform sexual acts on a man while he held a knife to her throat, and, as a result, tried to kill herself months later.

These are not singular incidents that exist in a vacuum, and that’s why I’m so happy that Sex Education has taken on this topic. I hope it will resonate with viewers of all genders and ages, but especially with men. Consent is a theme that runs throughout the show, from when Otis asks if it’s OK to touch his girlfriend’s breasts to Aimee’s boyfriend who understands that she needs time to process the incident.

Although it is marketed as a teen comedy, Sex Education is just as important for adults to watch as for teenagers, because these aren’t just funny storylines created merely to entertain. No, this actually is sexual education, packaged in a format that will appeal to a modern audience.

Let’s face it: while improvements are being made, the UK’s sex education curriculum leaves much to be desired and we need to teach children about things like consent, as well as gender fluidity and general sexual health.

Similarly, adults need somewhere where they can talk about their problems, from their partner not having touched them in years to fears of intimacy or how to please themselves sexually. Porn and Google, while both very helpful, are not enough. Until this support exists in the real world, we could all do with watching Sex Education.

Plus, the opening scene is a close-up of an erect penis, and that’s always fun.