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Sex Education: How a Netflix Show Taught Us What We Didn’t Learn in School

 Team Embodied highly recommends the Netflix show "Sex Education."
Team Embodied highly recommends the Netflix show "Sex Education."

Set in the U.K. at Moordale Secondary School, the show’s central character is an awkward 16-year-old virgin named Otis, whose mother is a sex therapist. Along with his friends Maeve and Eric, Otis opens a clinic and begins offering sex and relationship advice to his peers. In addition to exploring Otis’s own challenges around sex and sexuality, the show follows the stories of the people he encounters through the clinic — highlighting a diverse array of sexual identities, relationships and challenges.

In this episode of Embodied, host Anita Rao speaks with critics and fans of the show about what they’ve learned from its first three seasons. Drew Gregory, a writer and filmmaker who reviewed all three seasons of the show for Autostraddle, shares how the show resonated with her as a trans woman and a former peer counselor. Dr. Rosara Torrisi, founding director and senior therapist atThe Long Island Institute of Sex Therapy, describes how the character of Dr. Jean Milburn succeeds and misses the mark when it comes to providing an accurate portrayal of sex therapists and sex therapy.

Embodied intern Anthony Howard hosts a roundtable discussion with two fellow superfans: Claire Holland, a writer and host of the Sexy Books Podcast, and Tyra Blizzard, a social activism influencer. Together, they discuss the characters, storylines and relationships that resonated with them most.

Thank you to Kendall Umetsu, Chris Watkins and show producer Audrey Smith for contributing voice notes to this episode.

Three Things We Learned from Netflix’s Sex Education (that we didn’t learn in sex ed)

#1 – Solo sex is normal … and can even be empowering.

Starting with Aimee's iconic masturbation montage in Season 1, the show chips away at the shame and stigma around self-pleasure. For several characters, getting to know their own bodies through solo sex even makes partnered sex more enjoyable.

#2 – Queer joy exists … and matters.

Eric is bullied for being gay, but his story is about so much more than that. Throughout the show, we also see Eric experience friendship, community, romance, pleasure and a full range of human emotions … showing us that LGBTQ+ narratives can and should be about more than just the challenges.

#3 – Sex ed isn’t just for high schoolers.

Just because Jean Milburn is a sex therapist doesn't mean she has her sex life all figured out. As one of many characters whose sexuality evolves throughout the series, Dr. Milburn shows us that sex education is a lifelong process.

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Audrey Smith
Anthony Howard
Anita Rao is the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content. She has traveled the country recording interviews for the Peabody Award-winning StoryCorps production department, founded and launched a podcast about millennial feminism in the South, and served as the managing editor and regular host of "The State of Things," North Carolina Public Radio's flagship daily, live talk show. Anita was born in a small coal-mining town in Northeast England but spent most of her life growing up in Iowa and has a fond affection for the Midwest.