If there's one thing Sex Education understands better than any other TV show right now, it's that sex is everywhere. From the hook-ups gone wrong that open most of the episodes to each pop song's barely concealed horniness in the soundtrack, Netflix's teen hit is unapologetically horny-on-main.
But season two, in one particularly powerful moment, took things in another direction and looked directly at asexuality, something that's still rarely explored on the small screen.
Queer representation on TV has obviously made a lot of progress, especially over the last few years, but acknowledgements of asexuality are few and far between, especially when it comes to teenage characters.
With sex being as ubiquitous as it is for the show, there's always the danger that exploring this topic in particular could go wrong somehow. But instead, Sex Education approaches asexuality with the kind of empathy and understanding that this aspect of queerness sorely deserves more of.
Florence, a character first introduced in season two, is cast as one of the title characters in the school's sure-to-be disastrous Romeo & Juliet: The Musical. During rehearsals, Lily confronts Florence about her lack of chemistry with Jackson on stage, saying: "This is a play about horny teenagers, and I don't believe that you wanna have sex with [Jackson] at all."
As it turns out, Florence doesn't want to have sex with her Romeo, or with anyone else for that matter either.
When she tries to explain this to Otis, he insists that Florence just hasn't found the right person yet. While this is obviously short-sighted advice, Sex Education has always done a good job of highlighting the limits that come with Otis' straight perspective on sex and relationships.
So Florence instead seeks advice from Jean, who's working on campus to revamp the sex-ed curriculum as an unofficial SRE therapist.
Florence's conversation with Jean touches on lots of ideas and preconceptions when it comes to asexuality. At one point, Florence even utters one of her biggest doubts out loud: "I think I might be broken." This hits particularly hard in a show like Sex Education, which balances earnestness around coming-of-age with the pervasiveness of sex and sexuality that comes with it.
The way in which Jean puts Florence's mind at ease around her asexuality is simple and powerful, saying "Sex doesn't make us whole, so how could you possibly be broken?" Jean goes on to explain that asexuality by no means excludes someone from being in a romantic relationship, touching on a variety of ace identities, and, most importantly, acknowledging their validity.
This feels like a major step forward when it comes to queer representation – so often LGBTQ+ romances are explored through sex and sexual attraction – but for asexual representation specifically, this is groundbreaking in an even bigger and more important way.
The general lack of asexuality on TV remains a striking absence, despite the wider advances made towards better queer representation on our screens. While some other shows like BoJack Horseman and Emmerdale have also approached this topic, there's something particularly important about the fact a show called Sex Education can validate people who don't feel any kind of sexual attraction, that these feelings will never mean that you’re broken.
Sex Education seasons one and two are available to stream now on Netflix.
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