The Netflix teen comedy-drama Sex Education has been making waves since its debut in 2019, with its bold and honest portrayal of various aspects of sexuality and identity. The show’s creator, Laurie Nunn, reflects on the impact and legacy of her creation as the fourth and final series is released.
A teenage sex therapist with a twist
Sex Education follows the adventures of Otis (Asa Butterfield), a shy and inexperienced teenager who, encouraged by the rebellious Maeve (Emma Mackey), sets up a secret sex therapy clinic at their school Moordale. Otis’s expertise comes from his mother Jean (Gillian Anderson), a renowned sex therapist who is not shy about sharing her knowledge and opinions with her son.
The show’s premise was inspired by Laurie Nunn’s own experience of growing up with a psychotherapist mother, who would often talk to her about sex and relationships. “It was a real opportunity to make a TV show that is really funny and entertaining and quite crude, and sometimes really outrageous,” Laurie says. “But it’s also able to touch on topics that young people feel are important when it comes to talking about their sexuality and identity.”
Breaking taboos and stereotypes
One of the show’s strengths is its diversity and representation of different sexual orientations, gender identities, ethnicities, disabilities, and body types. The show features characters who are gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, transgender, non-binary, and more. It also tackles issues such as slut-shaming, abortion, virginity, masturbation, sexual assault, STDs, consent, and mental health.
Laurie says she wanted to create a show that was inclusive and respectful of everyone’s experiences and perspectives. “I think it’s really important to have representation on screen, because it can make people feel less alone, and it can also educate people who might not have encountered those stories before,” she says.
One of the stories that had a significant impact on viewers was Lily’s (Tanya Reynolds) storyline from the first series, where she learns she has vaginismus. The NHS describes the condition as when the vagina suddenly tightens up just as you try to insert something into it. “I probably got more messages about that than anything else that we’ve ever touched on in the show,” Laurie says. She says young women got in touch to say it had helped them realise they may have the condition and that they’d been to see a doctor as a result. “It actually felt like there was something that was educational in the show that went out and actually did have an affect on people’s lives.”
Another story that resonated with audiences was Aimee’s (Aimee Lou Wood) portrayal of being sexually assaulted on a bus in series two. The scene was praised for its realism and sensitivity, and Aimee Lou Wood won a Bafta in 2021 for her performance. Laurie says she wanted to show the aftermath of the trauma and how Aimee’s friends supported her through it. “I think it was really important to show that you can recover from something like that, and that you can find your voice again,” she says.
Creating a happy and hopeful ending
The fourth and final series of Sex Education sees Otis, Maeve, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), Adam (Connor Swindells), Ola (Patricia Allison), Lily, Aimee, Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), Ruby (Mimi Keene), Rahim (Sami Outalbali), Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu), Anwar (Chaneil Kular), Cal (Dua Saleh), Isaac (George Robinson), Jean, Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt), Mr Groff (Alistair Petrie), Maureen (Samantha Spiro), Hope (Jemima Kirke), Calum (Jason Isaacs), and others face new challenges and opportunities as they enter their final year at Moordale.
Laurie says she decided to end the show after four series because she felt it was the right time to wrap up the characters’ journeys. “I think it’s important to not overstay your welcome as a TV show,” she says. “I wanted to end on a high note, and I wanted to give the characters a happy and hopeful ending.”
She says she hopes the show has made people laugh, cry, think, and feel more comfortable with themselves and others. “It’s been really wonderful to see how people have connected with the characters and also the subject matter,” she says. “I hope that people enjoy the final outing.”
Sex Education season four is available to stream on Netflix from September 21.