Sex Education’s Final Season Has A Lot Less Sex — But It’s Just As Brave

After awing audiences with three seasons of technicolour sex positivity, Sex Education’s final season may just be its most bold. Beloved for its honest and raw representations of sex, the Laurie Nunn creation follows Moordale High’s diverse cohort and their peer sex therapist, Otis. This season had its main cast attending Cavendish, a new college described as “super queer”, and dealing with new antics of change, relationships and sexuality.  
Living up to its namesake, Sex Education has been loved for its unafraid yet responsible representations of sex on screen. These awkward, sometimes hot and usually cringe scenes have covered a wide continuum of sexualities, identities and experiences. And its explicit nature made it one of the most impactful teen shows Netflix has created by demystifying taboos from cosplay sex to bottoming
With today’s TV landscape, defined by the “sick and twisted mind” of Sam Levinson, season four zigged where others have zagged by predominantly telling stories not about sex. For its final act, the show focused on the sexless relationships in the characters’ lives, like family and friendship, with an emphasis on the intimacy, fulfilment and beauty of the platonic. It’s an unexpected departure to the teen shows I’ve just come to expect.

Teen Dramas In a Post-Euphoria World

For a TV fiend like myself, Sex Education has always felt like a breath of fresh air. Beyond its witty script, lovable characters and engaging plot, the show can be celebrated for its responsible storytelling. Sex is the central plot device and each episode handles different sexual experiences with care, consideration and accuracy. 

Teen sex scenes usually feel more like they’re challenging teen audiences to “defy their fears” rather than question the social conditions that caused them in the first place. 

In many ways, the Netflix hit was a Trojan horse. It won its audience over with kitschy fashion, lots of raunch and British humour whilst passing on legitimate sex education. 
But in the wait between seasons, audiences have been exposed to a line-up of teen shows even less afraid to deal with teenage sex. Euphoria’s second season, for example, included endless nudity and gritty sex scenes that have since sparked criticism. It’s safe to say, the full frontal nudity of Sex Education’s first season was unlikely to shock my 2023 self, who’s come to expect the over-representation of sex in TV.  
There’s no denying the past decade has been radical in representing previously unrepresented relationships and dynamics. Yet, in the context of teen dramas, these more recent shows reproduce a lot of the same issues we see with the sexual revolution of the ‘70s. 
The original intention may have been to inspire sexual liberation and take the taboo away from sex but their glamorised portrayals blur this message. As described by writer Kameryn Griesser, teen sex scenes usually feel more like they’re challenging teen audiences to “defy their fears” rather than question the social conditions that caused them in the first place. 
That’s where Sex Education has always been different. It responsibly represented sex and the emotional, health and awkward parts that sometimes come with it. More importantly, the show never took to the soap box. It just committed to showing sex with realism over romanticism. 

School’s Out: Sex Education’s Final Act

Before this latest season, Otis’ clients tended to set the sex agenda of each episode. In a new school and with a rival sex therapist, O, this plot dynamic changes.  
There’s been a drop in sex scenes over the last eight episodes, which dramatically differs from the seasons before. The sex that is represented continues Sex Education’s streak as TV’s trailblazer. The trans sex scene between Roman and Abbi is nothing short of groundbreaking and beautiful. Jackson’s rimming discovery, which leads into a conversation about consent, continues to subvert his jock archetype. And Cal’s first sexual experience during their transition makes for a heartbreakingly honest depiction of trans coming of age. 
In place of sex scenes, the friendships and family dynamics receive the same attention and value. It wasn’t until the final credits rolled that I noticed most of the main cast’s storylines this season aren’t sex-related. In fact, none of the couples I’d been rooting for over the last few years even ended up together.
Instead, I found myself fawning over Eric and Otis’ friendship, which I now realise had always been the show’s core love story. The duo’s dynamic has long been a silently subversive part of the show by reimagining teen boy friendships. 
The finale episode features a typical trope of the genre: a school dance. In the world of teen TV, this would be the storyline that reunites our romantic leads with a night of first-time sex. I even naively expected an Otis and Maeve reunion but Sex Education played with my expectation. After seasons of Eric and Otis having “will they, won't they” romances with other characters, it’s each other who they’re dancing with and spending the night with (playing Smash Bros).  Although both characters have had romantic storylines over the course of the show, Nunn reminds us that their platonic soulmate bond is still the most central. 
The montage of Eric and Otis playing video games together is paired with many of the main characters hugging and reconciling with their parents. 
Again, Sex Education remixes the storylines and scenes we’re used to in a teen drama. Through an aerial shot of their bed — which is actually like many of the show’s prior sex scenes — Cal’s last scene shows them lying next to their mum as they hold hands. This touching moment followed Cal having to face the challenges that come with transitioning. Acceptance like this might not be the reality for all trans teens, but the show offers a hopeful portrayal of familial love and re-centres it in their lives.

Whilst there is a resounding need to depict teen sexuality on our screens, there’s also a need to represent dynamics outside of sex as well.

In the case of Maeve, we see the complex grief that comes with the death of a parent who suffered from addiction. Despite teasing fans for years with the possibility of her and Otis being together, this family storyline makes up most of Maeve’s arc. The character of Aimee is the same. 
Nunn has taken the time with Aimee to explore the aftermath of experiencing sexual assault — without ever letting it define Aimee’s character. By the show’s finale, Aimee begins to overcome her fear of physical intimacy and kisses her season-long crush. Like Maeve, it wasn’t Aimee’s romantic relationship that drove this growth. Instead, it was the relationship she had with herself. 
Sex Education hasn’t regressed on its bold stances of sex positivity, but enriched it. By representing the breadth of relationships and dynamics in teen life, it offers us a refreshed portrayal of sex and identity. And for an era of TV that has seen the actors of teen dramas themselves having to advocate for less sexual nudity in scripts, that’s a pretty radical choice. 

The Platonic Revolution

The last episodes might have not received the acclaim of previous seasons, but with some of the cast not returning, a new school setting and a two-year gap between seasons, that’s not a surprise. And it’s still better than most teenage-themed shows.
It didn’t lose its edge in representing teen lives in new, and more importantly, accurate ways. The lack of sex still mirrors the reality of being a teenager, with teenage sexual activity experiencing a steady decline over the last decade. Whilst there is a resounding need to depict teen sexuality on our screens, there’s also a need to represent dynamics outside of sex as well. 
We can’t forget that the value we socially place on romantic relationships over platonic ones is an effect of the patriarchy. Our viewing of romantic partnership as the most important came about because it originally let men isolate women from their community. Sex Education took the opportunity to begin unravelling this tradition. Its final act challenged these assumptions and equally valued the power of platonic bonds in the lives of its characters. 
This last season calls to continue this path of radical storytelling about a diverse spectrum of people but to also explore the often forgotten experiences of personal identity, friends and family. Given the power of TV, the personal and collective effects of rebalancing these scales could be nothing short of revolutionary. 
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