I overanalyzed ‘Intercourse Training’ so you do not have to
The third season of Netflix’s “Sex Education” starts off as you’d expect from the title: Lots of people have sex. This more graphic opener sets the tone for a season about sex positivity with a characteristically slippery humor that leaves the audience pleasantly surprised by the tumultuous season ahead.
While Sex Education lives up to its name by discussing a variety of topics related to sex and sexuality, the heart of the show lies in their relationships – sexual or otherwise. In fact, the best relationship on the show goes with best friends Maeve and Aimee. Whether it’s checking each other out or referring to each other as “each other’s mothers”, Maeve and Aimee’s relationship has definitely been a highlight of the season. One of my favorite moments between these two was their makeup in episode 7, when they both apologize for the hurtful things they said to each other in the previous episode and immediately forgive each other. Usually this immediate forgiveness bothers me because it doesn’t seem to be deserved; However, the platonic love they have for one another is so well established that it is entirely believable that they can find each other so quickly after an argument.
The friendship between Maeve and Aimee works so well because they communicate with each other. Healthy and unhealthy communication in all types of relationships are major topics of the season. One of the most important examples of healthy communication is when Maeve and Isaac get together in episode 4 (although one of the worst examples of unhealthy communication is Isaac’s failure to tell Maeve about the deleted voicemail until she’s kissed him). Since Isaac is physically disabled, Maeve is not entirely sure how to have sex with him and is afraid to ask about it. Fortunately, Isaac breaks the ice by telling her, “If you put your hand on my chest, I’ll show you [what I can feel.]“From there, Maeve asks if she can take off his shirt and Isaac asks where Maeve would like to be touched.
The scene is a little flirtatious, a little awkward. Most importantly, mutual consent is both useful and sexy for both parties. Another great example is when Jackson and Cal decide not to have a romantic relationship with each other. Despite both admitting that they like each other romantically and that much of the season is focused on their developing relationship, Jackson concludes that “I’m just not gay,” and that he still sees Cal as female even though they are non-binary. The maturity in this scene is so refreshing. Cal and Jackson each communicate their expectations and limits for a romantic relationship. They realize that these expectations and boundaries do not match, so instead of trying to force each other into a couple, they split up as friends, which would inevitably end in a bitter breakup.
Hope’s new sex education classes are master classes in unhealthy communication. In addition to targeting straight relationships, the new curriculum demonizes sex and focuses on scaring teenagers into abstinence rather than teaching them how to have sex safely. The most ridiculous element of these courses is the ban on any questions the students might have. Hope’s version of sex education communicates harmful stereotypes and actively prevents dialogue between students and between students and teachers. Obviously, not every teen is sex obsessed, but those interested in sex should have access to the relevant information so they can be safe and have fun.
Let’s talk about hope. When she’s featured in Episode 1, I immediately referred to her as the big-bad guys of this season – but that’s because I’ve seen and read a lot of YA fiction. To the poor, unsuspecting students of Moordale, their new headmistress represented exactly what her name suggests: hope for a better term, hope for more acceptance from themselves and others, hope for … Instead, with each new restriction, hope dwindled. Hope herself became more strict and less empathetic as the season progressed, likely in large part due to her own dwindling hope of being a birth mother. A particularly tough moment is when Hope Vivienne says: “The sooner you and your fragile, petty peers realize that you are not that special and that the real world doesn’t care about your supposed problems, the better.” While every teenager does this Claiming immediately dismissed as insensitive banter by a typical YA antagonist, we get more context for Hope’s perspective later in the season when we discover that she tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant. In the last episode, she confesses to Otis that “my body is not doing what it is supposed to do”. When she said this, all of the anger I felt toward her was instantly replaced by pity. Obviously, she never had the sex education her students (and I would argue any student) desperately need. Students need sex education that doesn’t just address mechanics or use scare tactics to encourage abstinence; we need sex education courses that destigmatize sex as a whole.
I want to end this deep dive with Joy. Despite having no dialogue and less than five minutes of screen time, Jean’s newborn daughter Joy is a central figure this season. Her conception creates tension between Jean and Jakob, which in turn causes tension in their blended family. Your performance motivates other characters to reflect and reevaluate. Hope and Jean contrast their existence as women and as caregivers. Finally, her name sums up the show’s general message about sex and relationships. Baby Joy is literally the product of a pleasurable act, even if not all babies are. Engaging in interpersonal relationships, including sexual relationships, should be enjoyable. Her name is also inspired by something Jakob Ola says before the baby is named: “You remind me of joy.” Literally and figuratively giving birth to Joy takes work; but the work is worth it.