Sex Education is one helluva series on Netflix. This series that aired in January this year was an instant hit with Netflix’s patrons.
It’s sensitive handling of the subject matter has earned it rave reviews from all over the world and has made instant stars of its young cast. But it touched a chord with audiences in India.
The large chunk of Netflix’s Indian audience comprises urban millennials and younger people who share a more liberal and progressive outlook on life.
Issues like premarital sex, overturning caste rigidity, same-sex relationships and women empowerment that have traditionally been stigmatized by the staff bearers of orthodoxy are championed by this group.
Unfettered by the constraints that ritualistic religion imposes on a person, these youngsters do not feel constrained to challenge the status quo.
And this is why ‘Sex Education’ has got the young people talking and in effect reopened a can of worms, India’s deep and abiding unwillingness to talk about SEX!
The show revolves around 3 high schoolers, all misfits in one way or another- Otis, our awkward but endearing protagonist, his gay best friend, Eric and the rebel bad girl Maeve.
The three protagonists have their own diverse backstories. Otis lives with his single mother Dr Jean Milburn, a sex therapist. Otis’ divorced mother symbolizes a woman who will not let patriarchy define her conduct or lifestyle.
She is completely in charge of her sexuality, she indulges in frequent one-night stands and declines to be in a committed relationship because she is quite content with her life.
Otis having grown up in the proximity of a liberated woman, has a surprisingly deep understanding of human sexuality but faces an issue of his own. He is unable to masturbate.
Eric, on the other hand, makes no bones about hiding his strong undercurrents of virility and is unabashedly gay. The audience roots for him as he nourishes a helpless crush for one of the popular kids of their class.
He wants to be the centre of attention and rise up the high school hierarchy. So far so good, but it also shows a raging turmoil that is inside that happy chirpy exterior.
Eric’s family is deeply religious. And he has to hide his true self from his family. He dare not come out of the closet as his family firmly believes that homosexuality is unnatural and it is a crime in the eyes of God.
Maeve is a lone wolf who despises socialization. Rumours of her being a nymphomaniac fly fast and thick and she does not let them affect her.
Maeve was abandoned by her father, her mother was arrested on charges of drug dealing and she was raised by her brother. Economic and familial security has eluded her all her life. This has made her a fiercely independent individual.
Maeve is insanely clever, reads literature penned by strong feminists and is always on the lookout to make money-legally. And like Otis’ mother, she too owns her sexuality and refuses to be drawn into a relationship.
There is a plethora of supporting characters- each exploring an angle of sexuality. There’s Adam Groff, a stud who dates one of the most popular girls in school.
He encounters problems while orgasming. He also frets having to live under his headmaster dad’s shadow and this affects his psyche as well as sexual performance and resorts to bullying to let off his angst.
Aimee Gibbs, who has been shown as a gregarious and popular girl in the series, tries her hardest to fit in with the ‘cool crew’ of her school.
Even though she indulges in a lot of sex, she feels something is missing in her life because she hasn’t yet learned the truth and power of female sexuality.
Most of the characters on this show are teenagers, brimming over with hormones and in a mad dash to explore the enticing and grown-up world of sex. But, in the process, they start to encounter sexual issues because they have only just forayed into this domain.
Issues that were faced by Otis, were resolved with his instinctive understanding of the human psyche and its influence on sexuality. So, essentially, the series talks about sex.
It does not shy away from topics such as an adolescent’s need to masturbate. Its characters try to discover the pleasure points of their own body, either by themselves or by engaging with another person.
All in all, their approach to sexual growth is healthy. Here we come back to the Indian context. India is extremely prudish when it comes to sex. The three-lettered word is steeped in interdiction. Sex is unofficially prohibited.
It is to be carried out between two unwilling individuals-man and woman with the sole purpose of creating life, and of course after marriage.
It is an impure and unclean activity. Urges are promptings that have to be curbed. This priggishness surrounding sex owes its inception to the puritanical Victorian Rule when sexuality was branded immoral and the root cause of all physical and psychological ailments.
And that priggery seeped into the regular Indian’s mindset, took root and entrenched itself. A deeply rooted attitude towards sex manifested itself in all aspects of human life.
It even made its way into a religion which now began to be yielded as a baton to discourage people from exploring their natural urges. Most importantly, our forced aversion towards sex inched its way into education as well.
There is no comprehensive sex education in India. For decades, education policymakers from governments helmed by different political parties have debated the merits and demerits of introducing sex education as a subject at the secondary level.
But the hours of arguments came to nothing. Every respective government has dragged its feet in implementing sex education as a subject.
For ages, both ministers and anxious parents have tried to pass off sex as a degenerate western ‘practice’. It is a shameful obscene subject matter that no Indian child should be exposed to.
Here are some asinine reasons usually cited by both to push back against the demand of introducing sex education-
• Sex education will sow the seeds of desire and lust in children.
• Indian adolescents don’t need to learn about sex because its only in the west where the youth engage in pre-marital sex.
• Our values, traditions and rich anti-sex stance will act as a deterrent for indulging in sex, so there is no need to teach them about safe sex.
• This is something only adults should learn about after marriage; all others should abstain from it.
• Talking about sex, reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases will make children uncomfortable and might induce the boys to tease girls.
• Sex education may put dirty ideas into boys’ heads and it might turn them into rapists.
• Boys don’t need to learn about safe sex because they cannot conceive and they are never the victims of sex crimes.
The result of this tooth and nail opposition to sex education is for all to behold.
Young people on the cusp of adulthood will invariably be attracted to the forbidden fruit that is sex. But their notions are skewed, half-baked at best; all credit goes to the misconceptions that swirl around sex.
Instead of relying on trained teachers to explain sex in a healthy and sanitary way, they derive information from word of mouth, shady websites and adult sites.
They do not learn important concepts like the utmost importance of consent; the incident rate of rape perpetrated by minors is on the rise.
53% of children in the age bracket 5-12 years have faced some sort of sexual assault- a large chunk of them are boys.
Most shockingly, India has the dubious distinction of one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world almost double that of the US.
Granted, child marriage is a shockingly common reality in India, but many of these pregnancies happen to unmarried teen girls and are a result of unsafe sex.
Similarly, the HIV/AIDS rate is significant in India as well which puts paid to the complacent argument that young unmarried Indians do not engage in sex.
Teen pregnancy and premarital sex have not been imported from the west. Young people will naturally want to experiment with sex, it is society’s duty to equip them with the proper knowledge to avert such calamities.
The argument that you don’t need to learn about sex till marriage falls flat on its face when smacked with the data that proves that India’s population is escalating madly.
Clearly, married people too could do with some education on contraceptives. In the series ‘Sex Education’ we see teenagers engaging confidently in safe sex and that is because they have been taught about sex from the scientific perspective.
And despite that, if they make mistakes, it is a lapse of judgment. But the same cannot be said about Indians, who are kept in the dark about sex all their growing-up years.
A proper respectful attitude towards sex had not even been inculcated in them.
While it may make many Indians uncomfortable, the concept of pre-marital sex being unpalatable to the vast majority, the fact remains that people, married or unmarried will have sex, for recreational purposes.
Yet another issue ‘Sex Education’ highlights, is that parents in India will never ever broach the sex talk with their children.
In the show, Otis’ mother is seen to have normalized the concept of sex very early and that is why he grows up with a healthy and matured understanding of the subject.
And when he encounters a problem with masturbation, he has the choice of approaching his parent and talk about the issue.
When a child is in distress, especially when it comes to issues pertaining to sexual or reproductive health, she/he should be able to turn to the parents.
And more importantly, lines of communication should be open between parents and children for yet another very important reason.
If a child is sexually abused, she/he (yes it happens to male children as well) should not have to bear the pain and horror alone.
Reporting these crimes to their parents will ensure they get the physical and psychological aid they require and also the perpetrator is apprehended.
But, these crimes will continue as long as parents remain tight-lipped about sex and abuse. Little children should be taught by their parents to learn to tell the difference between a loving and genuine caress and a lecherous one.
Moreover, a parent’s understanding and attitude towards life and their notions of upbringing have an adverse impact on a child’s psychology.
Liberal parents who do not domineer will create individuals with a relaxed but moral view on life and sex. Sex Education is a series that people across the age spectrum should start watching right away.
It is foolish to beat about the bush and squirm in discomfort when it comes to sex.
Parents should themselves learn the importance of normalizing sex and adopt a more humane outlook on a growing adolescent’s burgeoning sexuality instead of making them feel like the worst kind of pervert when caught exploring their sexuality.
Lack of communication and misunderstanding between individuals is at the core of all sex-related crimes and reproductive health crises.
Instead of scoffing at the western nations for their brave attempt at curbing these issues with sex education, we should actually take a leaf from their book.
Sex is a normal physical need. Talking about it is not easy. But who said progress and a new beginning ever was?