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“Sex Education” Creates a Safe Space to Tackle Tough Topics

“Sex Education” Creates a Safe Space to Tackle Tough Topics

When it debuted in 2019, Netflix original Sex Education was immediately lauded for its open and honest discussions about sex. The second season, which premiered worldwide on Jan. 17, continued to push the envelope, when one of the storylines centered around sexual assault.

That storyline was one of the focal points of a powerful discussion held at the Covent Garden Hotel in London last month. Moderated by journalist and sex educator Alix Fox, the panel included series creator Laurie Nunn, star Emma Mackey who plays Maeve, and intimacy coordinator Kat Hardman.

“It certainly felt like we were doing something important,” Mackey said. “It's really important for young women, for just people to see that there is a system in place to help people who have experienced something similar.”

In the series, Mackey’s Maeve served as an important support system for Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) after she was sexually assaulted on a crowded bus in broad daylight. The event opened with screenings of a video roundtable about the sexual assault scene, and a reading of a poem by Erin May Kelly intended to give everyone the courage to “step onto the bus.”

Nunn, who based the storyline on a similar personal experience, said the response to the storyline has been “overwhelmingly positive” since the new episodes premiered. 

“You can put it on a platform like Netflix and you can show people that that kind of thing is sexual assault,” she said. “It's not hierarchy. We're not saying that one is worse than the other but I think it's about getting empowered. I hope so. I think that's a really good aim to have the storyline, and the show, to empower people to talk about it and to be comfortable.”

That was evident at the screening, where more than 60 people were in attendance. That included students from the National Film and Television School, Nunn’s alma mater, as well as representatives from several well-known charities in the U.K. including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC); Rape Crisis England & Wales, aimed at raising awareness of sexual violence; Brook, which offers clinical sexual health services and education for young people; and The Prince’s Trust, which helps help vulnerable young people get their lives on track. 

Photo of Aimee Lou Wood and Emma Mackey from “Sex Education.” Credit: Sam Taylor/Netflix

Fox praised the series, and Aimee’s storyline specifically, for broadening what is defined as sexual assault beyond violent and invasive acts. “I could really relate to that. And I think a lot of other people would,” she said. “Sex Education has done a fantastic job of opening up that discussion which is a vital one that we need to have.”

The panel expanded beyond the assault storyline and also explored the more positive conversations that the series has sparked about female sexuality and sex. “I feel like even with my own mum, I've started having a lot more open conversations than I did in the past because I think (the show) just makes you go, ‘Oh, it's not so scary.’” Mackey said. 

Those candid conversations aren’t just reserved for friends and family. Hardman praised the show’s creative team for having intimacy coordinators on set to help facilitate similar dialogues between actors and the production team -- something Sex Education has done from its inception.

“This is something that is very important for a show that’s about sex, that's about the joys and the complexities of sex, that actually our actors feel safe,” Hardman said.

Those in attendance also praised the event itself for offering a comfortable entrance into several normally tough topics. Dr. Lisa Thornhill, a child abuse sex expert with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, called it an “excellent opportunity to explore sensitive issues in an accessible way.” 

-- Frances Abebreseh

Frances Abebreseh is the UK & Ireland Communications manager for Netflix.