From breakups to vulva cupcakes, the third season of “Sex Education” has yet again balanced heart and humor. The Netflix original series dropped its new season on Sept. 17 after a long wait due to COVID-19 halting the production in 2020.
Debuting in 2019, the original plot follows high schooler Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), the son of a sex therapist played by Gillian Anderson. Otis and resident edgy girl Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) team up to run an underground sex therapy clinic at their high school.
We leave off at the end of a rocky semester where Otis was self-admittedly a jerk, he left a voicemail for Maeve declaring his feelings for her. Except in the last scene of the season finale, Maeve’s other love interest, Isaac Goodwin (George Robinson), listens to the voicemail and deletes it from Maeve’s phone before she can hear it. It takes until episode five of the new season for the two to hash things out, and it was definitely worth the wait.
At the start of season three there has been a time skip of a few months, enough time for Gillian Anderson’s character to be very noticeably pregnant, the result of another season two finale surprise. As the title suggests, yes, it is obviously a show about sex. Within seconds of the first episode of the new season, we are thrown into a dramatic, rigorous montage of every character engaged in some sort of sexual activity– arguably one of the most creative and fitting ways to remind the audience of all the characters we are now revisiting.
Aside from two or three additional scenes, however, this season has exchanged a lot of its deliberate nudity and sex for more character development and relationship issues. It has become an even stronger ensemble show in that each character is well represented with their own moments to shine and their overall interconnectedness.
The main plot of this season revolves around the new head teacher at Moordale High as she tries to turn this “sex school” into a respectable institution adorned with new grey lockers and school uniforms. “Sex Education” is known for its vibrant costuming reflecting character identities, but with new rules in place, we see a shift to self-doubt and identity issues among many of the characters. The throughline of every episode has something to do with growing, changing, and understanding who you are as a young adult.
While Otis and Maeve are no longer running the sex clinic after their fight, the characters and audience members still receive a humorous and informative education that goes beyond the previous seasons. In one episode, Aimee (Aimee Gibs) seeks therapy from Dr. Milburn, where she learns that every vulva is unique and she shouldn’t compare hers to those in porn videos. She feels empowered and sets up a cupcake stand at school, where the top of each treat is decorated in diverse vulvas made of icing.
Aimee is not the only character who learns to love herself. Adam Groff (Connor Swindells) slowly comes out of the closet as the result of relationship issues with Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa), who has been openly gay for a much more significant portion of the show’s duration. Adam’s father and ex-head teacher at Moordale High gets a prominent storyline about finding joy in life and discovering himself as a grown adult. And tensions with the head teacher even dip into conversations about racism and bias.
The newest character of the series is Cal Bowman (Dua Saleh), a Black and nonbinary student from America. Nonbinary people are one of the most unrepresented in television, and Cal’s arc displays a much-needed authentic story about what it’s like to struggle with gender identity. We are also introduced to a minor character named Layla who is also nonbinary. The two form a friendship by the end of the series when Cal helps Layla find a chest binder.
There are endless examples of communicating effectively, what makes a family, discussing sex with your partner, ways to be a better friend and people from diverse backgrounds. Each episode comes with multiple life lessons that directly penetrate our hearts and make us evaluate our own relationships.
“Sex Education” season three gives us more than sex education, it gives us life education.