Film & TV

Is Netflix replacing school Sex Education?

Chloe Wescott

Part one of this article suggested that Netflix’s show Sex Education has failed its audience regarded consent. It explores how consent intrinsically denotes being fully-informed of the risks involved in having partnered sex. In episode one of series two, Owen withholds his STI positive status from Martha and Gwen. His act of sexual violence remains unacknowledged.

Whilst this is disturbing, ultimately, we shouldn’t have to rely on TV shows to teach young adults that consent must be informed – including full risk-transparency, freely given, enthusiastic, and retractable. The show is an incredible resource for young people in 2020. More widely, the online sex education industry is booming.

Whole careers are built on filling gaps in formal teaching. YouTube sex educators and digital content creators like Hannah Witton, Instagram agony-aunts like WhatsWrongWithMollyMargaret, and polyamorous educators like Ruby Rare are thriving. But why are young adults left to seek comprehensive sex and relationships education online? 

UK school guidelines were first set out in Section 148 of the UK Learning and Skills Act (2000). Schools were not required to teach about consent, at all. They were required to ensure young people ‘(a) learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children’, and (b) ensure kids are ‘protected from teaching and materials which are inappropriate having regard to the age and the religious and cultural background of the pupils concerned’. Schools thought it sufficient to teach abstinence, marriage values, and the legal age of consent at 16, and call the job done.

 Several generations missed opportunities to have these vital conversations. Thankfully, the law around RSE was modernised as of 2019 and consent rhetoric finally demanded a classroom presence. Now, key aspects of the law relating to sex are taught, including the age of consent, what consent is and is not, and that it can be withdrawn. Also, the definitions and recognition of rape, sexual assault, and harassment.

The curriculum has come a long way, becoming more comprehensive and inclusive. Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which prohibited teaching about LGBT identity in schools, was repealed in 2003. As of 2020, schools will be legally required to provide LGBT+ inclusive relationships and sex education. Topics including gender identity and sexuality, a range of contraception, FGM, sexual violence, and recognising healthy relationships are mandatory. 

Crucially, schools must also explain ‘how to get further advice, including how and where to access confidential sexual and reproductive health advice and treatment’. Now, future generations will be equipped with access to a multitude of educational resources, both online and in the classroom. 

Sex Education for the youth of today remains crowdsourced. From Netflix shows to social-media based digital artists like Pink Bits, the creative industries are providing a vital service in tandem with public education. 

They are leading the way, creating shame-free conversations around sexual and mental health, identity, and relationship dynamics. They are flourishing, setting the pace schools should strive to meet. Hopefully, one day, the legal educational framework will match their stride.

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