During the fourth and final season of Sex Education, Otis tells Cal they should embrace their HRT-induced second puberty. This is a common phrase among queer people, especially trans people, because it holds the possibility of a new history, another chance. But if puberty is a time of change and self-discovery then I don’t think the phrase goes far enough. It would be more honest to say our lives are filled with puberties. Or, maybe, that puberty never ends.
Back in 2019 when the first season premiered, I would have said I was especially in need of a second puberty. My first was wasted as a repressed cis straight boy, and I was on the precipice of a year filled with sex and education. But transness is not the cause of repression or confusion or a lifetime of making up for lost time. We live in a culture — cultures — that fail to teach us all about ourselves and each other. Looking around, it’s hard not to feel like everyone is in need of another puberty.
That’s exactly what made Sex Education so special: It gave its characters — young and old — a chance for growth. It gave us all the puberty we deserve.
The final season begins with change.
Moordale Secondary has closed and most of our returning characters are looking to start anew at Cavendish College. Gone are the preppy uniforms and conservative headmasters. This is the kind of school with slides, sound baths, and a t4t couple who are the coolest kids on campus.
This new environment is a natural development for the show. While most “inclusive” media has prioritized ticking boxes, Laurie Nunn and her team of writers have never settled for the bare minimum. The show is about how we all have sex, and each season has expanded who is included in that all. This season may feel a bit overstuffed, but it’s a welcome trade for an increased — and character-driven — focus on transness, disability, and asexuality.
While it may be a natural development for the show, it’s counter to the developments in our world. Since 2019, our cultures and our media have not progressed. We are currently in a moment of backlash against trans people, especially trans youth. Books that educate young people about the realities of the past and present are being banned. Streaming companies that were once viewed as a gamechanger for marginalized voices have grown conservative in their greed. Put simply: A show as progressive and artful as Sex Education would not premiere on the Netflix of today.
The final season feels heavy with tension between the show’s ambitions and our world’s regressions. The stakes are higher and the storylines more serious, as their real-world counterparts are more in need of this perspective. The push for worse sex education and less adolescent autonomy has consequences — consequences no television show can overcome. It’s still admirable to watch this one try.
The thematic core of this season is that it’s okay to not be okay. What begins as a skewering of liberalism with Cavendish, evolves into something much deeper. Positivity-obsessed trans girl Abbi isn’t just an opportunity for more inclusivity — she also feels like commentary on a new kind of queer media. There’s nothing inherently wrong with more wholesome YA fare. It’s just that something is lost when queerness is only allowed on-screen if the difficulties of that queerness are ignored. If Heartstopper exists on one end of the spectrum and Euphoria the other, we need shows like Sex Education that fall in between.
I’ve grown a lot alongside this show. As its characters learned to experience pleasure, I learned to experience pleasure. As its characters learned how to communicate, I learned how to communicate. I’m proud of that growth. But I’m still not okay. I felt more hopeful about being trans when I first came out in 2017 during a Trump presidency than I do now. I’m almost 30, I started medically transitioning six years ago, and the current discourse around transness has made me more dysphoric than ever. I want to be above it. But I’m not. It hurts, and I can see that hurt echoed in the other trans people in my life.
The fourth season of Sex Education honors that hurt. And then it shows us another way. People apologize, listen, and evolve. Parents value the personhood of their children, and children value the same in their parents. Nothing can fend off death or pain or societal failures. But we can talk about these things. We can talk about how they make us feel. And then we can do our part to change them.
The first sex scene on the show was between a cis boy and a cis girl who were faking their pleasure. The last sex scene on the show is between a trans boy and a trans girl who have talked through a sex problem to experience mutual pleasure. It’s a nice bookend for a series that strived to grow as much as its characters.
I don’t care about representation anymore. But I do care about art that shows all of our humanity. I care about art that engages with the realities of our world. I care about art that shows how people fuck — or don’t.
At the end of the season, Maeve tells Otis: “Meeting you cracked my heart open and now it’s forever changed. And because of that I will carry part of you with me wherever I go.”
Special people can do this to us. Art can do this too. In new ways each season, Sex Education cracked my heart open, and now it’s forever changed. And because of that, I will carry a part of it with me wherever I go.
Watch all four seasons of Sex Education now on Netflix.