“Sex Education” Taught Me How to Masturbate

When I tell people about my high school Peer Counseling program I’m often met with disbelief. You did what? At what age? Is that… ethical? The answers: Yup. 14-18. No, probably not.

The truth is my experience of this program had more to do with me than it did the program itself. Most of my fellow counselors showed up to the weekly meeting, put it on their college apps, and called it a day. But I saw it as a means of enacting tangible change in my flawed little suburb. Or at least that’s what I told myself.

Looking back on this period of time, my desire to play psychologist (and activist) was more often than not just a means of deflection. It was easier to fight for LGBTQIA+ rights than figure out which of those letters applied to me. It was easier to take responsibility for other people’s mental illness than confront my own. And it was easier to give boy advice to sexually active friends than act on my own confused desires.


Sex Education, Laurie Nunn’s Netflix show about a teenage sex therapist, is a frickin’ miracle. Not only is the show hilarious and deeply felt, but it earns its title providing a healthier and more informative take on sex than any health class I was ever forced to sit through.

Otis Milburn is an awkward virgin. We’ve seen this before. Raunchy coming-of-age stories about cis straight boys have been a staple of mainstream media since the ’70s. We’ve been subjected to a barrage of lovable losers who we’re meant to root for as they spy on naked women, grope unconscious women, and fuck inanimate pies.

But Otis isn’t an average male protagonist. His best friend, Eric, is gay and his sex therapist mother, Jean, has pumped his head with wisdom and worry. He isn’t interested in sex himself; in fact, he doesn’t even “wank,” but when school rebel/secret brainiac Maeve Wiley recruits him to run a sex clinic, he can’t resist her jaded charms.

This premise didn’t interest me. While glad that straight white boys everywhere were receiving a less toxic model of behavior, I, personally, didn’t want to spend time with another one of these stories. But as I begrudgingly began the buzzed about show it slowly dawned on me: As far as I knew, at 16, I too was a cis straight boy virgin.


My junior year of high school, I was selected to be the co-chair of Peer Counseling’s Acceptance Week, an annual event focused on creating a more inclusive school environment. Only one of the week’s activities was mandatory for all: the school assembly. Every year this was the dullest event, an inspirational speaker who did little more than use up class time. But this year I wanted change. I wanted GLIDE (Gays and Lesbians Initiating Dialogue for Equality). Usually relegated to an optional after school event, GLIDE was always a hit with those who attended. But those who attended were not the ones who needed it most.

The year was 2009. Prop 8 had passed making gay marriage illegal in the state of California. The debate on and off campus had contributed to increased visibility around gay issues and therefore an increase in homophobic bullying. GLIDE was patient and understanding in their mission to educate. They were exactly what the school needed. The principal said no.

My co-chair shrugged and wanted to move on. I wouldn’t accept it. I scheduled a meeting with the principal and presented a plan. I would get signatures from 2/3 of the school’s teachers and I would make a student survey that would prove homophobia was an issue on our campus. He agreed.

Amidst AP classes, the school plays, and planning the other Acceptance Week activities I created the survey and tried to coordinate its distribution. I also began knocking on teachers’ doors and giving my pitch. Some of the teachers were truly lovely. Some simply said no. But some were absolutely brutal. One teacher softly informed me that she was a Christian and she could not sign her name. She said it with a brave quiver in her voice, like the Joan of Arc of homophobia. Others screamed at me to get out of their classroom. Overall about half the teachers signed, short of my pledged request. The survey was never approved. And before I’d even reached my deadline, my co-chair scheduled a different speaker and started spreading rumors that I was “difficult.”

Throughout this whole experience I was adamant about one thing: just because I cared about gay rights didn’t mean I was gay. I believed this to be true. But every time a teacher shot me down or my co-chair abandoned me or the principal said no, I felt physically pained. I barely slept those few months and when it was all over I got the flu.

My mom ran into the Christian teacher at the supermarket and she told my mom she was worried about me. She didn’t want me to think that she didn’t still love me even if she didn’t approve of my gayness. My mom laughed in her face. “My son isn’t gay. He just cares about all people.” She said this proudly and when she repeated the story, I felt proud. I did all this for other people. It didn’t affect me at all.


Otis and Maeve’s sex clinic begins after Otis helps school bully Adam with a comical Viagra-induced erection. Adam has just showed a video of Otis’ mom stroking an eggplant to the entire school, but Otis can’t resist his helpful nature. “Think of this room as being four walls of trust,” he suggests.

Adam can’t cum. He mentions the pressure of his penis size and his dad being the headmaster. Otis immediately gets to the root of the problem. He tells Adam to be be proud of himself and his penis. This works. As Maeve says, “He came Otis. Your words made him cum!”
But Otis still can’t cum.

And once Otis agrees to begin a proper sex clinic for money, his skills fall apart. He’s no longer just being helpful. He’s doing something for personal gain. And his wise teenage therapizing turns into blunt pointers like “cranberry juice is good for thrash.”

It’s only once he’s given up on the whole idea of the clinic that he stumbles upon a couple fighting and his instincts kick in. One of them will only have sex with the lights off due to insecurity. Otis challenges her to name five things she likes about herself. “If you don’t like yourself how are you supposed to believe Sam does?” Otis wisely states.

But Otis doesn’t like himself.

This pattern of Otis offering advice he cannot accept continues throughout the show. He tells one girl not to feel shame around sex and another that she might be halting her sexual progress to maintain a feeling of control. Otis could be talking to himself. But as he says in his therapy motto: “It doesn’t matter who I am. It’s not about me.”


“Trans filmmaker/writer new to LA. Talk to me about anything art and anything gay” reads my first Tinder profile ever. Before I transitioned I avoided online dating. I shared Otis’ paranoia around objectifying women and Tinder felt like it would feed into my worst impulses.

But recently single, less recently out of the closet, and, yes, “new to LA” I joined Tinder. Horror stories of dating while trans haunted me. But quickly I had a match, then another, then a dozen, then several dozen. Every match carried the serotonin of 50 Instagram likes. Every message 50 Twitter likes.

Maybe it comes with the territory of queer woman Tinder or maybe it’s my desire to push past small talk, but I quickly found myself filling the role of therapist. I’d joined the app to flirt and hook up. Instead I was helping baby queers unpack their trauma.

I helped one woman with her discomfort around bisexuality. She liked being labeled as gay, but also sometimes “loves dick.” Cringing at this genital focused breakdown, I reassured her that she’s allowed to use whichever label feels best. But I said she might want to consider how much of her discomfort was connected to stigma around bisexuality. I then added that all women can have dicks, some just have to buy theirs at a store.

Another person asked about my transition then confessed that they too wanted to transition. They came out to their mom and her reaction was so harsh they decided it would be better not to. I didn’t know what to say to this person except to talk about my own experience and share how positive it has been for me. I told them to reach out whenever they wanted to chat.

So many others have talked to me about their mental health. I don’t mind. But some of the conversations have skewed from intimate to unsettling. Tinder is understandably a magnet for depressed evenings, but I don’t know these peoples’ last names or where they live and if anyone actually decided to hurt themselves there would be absolutely nothing I could do.


The initial purpose of Peer Counseling was to provide an alternative for students who didn’t feel comfortable opening up to adults. The idea was their peers could better understand them so trust would be easier to build. It turns out most high school students are not incredibly eager to talk about their problems with random classmates. Despite being trained on open-ended questions, conflict resolution, and a wide variety of other therapy-related topics, the vast majority of Peer Counselors never actually counseled another student.

I counseled students all the time.

On occasion I was paired with students by our faculty advisor. But most of the time people I had classes with or did theatre with or just vaguely knew would come up to me and ask if they could talk to me “as a Peer Counselor.” The only differences between Otis and me were I wasn’t exclusively giving sex advice and I wasn’t being paid. Some nights while doing my homework I’d have three or four Facebook chats open each person with a different personal problem they needed my help with.

One night a frequent client messaged me that he was going to kill himself. I called him and he answered. I asked him where he was. I asked him what he was doing. He had some pills and he was going to take them. I asked if he’d wait. I asked if I could come over. He said yes.
I jumped in my car and sped over to his house. He didn’t want his parents to be suspicious so he snuck out and sat in my car. We talked. After about two hours he agreed not to hurt himself and agreed to speak with an actual school counselor. I mentioned that I was supposed to let the counselors know if someone had considered self-harm. I asked if I could share this with my advisor. He said yes. I’m not sure what I would have done if he’d said no.

I was 17. I was not a licensed mental health professional. I also was not particularly stable myself. Several times a week I’d hold a razor to my wrist because the knowledge that I could do it brought me comfort. I regularly stuck myself with pins, I dug my nails into my skin until I drew blood, I punched walls, and scraped my knuckles against any rough surface I could find. Several times a week behind the wheel of my car I’d fantasize about crashing into a tree or driving off a cliff. Twice I seriously considered it. I was 17.


Otis doubts the ethical ramifications of his clinic long before I did. It starts when Liam, a lovesick creep, won’t stop asking the same girl to the school dance. Otis tells Liam that it’s time to move on. But after some alcohol and some Percocet, Liam finds himself hanging from a dance decoration threatening to kill himself. All of the school officials are totally useless, but Otis, resident therapist, jumps in. “Sometimes the people we like don’t like us back, and it’s painful but there’s nothing we can do about it,” begins his impassioned speech about unrequited love.

As Otis speaks we know he’s talking about his feelings for Maeve. And for once it seems like even Otis is aware that he’s talking about himself. “One day, you’re gonna meet someone who appreciates you for who you are,” he tells Liam. But Otis already has. His feelings for Maeve have distracted from Ola, his date, and as Liam gets down, Otis decides to end the charade.

“Imagine if he died. I think this is wrong… The clinic. And us. It has to stop.” Maybe Otis is upset about Liam’s suicide attempt or maybe he’s just frustrated with Maeve. Ultimately it’s the same thing. Otis realizes that by ignoring his own wants and needs he’s hurt those around him. It’s time to focus on himself.


My first Tinder date was with M. It was during the day. It started at a coffee shop where we talked about sex and ended at her house where we talked about mental health. We didn’t kiss. M had never been with a woman and it was clear she was still figuring out her queerness. I didn’t push it. We had a nice time. We planned to do it again.

Our second date was at night. She invited me over for dinner and I brought wine. We ate in her room. We drank the wine and flirted and smoked. At some point I moved to the bed. I was still waiting for her to kiss me.

There was a lull in conversation and she dropped her eye contact. She softly shared that she was into me but unsure what was supposed to happen next. I suggested we kiss and we did. Drunk and high, we melted into each other, making out like adolescents. Her hand started moving under my shirt but then she pulled away.

She reassured me that she thought I was hot and wanted to be with me, but just didn’t know what to do. She’d never had sex with a woman before. And I’m trans. She didn’t want me to feel weird or bad. She just wanted guidance. She wanted to know what I wanted.

We gradually took all our clothes off and I went down on her. It was fun being the first woman to do that. She asked again if there was anything she could do for me and I made a joke about her being too straight. I told her that queer sex isn’t about returning favors. I didn’t do her a favor. I enjoyed being with her and making her feel good.

That was true. It was. But it was also true that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted for myself. I left her house feeling warm and happy and also a little hopeless. I wanted to be single so I could explore my sexuality. Instead I was exploring other people’s.


Every year all 40 Peer Counselors went on a weekend retreat where we did various activities and workshops. These weekends were always intense as people opened up and shared their teenage feelings. The same year I was set to lead Acceptance Week I spent the weekend bonding with J. Both of us were heartbroken and newly single.

The difference was J had been in a years long relationship whereas I hadn’t been in a relationship at all. I only thought I had when really it was just an extended crush and a first kiss. I listened intently as J talked about her relationship. I listened as she discussed her sex life. I gave her advice on how to get over her ex. I gave her advice on future relationships. She trusted my wisdom because I sounded wise and because I insisted I’d just been through something similar.

I had a crush on J. And my crush on J would continue until we graduated. I never told her because I didn’t understand my desire for her, my desire to be her and be with her. My desire not to fuck her, but to be fucked by her. I had endless crushes. They all went this way.


My favorite scene in Sex Education doesn’t involve Otis at all. Maeve’s friend and school pushover, Aimee, has finally started dating a guy who respects her. But she too is left speechless when he asks what she wants in bed. “No one’s ever asked me that before,” she says defeated.

Otis tells Aimee that she needs to figure out what she likes for herself before talking to her partner. Or in Aimee’s words: he prescribes her a wank.

Cut to Aimee lying in bed with panic in her eyes. She takes several deep breaths before slowly reaching into her day-of-the-week underwear. She pulls her hand out. Then puts it back in. Then… GASP.

She switches positions. She grabs her breasts. She sits in a chair and blows herself with a hair dryer. She lies in her windowsill with her legs up. She bounces backwards on a chair. She cums, flops on her bed, and says to herself: “I want a crumpet.”


A couple weeks after M and I had sex we made plans to meet up again. Then another person from Tinder messaged and asked me out for earlier the same day. Excited by my new single lifestyle I planned for back to back dates.

Both canceled last minute.

Suddenly left without plans, and feeling deeply depressed, I got high and went on Tinder. Dissatisfied with the results I got even higher and joined Grindr. I may be a lesbian but depression is depression and validation is validation.

I got a Tinder match and she immediately messaged me. I got a Grindr message as well. Quickly the Tinder match started opening up about her love life. I noted that all the pronouns she was using were he/him. I asked if she usually dated men. She said yes, usually. She kept talking to me about the two guys she’s still sort of in love with.

The Grindr match was more interested in me. But I was not interested in him. Aware that I was doing to him what the Tinder match was doing to me, I apologized and said I was a lesbian. But the messages didn’t stop. I found myself comforting a 45-year-old straight man, reassuring him that my disinterest wasn’t personal.

I thought about Otis. I thought about Aimee. Enough was enough. I deleted Grindr, put my phone on silent, and took out a sex toy.

I’d used the prostate massager a few times before. It was fine. I was still working through what can only be described as internalized shame around anal mixed with a general feeling of not knowing what I was doing. A friend recently gave me pointers that mostly consisted of be patient. He said I might want to just leave it in there for an hour. An hour.

I covered the toy in lube and slowly inserted it inside myself. I took another hit from my vape and started browsing the internet for decent lesbian porn. I briefly turned on the vibrator, but it didn’t do much so I turned it off and just held the toy. As I watched acceptable for my current state porn, I began moving the toy around manually. I began touching my penis trying to experiment with more pleasurable approaches (physically and mentally) than traditional jacking off. I clenched my ass and unclenched as I slowly moved the toy in and out. It started feeling good. I kept going pressing it deeper, testing different speeds, different angles. I felt dizzy from the pot and from the pleasure. I fucked myself harder and harder.

The final moments of Sex Education find Otis with a substantial erection post-make out with Ola. He feels his usual masturbation anxiety, but the thought of kissing Ola, of their faces close, their tongues wrapped around each other, fills him with just the inspiration he needs. He begins to touch himself. He floats up and off his bed, his face contorting, he keeps stroking and then…

Let’s just say I hope Otis’ orgasm was as good as mine.

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is currently working on a short film about Gordo from Lizzie McGuire’s transition (it’s canon) and a million other projects. She also runs social media for I Heart Female Directors. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 5 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. Drew, I just love this SO MUCH. I relate so deeply to so much of it, and I also am just overjoyed always to read this kind of personal, vulnerable, pop culture analysis from other queer women. This is going to stick with me for so long. Thank you.

  2. “Throughout this whole experience I was adamant about one thing: just because I cared about gay rights didn’t mean I was gay.”

    Oh friend! I feel you. My entire jr high and high school experience. “I’m not gay, but–“

  3. I love this so much ❤️

    Also is it just me or does this idea of “peer counsellor” feel hella exploitative? Did it ever feel like that to you? Or did you find helping others fulfilling in a way? (I guess these two things aren’t mutually exclusive). It’s weird because technically it’s not that different from being a volunteer at a hotline but then you throw the social messiness of high school in there…

    • Thank you! And I feel very torn about it. I do think I/we helped people. But there’s no way to train high schoolers to have the sort of boundaries counselors need to have. That said as I say in the piece I think a lot of ways the program exploited me were my own choices. I just wish our advisor/counselor had registered what I was doing and checked in on me more. I was such a stubborn ball of angst it probably wouldn’t have mattered though. lol

  4. Thanks for writing this! I loved the way it was structured.

    I definitely relate to being much more comfortable in the supporter role than the supported in friendships and other relationships, from high school on. I’ve been thinking lately about how that approach can limit the kinds of actual peer relationships that I can have, since I start from a position of looking to support the other person, maybe more than actually getting know them.

    • That’s so real. I think an imbalanced relationship isn’t good for either party. Honestly transitioning really forced me to confront that impulse because suddenly I was the center of attention whether I wanted to be or not. I had to work through that discomfort… and ultimately the friendships I have now are way healthier than the ones I had before.

  5. Thank you for writing this, Drew! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article written by a trans women that talks so openly about sex and sexuality.

    And everything you wrote about it being easier to help other people than help yourself feels stolen from my brain. Thank you

  6. Drew, this was wonderful! I relate so much to your experiences here and I’m so glad you were able to get to where you did. And you are so right, finding that sweet spot finally is such an amazing feeling, especially when you struggle with the anxiety of it all. Thank you for such a great read!

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