Her work gained wider recognition in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and O’Brien soon pioneered the role of the on-set intimacy coordinator. Fittingly, the show she was first three seasons) presented an equally refreshing narrative around sex and consent. “A lot of [the show’s] intimate encounters don’t go well and end up in disaster in some way,” O’Brien says. “It’s about comedy as well.” That tone was set from the very first vignette, which showed a “full-on”, unguarded and ungraceful sex scene between Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) and boyfriend Adam (Connor Swindells). It perfectly captured the excruciating awkwardness of early sexual encounters; all clunky position changes, fumbled condoms and faked orgasms.
For Sex Education, that opening scene was a mission statement. “We had this conversation, saying, ‘Our young people are turning to pornography [because] there’s nowhere else for them to look,” she says. “[The creators] wanted this to be an alternative, really lifting the lid and helping open out the conversation about sexual content.” In a 2020 interview with Glamour, Wood said of that first season: “I thought, think of the young girls that are going to be watching this and going, ‘Oh thank God, that’s what I do,’ or, ‘We don’t always look perfect.’”
O’Brien stresses that Netflix shows shouldn’t be used in place of comprehensive, “age-appropriate” sex education, which she passionately believes should discuss “anatomy and consent boundaries” and how they integrate with emotions and relationships. Still, with sex ed in schools woefully lacking (my own consisted of horrifying pictures of sexually transmitted infections and watching Juno three times over the course of Year 9), Sex Education is far better than nothing.
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