Sex Education Netflix Season 2 Review- Sex Education Season 2 Aimee Sexual Assault

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Sex Education Netflix Season 2 Review- Sex Education Season 2 Aimee Sexual Assault

Sex Education is, ostensibly, a show about a boy: Otis Milburn, teenage son of an acclaimed sex therapist, who becomes an armchair sex guru for his classmates as they explore their burgeoning sexual identities. Yet in the show’s stellar second season, it’s the girls who shine the brightest, particularly in a sensitive, heartfelt storyline about the singular experience that binds all women together: unwanted sexual contact.

The storyline ignites when sweet-natured, occasionally-naive Aimee is sexually assaulted while riding a crowded public bus. On her commute to school, Aimee is horrified when a man pressed into close contact with her masturbates and then ejaculates on her leg; meanwhile, her cries for help are met with indifference from fellow passengers. Upon her arrival at school, a chipper Aimee laments the stain on her favorite jeans, only for her best friend Maeve to deflate her attempts at humor, insisting that she has, in fact, been assaulted. Maeve browbeats Aimee into a trip to the local police station, where Aimee is given baggy sweatpants when her jeans are confiscated as evidence, all the while maintaining that she is wasting the officers’ time with a problem that isn’t “real”; however, in a textbook model of compassionate policing, the officers are kind and patient as they guide Aimee through the process of filing a police report. Returning home after the officers have given her a lift, Aimee shirks the loving ministrations of her mother, remaining mum about the assault, only to retreat to her bedroom and burst into tears. Through it all, Aimee remains concerned about the fate of her beloved jeans, a totem of the mental peace and feelings of safety that have been taken from her.

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Aimee (L) and Maeve (R) reporting the assault to police.

Netflix

As the season unfolds, Aimee collapses inward. She can’t bring herself to board the bus; instead, she walks miles to and from school every day, forgoing her usual flashy footwear for sensible sneakers. She sees the specter of her attacker in crowds and at parties; meanwhile, the assault distances her from her boyfriend, a well-meaning jock struggling to foster intimacy as Aimee shrugs off his attempts to discuss what she’s going through. In Aimee’s struggle to carry on with her life, we see not just the familiar emotional beats of trauma, but the seemingly small clawmarks that unwanted sexual contact sinks into a woman’s daily routines. There’s something heartbreaking in the moment where the typically fashionable, happy-go-lucky Aimee rummages through scores of her stylish shoes to dust off a long-ignored pair of sneakers, lacing them up and staring dolefully at her reflection before she leaves the house. Aimee has given up high heels in order to feel safe, just as women everywhere have made similar sacrifices, giving up nighttime runs, late-night rides on public transportation, first-floor apartments—the list goes on and on.

What Sex Education illuminates, poignantly and deftly, are the emotional costs of such sacrifices—and the costs to one’s sense of selfhood. Clothes and shoes certainly don’t make a woman who she is, yet it’s undeniable that our sartorial choices are freighted with identity. Stripped of that by virtue of her assault, Aimee must reconsider who she is.

Aimee’s story culminates late in the season when, in a feminist reimagining of The Breakfast Club, English teacher Miss Sands confines six girls from different cliques to detention in the library, believing that one of them is responsible for a work of slut-shaming grafitti in the school stairwell. She instructs the girls to identify an experience that binds them together—only then will they be free to go. As the girls snipe at one another, struggling to identify any single thing they share in common, an increasingly distressed Aimee begins to cry; when asked why she’s upset, she exclaims, “Because I can’t get on the bus.”

Confiding in her classmates, Aimee notes that her assailant didn’t look like a criminal, and that if a seemingly normal man could assault her, then anyone could. “I always felt safe before, and now I don’t,” she laments. One by one, the girls solemnly share their own stories of unwanted sexual contact, ranging from groping to flashing to being followed home at night. Class brainiac Viv cites a bleak statistic that two-thirds of women experience unwanted sexual tension or contact in public spaces before the age of twenty-one.

What Sex Education illuminates, poignantly and deftly, are the emotional costs of such sacrifices.

Sex Education has never trafficked in pigeonholing characters; in fact, one of its great strengths is the sensitivity and complexity with which it muddles familiar high school archetypes, allowing each student to be a fully realized (and fully surprising) person. In this tender scene, six disparate girls break down the social barriers between them to unite over one dismally universal experience: “dicks,” as lovable weirdo Lily puts it.

When the graffiti artist is identified as a lonely student in love with Miss Sands, the girls are released from detention. As they file out of the library en masse, Miss Sands asks what binds them together; Olivia, a popular girl with demanding parents and hidden insecurities, calls over her shoulder, “Other than non-consensual penises, Miss, not much.”

Later that same night, under the cover of darkness, the newly-bonded girls head to the local junkyard, where, scored to Mama Cass’ “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” they triumphantly whale on a broken-down jalopy, taking baseball bats to the windows and leaping on the roof. It’s a rousing, cathartic scene, chased by a lovely coda in which the girls walk one another home to stay safe. The next morning, walking to her bus stop, Aimee is surprised to encounter the girls, who’ve assembled to ride with her in solidarity. Shoulder to shoulder with her friends in the back seat, the episode ends on a close-up of Aimee’s tearful, hopeful face, while Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen” rolls over the credits, signifying Aimee’s loss of innocence.

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Emma Mackey as Maeve Wiley in Sex Education.

Netflix

What Aimee’s storyline underscores is the dismal ubiquity of sexual harassment and sexual assault, as well as the deep psychological burden women carry long after the experience has occurred. Sex Education has always excelled in its pitch-perfect depiction of sex—how funny and visceral and strange sex can be, yet at the same time, how meaningful and serious the quest for intimacy is. It should come as no surprise that the show is as deft in the matter of non-consensual encounters as it is in consensual ones.

Through the symbolism of Aimee’s clothes and shoes, Sex Education explores her loss not just of innocence and safety, but of identity. Aimee’s selfhood is imperiled through her changed sartorial life, but also through her loss of trust in others, as she expresses when discussing how any man, even the men who seem normal, could assault her. While her new bond with her classmates makes for a rousing, heartfelt story of female solidarity, its implications are far darker. These young women, preparing to step fully into their adult lives, have suffered non-consensual encounters throughout their childhoods. Unwanted sexual contact isn’t something by which any of us want to be bound together, yet as Sex Education illustrates, it’s lurking around every corner for women from every walk of life. How sad and shameful that it’s not only a universal part of womanhood, but a universal part of growing up.

Assistant Editor
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.

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