Sex Education season three spoilers follow.
For a show that kick starts its third season with a literal bang, or many bangs, if we’re being precise, it was refreshing to see Sex Education go back to basics in season three with a storyline about losing your virginity. But of course, this being Sex Education, the focus wasn’t on just another nerdy straight white boy. We’ve already been there with Otis.
This time round, it’s Eric who’s decided to “go all the way” with his boyfriend, Adam, and there are no nerves on his part, just excitement. The plan is for them to have a picnic and “do it al fresco” because their parents are annoyingly hanging around at home. And what’s more romantic than a cheeky bang outside surrounded by the beauty of nature?
But suddenly, faced with the deed itself, Eric admits that he is “a bit scared,” after all. And why’s that? “I’m worried that I don’t know what I’m doing.” That’s often the case with first-time sex, particularly for teenagers, and even more so again for young queer people. As Ncuti Gatwa himself told us just recently, “There’s not a blueprint for a queer youth’s romantic journey through life.” And that’s true in both a physical and an emotional sense.
As Eric is more experienced with LGBTQ+ culture, he’s essentially Adam’s blueprint for being queer, and at times, that can put an unfair amount of pressure on him. Even though Eric says he doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to sex, that’s not entirely true, because he’s already douched and ready to go with that all-important lube/condom combo.
Where Eric’s inexperience does comes in though is with his assumption that he would be the one bottoming, or receiving. It doesn’t even occur to Eric that Adam might want to bottom, or that he himself might want to top. And ironically enough, that’s primarily down to a lack of education about sex, or the gay kind, at least.
Social stigmas and unfounded stereotypes dictate that tops are naturally more masculine and often, they’re physically larger too. As a top, you take the lead and control the situation. Bottoms, on the other hand, are more submissive, and cliché dictates that you’re clearly the more ‘feminine’ one, which then feeds into the idea that bottoms are usually smaller and/or weaker than their partner too.
In reality though, this is utter rubbish. Not only are these “roles” far more varied than stereotypes would have you believe, but plenty of queer men are versatile, enjoying both roles at different times (or even in the same session!). And then there are plenty of people who simply reject the notion of these roles entirely.
Labels can be useful, but rigidly sticking to them can also be constricting, and that’s exactly why Eric and Adam’s picnic goes awry.
Not only does Eric assume that Adam would be the top, but Adam isn’t able to express himself fully at the best of times, so when he says, “This isn’t what I want,” he struggles to clarify that it’s the position he’s talking about, and not Eric himself.
It’s not until Adam visits Eric’s bedroom later on that the pair finally figure out what they really want. That’s still each other, but just not in the ways that they first assumed. Following his chat with Otis, Adam is inspired to finally voice his desires out loud, albeit with his back turned to Eric, because that’s the only way he can clear his mind and express what he truly thinks.
“I don’t want to have sex with you,” Adam tells his boyfriend. “I want you to have sex with me.” Eric is confused, of course, particularly as this follows that earlier rejection at the picnic. But given more time, Adam goes on to say, “I want you to put your dick in me. That’s how I would like to do it.”
Take a moment here to recall what Adam was like as a closeted bully back in season one. It’s almost like the Adam we have here today is a different person entirely, but it’s to the show’s credit that his evolving journey towards self-acceptance has never felt rushed or disingenuous. Thanks to Eric’s love and a lot of hard work on his part, Adam is now at a point where he can openly say something so intimate that would have utterly revolted him just two seasons earlier.
It’s a huge moment of growth, but not just for Adam. Sex Education has always been disarmingly frank about all aspects of sex, and it’s not the only show to explore queer sex in particular, but still, even then, how often do we hear something like, “I want you to put your dick in me” on screen? And it’s not just the words themselves that matter. It’s also the way this scene was handled.
When Adam essentially asks Eric to top him, there’s nothing salacious about it. In fact, this scene is far more sweet and romantic than most of the straight sex scenes that take place this season. And that’s key, because much of the stereotyping that revolves around gay sex roles actually comes from a place of shame. To top is somehow seen to be more manly, and therefore more acceptable, less “gay” somehow. And bottoming, of course, is therefore seen to be the opposite of this.
So hearing Adam of all people open up about wanting to be penetrated is particularly special. If he can push through the internalized homophobia that’s defined his actions for so long, then so can anyone else watching back home.
That’s a message queer and non-queer people alike can learn a lot from, whether that comes in the form of bottoming for another man or simply embracing your more ‘feminine’ desires, just like Adam does when he writes that poem or when Eric puts make-up on him.
Of course, we now know that Eric and Adam’s story doesn’t end happily, not immediately at least. But together, they’ve both grown so much and found themselves in ways they never could have before they met. Even if for Eric, that meant him realising Adam was actually holding him back.
These kind of realizations are often hard to come by, no matter who you are or who you love, and that can be particularly true for young people who identify as LGBTQ+. To repeat what Ncuti said, there’s no blueprint. But the more we see these conversations take place on our screens, the easier it will be for queer people of all ages to forge their own path and create a new blueprint that’s right for them.
Sex Education season 3 is now available to watch on Netflix.
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