Season 2 of ‘Sex Education’ reimagines aesthetic of queer female sexuality

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Warning: The following article contains spoilers.

Was anyone expecting Ola and Lily to get together in the second season of “Sex Education”? Given how they weren’t even aware of each other’s existence at the end of the first season, which also happened to end with Ola and Otis solidifying their (doomed) relationship, probably not. But that’s exactly what happened — and it happened quite beautifully.

The girls become fast and easy friends, sharing a tender moment in the fourth episode that escalates into wet dreams for Ola and an eventual kiss at the end of episode five. “That’s what it’s supposed to feel like,” marvels Ola after kissing Lily.

As the course of true love never did run smooth, however, their kiss sends Lily into confusion, causing friction between the two. But once they resolve this and come to accept both themselves and their feelings for each other, they enter into what is one of the healthiest and most emotionally fulfilling relationships in “Sex Education” to date, although we only get a real taste of it at the tail end of the eight-episode season. 

All’s well that ends well. And Ola and Lily’s story goes surprisingly well, which feels monumental. If the history of queer female representation in film and television has taught us anything, it’s that representation tends to come at the expense of misrepresentation. Oftentimes, what this means is that women, and especially queer women as a result of being viewed as exotic, are construed as vehicles through which sex is capitalized on in order to achieve a societally constructed image: If women are at all within a sexual realm, then this realm is the most interesting place for them to be, and thus this is what audiences must focus on. 

In “Sex Education,” though, sex and the self aren’t two separate realms. Rather, sex is used as a vehicle through which the self can be explored in interesting and nuanced ways that challenge conceptions of sex as taboo.

This is true for every character and storyline but is especially striking in the case of Ola and Lily, who are moreso girls than they are women. Letting two women have a go at a sex scene inevitably means risking oversexualization because of the way we’ve been socialized, but letting two girls have a go at a sex scene is even riskier because of their adolescence and the implications that arise when young girls are oversexualized on screen. In prioritizing meaningful sexual encounters that show us who these characters are as people, rather than gratuitously exploiting bodies for the sake of the male gaze, “Sex Education” rises above and beyond with its stark presentation of girls having sex. Because girls have sex with each other, and that’s more a fact of life than it is something to get turned on by. 

Though severely different in tone and subject matter, Ola and Lily’s sex scene in the opening of episode eight begs a comparison with the one in “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” — a little awkward and free of false beautifying aspects that hide, say, what faces actually look like during orgasm. They stop to have a conversation about Lily’s needs and limitations, during which Ola is completely understanding and helpful. Lily’s fetishes, too, are on full display, as they have been since the first season: For example, her proclivity for tentacles and cosplaying while having sex. 

In other words, Ola and Lily aren’t two dainty femmes trailing light touches over each other’s glistening clear skin and letting out faux sensual oohs and ahhs. This, too, the history of queer women in media has taught us: If a girl likes other girls, she must either look exceptionally feminine or exceptionally masculine. Neither Ola nor Lily fits easily into either category, with Ola straddling the futch category, and Lily being into what can only be called alternative nerd girl fashion. 

That’s also part of why it’s so refreshing to watch them develop feelings for one another and eventually act on them. “Sex Education” doesn’t imagine a world entirely without queerphobia — both external and internal — which shows itself in Eric and Adam’s storyline especially and a bit in Lily’s reluctance to further act on Ola’s initial confession. It balances this out with little marvels, such as Ola taking an online quiz that tells her she’s pansexual and reacting with a simple, “Kind of makes sense, actually.” 

Maybe no one saw Ola and Lily’s strangers-to-best-friends-to-lovers arc coming, but watching them fall for and into bed with each other kind of makes sense, actually. 

Contact Alex Jiménez at [email protected] .