Throughout my time at school, the sex education that we received just simply never applied to me. The messages were very much tailored towards people without limited mobility, for example. I would ask questions about how it could all be made more accessible sometimes, when I was feeling brave, yet always got the same answer: I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know. Looking back, I realise that nobody had prepared themselves for this. Being a wheelchair user gave other people permission to perceive me with an innocence that they wouldn’t attach to everyone else my age, I suppose. Besides, it didn’t feel important for them to get educated or provide any relevant information because they couldn’t imagine someone else wanting to explore with me, either. Instead, they would generally choose to make jokes about my dating life, which isn’t really possible to shake off. At this point, it’s alarmingly easy to become consumed with the narrative that disabled bodies are inherently undesirable and expecting otherwise is naïve. I used to cry a lot about that. There is something especially cruel about having these needs whilst simultaneously being told by society at large that they don’t deserve to be fulfilled. But I could still sit in the classes and listen to my peers be taught about the importance of their own pleasure, though. Anything for the pretence of inclusivity.
So, with all of this, I’m not ashamed to say that I cried when I first watched the sex scene between Maeve and Isaac on Sex Education. Whilst I understand that the pairing itself is a somewhat controversial one, this arguably makes George Robinson’s character even more important. I mean, how refreshing is it for a disabled person not to be portrayed as entirely innocent and pure? We are complex and unlikeable at times, too. Even before any sex was involved, I had never seen representation that felt so real. I had never seen someone like me, a wheelchair user, being treated like an adult by other people before. Isaac exists unapologetically loudly in the lives of everyone around him, which is so incredibly validating to watch, as someone who’s spent so many years feeling invisible within these stories.
Moving on, the sexual tension between these characters led to a quietly intimate conversation about what would be most comfortable and pleasurable for them both. This communication is rarely present in any media portrayals of sex, which gives the false impression that it isn’t necessary for a good time. Talk to each other, people. But these questions were handled with great care – they weren’t there to satisfy morbid curiosities or create shock value. In that moment, it was just about two people wanting to enjoy themselves and respect each other’s boundaries. Really, is there anything sexier than that?
Perhaps my favourite part of this, though, came when Maeve told her best friend afterwards. There were no questions about the mechanics at all, which I had been expecting. Bracing myself to feel weird and awkward. To my pleasant surprise, it was just immediately accepted. Because it doesn’t matter. A wild revelation, I know, but these experiences are no less valid because they exist outside of the conventional.
In short, this is why multi-faceted media representations of disabled people are invaluable. Not only do they show that we are capable and deserving of love beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, but they also challenge everyone else to do better and get creative when it comes to intimacy. I have always thought that conventional is boring, anyway. I would like to thank the writers at Netflix for breaking down these barriers, which I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do alone.
PS: I also wrote a vulnerable piece for Scope about what it means to be a disabled person in a relationship and all the effort that it’s taken to believe I’m deserving, which you can read here.