In a television landscape where asexual representation remains scarce, Yasmin Benoit, a prominent asexual activist and Sex Education consultant, embarked on a mission to reshape the narrative. While applauding the portrayal of characters like Heartstopper’s Isaac, Benoit aimed to replicate this success with another hit Netflix series, Sex Education. Season four introduced the character of Sarah ‘O’ Owen, asexuality being an essential facet of her identity, who served as Cavendish Sixth Form College’s sex-positive student therapist and Otis’ arch-nemesis.
Benoit’s involvement as a consultant was pivotal in providing a unique and nuanced perspective on the asexual experience, with the hope of translating it faithfully to the screen. However, following the season’s release on September 21, it became evident that O’s character appeared underdeveloped and somewhat one-dimensional, largely reduced to a cold-hearted antagonist by fans.
Amidst a barrage of criticism from fans, Benoit took to social media to explain that several crucial scenes elucidating O’s sexuality, motivations, and struggles as an asexual woman of color did not make the final cut. She expressed her surprise at how the character came across on screen, emphasizing the loss of nuance in the character’s portrayal.
One example was a scene where O hurt Ruby, telling other girls she wet the bed, which was meant to reflect O’s own insecurities after being labeled “frigid” and concealing her asexuality. However, on screen, it appeared as a seemingly unprovoked and malicious act. Likewise, Otis was supposed to make more provoking sexist remarks toward O, prompting her to come out as asexual and label him a misogynist during a student counselor debate. Her apology to Ruby was also intended to come much earlier in the season.
Benoit is reluctant to blame anyone specifically, understanding the dynamics of television production, but she stresses the importance of accurate representation. She points out that being the sole asexual woman of color on television entails a greater responsibility to represent the community accurately.
In a major series like Sex Education, poorly executed representation can reinforce stereotypes and cultivate negative perceptions, potentially perpetuating harmful biases about asexuality. This outcome is particularly disappointing for Benoit, who had entered the writing room with the intention of avoiding such stereotypes and backlash.
Despite facing backlash herself from fans of the show, Benoit remains hopeful, emphasizing that O’s presence in Sex Education is a step in the right direction for increasing asexual representation. She encourages asexual minorities not to let the negative reception overshadow the potential for positive change.
In the world of streaming entertainment, where representation matters more than ever, the challenge of accurately portraying asexuality remains a critical issue that requires careful consideration and commitment to inclusivity.