Back in January, I caught my first STI. I can see exactly how it happened: I had sex without a condom and with someone who hadn’t been tested in a few months and who couldn’t recall their current sexual health status. Ever since, I’ve had a lot of anxiety around sex and catching sexually transmitted infections. That is, until this scene in Netflix’s Sex Education season 3 came along.
This minute-long scene in Sex Education does a better job at explaining STIs and HIV to queer people than anything at school
In episode 4, Anwar (Chaneil Kular), one of the queer students at Moordale High, breaks into hives on his face and begins to suspect it must mean he has HIV. Then, he and his friends visit a sexual health clinic after the address is tipped off to them by Miss Sands (Rakhee Thakrar).
Anwar learns that instead of catching HIV, he most likely is having a physical reaction to a new type of lube he and his partner have been using. He also learns the real risk of catching STIs, about PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and what it means to be undetected with HIV.
“Every film I’ve ever seen with a gay person in it, it ends up with them having sex and dying of AIDS,” Anwar tells the nurse at the clinic. Side note: after reading Holding The Man in my teens, I felt the exact same way.
What Anwar then hears is perhaps the best sexual health lesson for queer people I’ve ever seen.
“So long as you and your partner, or partners, are practising safer sex, getting tested regularly, you’re very unlikely to contract HIV,” the nurse explains.
“And there’s a medication now call PrEP that protects people from contracting HIV if they are engaging in frequent casual sex in situations that might be putting them at high risk.
“And for those that do contract the virus, there are medicines now that enable them to live a long and healthy life, and even get to the stage where the virus is undetectable, which means it can’t be passed on to somebody else.
“So, I don’t think you’re going to be dying for a while yet.”
And it came to me at just the right time
Around the time I was watching Sex Education’s third season, I was talking to a boy on Grindr. One night, deep into a very lockdown-fuelled horny conversation, he revealed to me he was undetected with HIV.
At the time, I didn’t really know what that exactly meant beyond the idea that I could safely have unprotected sex with him if I was in an exclusive relationship (and not on PrEP), but I still felt anxious.
Would having unprotected sex with him give me HIV? Would my life be over if I ended up getting it? How do I come across as not a dick while I’m reacting to this news? These were the things that played around my head as we sexted, like a broken record player playing an outdated record from the 1980s.
See, that’s what happens when you aren’t taught relatable sex education as a queer person. Growing up, if you needed an answer to something, you had to go out of your way to find it. It wasn’t just handed to you like it was for heterosexual teens – yes, I know that sex education across the board is lacklustre in this country but at least you straights got something.
In that sense, this scene in Sex Education feels equally as much of a lesson for its audience as it is for its characters. While less than a minute long, it breaks down the core superstitions about queer male sex and HIV, and helps shed away the stigma surrounding people who live with it.
It encouraged me to talk about this with a counsellor at my local sexual health clinic and reminded me that yes, I still can go to Countdown with this boy. That sounds superficial, sure, but for queer people, those small tokens of simplicity are reminders of how far we’ve come.
This silly little show does so much for so many different groups of people. I mean, season 3 gave us an authentic (and hot) kiss with a physically handicapped character and a genuinely earnest storyline about a nonbinary student’s struggles finding a binder that works for them. It’s guiding people through things that other generations simply had to just wing.
And, for someone who had anxieties about their own sexual health while navigating talking to a boy who is undetected, it was an extremely important thing I needed to hear.
Catch Sex Education on Netflix here.