The Role of Popular Culture for Queer Teen Identities’ Formation in Netflix’s Sex Education

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

The Role of Popular Culture for Queer Teen Identities’ Formation in Netflix’s Sex Education


  • Lucía-Gloria Vázquez-Rodríguez Department of Applied Communication Sciences, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain
  • Francisco-José García-Ramos Department of Applied Communication Sciences, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain
  • Francisco A. Zurian Department of Applied Communication Sciences, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain


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Abstract:  Queer teenagers are avid readers of popular culture; as numerous audience studies prove, television plays a significant role in identity-formation for LGBTIQ+ youth, providing them with the information about sexuality, gender roles or non-normative relationships usually unavailable in their educational and home environments. In this article we analyze how some of the protagonists of Netflix’s TV show Sex Education (2019-present) utilize popular culture as a tool to explore their desires, forbidden fantasies, and gender expressions, becoming instrumental in the formation of their queer identities in a way that metatextually reflects the role LGBTIQ+ shows play for their audiences. Such is the case of Adam, a bisexual teenager that masturbates to the image of a fictional actor featured in a 1980s action film poster; Lily, whose sexual fantasies of role playing with alien creatures are strongly influenced by spatial sci-fi; and Ola, whose onyric universe is influenced by David Bowie’s genderbending aesthetics. However, the most representative example of how popular culture influences the formation of queer identities is Eric, whose non-conforming gender expression follows the example set by the trans characters in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Keywords:  gender identity; identity formation; LGBTIQ+ media; popular culture; queer; Sex Education; teens

Published:   13 September 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v9i3.4115


© Lucía-Gloria Vázquez-Rodríguez, Francisco-José García-Ramos, Francisco A. Zurian. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.