The first season was great: a refreshingly original coming-of-age drama, centred around Otis (Asa Butterfield), son of a sex therapist, Jean (the formidable Gillian Anderson), who starts dispensing sex advice to his classmates for a small fee. He’s helped out by social-outcast Maeve (Emma Mackey) and his out, gay best friend Eric (the scene-stealing Ncuti Gatwa).
The supporting cast is thoroughly talented, with even minor characters fleshed out to an extent that few such dramas manage. Head boy Jackson struggles with the endless expectations put upon him. Adam, the headmaster’s son, is more than just a bully and is given a redemption arc through this season. Formerly a member of the elite clique known as “the untouchables,” Aimee isn’t to be dismissed as a ditsy blonde—in dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault on the bus to school, she comes into her own as a character.
The show doesn’t shy away from difficult topics: unprotected sex and abortion, both sexual and physical assault; all these issues are dealt with astutely, sensitively. The representation is practically unparalleled, yet manages not to feel contrived: characters are from a variety of social, economic and religious backgrounds yet they coexist, united by school—and by sex.
The show feels emphatically queer. What I mean by that is that it feels like a queer energy pervades the show. Jackson, for instance, has two mums, which some shows might dwell on but here it’s mentioned off-hand, a part of his character. Several characters discover their queerness over the course of the season: we watch them go on an intensely personal journey and are taken along for the ride. “Sexuality informs these characters as who they are as people,” summarises Gabe Bergado in Teen Vogue, “but doesn’t define them.” Show-runners could learn a lot from this.
The setting is deliberately generic: although filmed in south Wales, it feels very rural and very British, yet many of the details feel thoroughly American. The school, for instance, feels much more like a New England High School than an English Sixth Form; I don’t know of a state school here that has its own pool, with a swim team and uniform, as well. This, of course, speaks to Netflix’s international audience—and has helped the show go down a storm on both sides of the Atlantic, including a glowing write-up in The New Yorker.
The show feels at once very contemporary—text conversations are brought alive onscreen, Sherlock-style—and somehow timeless, with no mention of politics. Yet sex education, what can and can’t be taught in schools, particularly in America, is fundamentally political.
Sex is at the core of the show, but it’s never just teens having endless, romanticised sex. Instead, sex is messy and complicated, funny and confusing, all at once; different people want different things, they have different expectations. Often, people don’t know what they want. In this respect, Sex Education is far superior to any formal sex education that I received at school. And, speaking to friends, I had it relatively good: we discussed sexuality, consent, various forms of contraception, where others did little more than put condoms on cucumbers. Such disparity is itself a significant part of the problem.
The show also demonstrates why such education is lacking: the squeamishness and conservatism of those in charge. Alternatives fill this gap: here, it’s Otis, but elsewhere, people look to the internet and, all too often, pornography or other similarly unreliable sources. We’ve now reached a point where comedy-dramas on Netflix are doing a better job than many schools. The show contains practical advice on several issues, from anal douching to how chlamydia is spread.
Netflix is stepping up elsewhere, too. The show Sex, Explained, narrated by Janelle Monae, offers straightforward and nonjudgmental advice about a variety of topics, from fertility to BDSM. The short films are aimed at an adult audience, either supplementing or making up for knowledge taught at school or learned in life.
Sex Education’s season finale centres around a musical production of Romeo and Juliet, and is as delightful as it is ridiculous: the stage is shaped like a penis, the audience enters the school hall through a paper-mâché vagina. It’s one of the wildest, funniest things I’ve seen in ages. I’m not sure I can do it justice here—I urge you to watch for yourself.
In the past century, the online sex industry has prospered—from ASCII porn, to Twitch streamers and tech dommes, camgirls have reached new heights but also new lows. With the recent emergence of deepfakes, many people are asking themselves what the future of porn, internet security and fake news will look like, and so do I. What measures must we now put into place to mediate this new form of content creation? I decided to venture into the universe of deepfakes, and research its repercussions on the inherently digital realm of cam girls, to see just how much it could change in the coming years.
For the newbies out there, neural networks use algorithms to generate deepfakes that then create imagery based on images they’ve been fed beforehand. Information flows through a neural network in two steps. When it’s learning or operating normally, patterns of information are fed into the network via the input units, which trigger the layers of hidden units, and these, in turn, arrive at the output units.
In this case, these neural networks are being used to accurately replace a person’s face with another, leading to incredibly realistic fake videos. It has become so rampant that there is now a whole category on Pornhub dedicated to falsified content of a plethora of celebrities. While deepnudes don’t affect celebrities that much, as these can easily be found and disproven, they will affect industries where the lines are more blurred, such as camgirling.
My predictions aim to be optimistic, but also acknowledge the potential setbacks of such emotionally detached imagery. From ideas of self-sufficiency to incel uprisings and computer-generated cam girl agencies, let’s have a look at what the rise of deepfakes could mean for the cam girl industry.
1. Camgirls will be able to do everything and anything
As any sex worker will tell you—everyone has their limits as to what they’re ok and not ok with. So what if they could still perform the acts they refuse to do without the physical and emotional labour? Being able to recycle content already online and fulfilling the client’s fantasy could be the answer to many performers wishing to keep a competitive edge. If you didn’t know your camgirl was faking this content, wouldn’t it be a win-win situation?
2. A constant stream of content
Being a camgirl is a full-time job, and the possibility of providing a steady stream of content to your fans could revolutionise the way they make their income. Will we reach an age where your favourite camgirl is always online? And could developments within emotional AI aid not only creating infinite content, but content tailored to you.
3. To use deepnude is also to detect deepnude
Another key aspect of the new deepnudes software is its ability to detect a deepnude, thus also serving as a means for sex workers to counteract content spread using their likeness against their will. This characteristic could potentially aid the mediation of this new software and, hopefully, give back control to those being unrightfully exploited in these images. The software could even hypothetically be integrated into websites where this content might be spread (ex: Pornhub), and limit its unlawful effects.
4. Tech Domme 2.0
Within the tech domme realm, anything that can make the sub/dom experience more vivid and interactive is celebrated. This new software could improve the relationship between tech dommes and clients, offering up new ways to please the submissive slave. This could manifest itself as videos utilizing their face and the dominatrixes’ tactics, bridging the gap between the virtual sphere and reality.
5. Uncanny valley
For some, deepnudes are a way to engage in intimacy without the complexities of human emotion. With the share of men under 30 who haven’t had sex in the past year having tripled, this seems like it could hinder society’s current efforts to combat incel culture and the increasing disdain our generation has towards sex. Will deepnudes steer us toward more automated and primal experiences regarding sex?
6. Computer-generated cam girl agencies
Since Lil Miquela, Imma, Bermuda, and Blawko, the idea of accepting virtual characters into our real lives, seems more legitimate than ever. Computer-generated cam girls could be the next step in the porn industry.
7. Rent my face
Finally, representing the ultimate convergence between infinite post-biological profession and technology, is the concept of patenting your own identity. As we now increasingly value our faces as currency, could we see people selling their rights to their own face to these camgirl agencies? And, will we see retired pornstars such as Jenna Jameson or even Linda Lovelace, making a return to our computer screens?
While these things explore the ability for deepnudes to be used, I stand by the idea that, in a similar way to books, people will still seek out human connections. Rather than the industry becoming obsolete, it will evolve and provide a whole new realm of possibilities for creators and consumers alike. However, just like anything in the rapidly evolving digital realm, the most pressing issue is to have laws and procedures in place so that software can be used respectfully.