Let’s talk about sex.
In documentarian Alex Liu’s mind, we don’t talk about it enough, or if we do, it’s not honestly enough. We may have hang-ups; we may have judgments. And many of us, if not all of us, have a sense of shame about it. With the good-humored but serious A Sexplanation, Liu tries to figure out why that is, and how we as a society might overcome it.
Upfront, he’s honest about his own bias. As an out queer man in San Francisco, he knows in advance what conclusion he’d like to reach, and lightly pokes at the audience’s comfort. However, he’s also willing to push himself, such as sitting down with his parents and grandmother to talk about sexuality — every boy’s dream, right? Yet it proves his point, as he doesn’t get the answers — or pushback — that he might have expected. In a moving moment, his Grandmother explains how confused and scared she was by her first period, and how inadequate her parish priest’s advice was.
There the narrative follows two tracks, because there really are two issues. Rightly or wrongly, we wrestle with sexuality with varying degrees of moral judgment, and Liu has civil — maybe even constructive — conversations with anti-abortion activists and a Utah state senator. Granted, it’s in a San Francisco diocese, but his conversation with a Catholic priest is eye-opening. (Side-note: yes, I used the feature image that I did because I wanted people to come at this review without judgment — I thought the main still used in publicity is funny and appropriate, but would keep some people from reading this article.)
Then there’s the simple issue of needing to have enough education on the subject, something woefully lacking nation-wide. Even the Utah politician falls back on “families should be talking about this,” but more often than not, they don’t. How can you take sex seriously if you giggle nervously at saying the word “vulva”?
Liu takes a trip to the Kinsey Institute and to a sex education conference in Canada, speaking to experts in the field about what should and should not be happening to educate young people about sexuality. As with the Catholic priest, the answers might not be what you think. But the point is that after receiving a proper education, you should be able to judge for yourself.
A Sexplanation even takes a poignant turn that has nothing to do with sex — okay, maybe in passing — but in itself is almost as thought-provoking as the rest. It may not be a perfect documentary, but it is gently provocative, needing to be seen and talked about. (I was able to talk with Alex Liu last week — and truly, it was a great conversation.)
The trailer is below — and yes, some of it veers into territory that might make you uncomfortable. Or giggle. Or both. But watch it, and then stream A Sexplanation at creatics.org/cinejoy/ from March 20 to March 30.