Do we need to talk about sex? For some people, it’s easier to drop the f-bomb than say penis or clitoris and perhaps that needs to change. The breezy documentary, “A Sexplanation,” proves ample opportunity to brush up on sex ed and blush at possible shortcomings. Writer/director Alex Liu is a thirty-something belatedly trying to come to terms with the shame he’s associated with sex. He knows that means some uncomfortable conversations, but dispels that kind of first-time intimacy talk awkwardness with sight gags, including luscious-looking phallus cake pops, food-related metaphors and animated innuendos.
Before I slide in to “A Sexplanation,” I need to divulge some pertinent information, things that my mother will never know or read because she is dead–just recently buried. That’s not something I’m celebrating except in spiritual terms (since I believe in the afterlife), because I do feel a sense of loss. And yet there’s also a sense of liberation. I can’t embarrass her now, can I (unless you believe in O-bon). Anyway, here it is: I initiated sex talk at work, but it wasn’t a #MeToo moment. I once went to work on Halloween as the Safer Sex Fairy–the funner cousin of the Tooth Fairy. Instead of handing out money in exchange for unneeded body parts (teeth), I gave out Halloween-themed condoms, but gave each recipient (almost all men) a short talk about safer sex (because remember there is no such thing as totally safe sex).
I had received my training at a free weekend HIV/AIDS workshop specifically for the AAPI community. As an art student I was already used to seeing naked bodies posed and did an art project about condoms called “Balloons.” Later, as a theater critic, I saw lots of naked bodies, including full-frontal male nudity. That includes twice seeing the original productions of “Naked Boys Singing.” Theater critics have to be prepared for any topic because in Los Angeles, you don’t have to watch porn to see naked bodies although all of these experiences predate the pandemic.
The mechanics of sex, I learned as a child from watching fancy guppies breed and soon enough also learned about cannibalism and the dangers of inbreeding and the need for birth control. In more recent years, I learned about cryptorchidism (a disqualifying condition in AKC show dogs) and how semen is collected from male dogs for testing motility. I have a yard devoted to hummingbirds and so a-buzz with bees, I bought a bee net for my bonnet. I know about the birds and the bees and how most dogs are humping ready for a bitch in heat. Sex is all around us, but often hard to talk about. I’m not sure why or what is the answer.
Despite all this, Liu, co-writing with Leonardo Neri, goes where I never went and where many adults never want to go: He has a sex talk with his parents and explores their sexual experience and inexperience. All of this is to penetrate the puritanical approach to sex in hopes of making a sex positive choice. His parents tackled the topic with surprising good attitudes.
Of course, you don’t have to go there. I never will. If you decide to see “A Sexplanation,” expect his sweet cheekiness to be punctuated by some actual sensuous cheeks of the nether regions, some penis and clitoris diagrams and photos. Some will not want to expose their children to these explicit but not really pornographic images. These are medical images–including some horrific flashes of diseased flesh (so quick you won’t really recall them). I spent several years at Yahoo Search Marketing and I know the difference between pornography and medical and educational images, but if you still support the Anthony Comstock way of thinking and wish that girls and women didn’t learn about birth control, this film might give you heart palpitations. The nudity is mostly presented in natural or naturist settings. The bad talk about sex is mostly glossed over by which I mean rape and #MeToo concerns and how sex-positive private conversations can, like the free-love of the sixties, become a shame-fest coercive ploy by master manipulators. Liu doesn’t go there.
Liu does go to neuroscience labs, to churches, to psychologists and to sex researchers for information and informative conversations.
In “A Sexplanation,” Liu concludes that families are the foundation for good sex education and even found a group where nearly a dozen parents and kids had conversations about sex and were then told to have 200 one-minute conversations going forward. Silence is the problem and ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance is teen pregnancies and high STD rates and confused teens who grow into confused adults. Sex is natural, but sometimes people need help on what Irving Berlin called “Doin’ What Comes Naturally.” Liu’s “A Sexplanation” is one way and a particularly gay-friendly way to get the conversation going.
“A Sexplanation” made its world premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival in March and was part of the AAIFF 2021.