by Rachel Willis
Director Alex Liu is on a quest to overcome the shame he feels regarding sex. He’s also out to understand why sex is such a taboo subject in America – especially when it comes to our kids, their curiosity, and their own drives (whatever they may be) – in his documentary, A Sexplanation.
Part exploration of sex education in the United States, healthy sexual conversation, and personal memoir, the doc wants to understand why Liu was made to feel such shame about his own sexual acts and preferences. In a heart-wrenching moment, he even admits to contemplating suicide because of it.
This is a heavy sequence in an otherwise very lighthearted and funny documentary. Liu might still feel some of the embarrassment of his upbringing (in one particular interview it’s obvious from his blush he’s asking questions that bring discomfort), but he is determined to upend the current notion of sex as shameful.
This is the kind of documentary that would be a wonderful conversation starter for parents and their teenagers, as some of its queries are a bit too advanced for younger children. One of the points the documentary makes is that there shouldn’t be “The Talk” with kids, but a continuing conversation around age-appropriate topics. There’s no reason why a two- or three-year-old can’t know the proper terminology for their body parts. Or why a six-year-old can’t begin to understand the biological differences between the sexes. In the case of sex, silence from parents can be just as damaging as outright shaming.
This is what appears to have happened to Liu. As he talks with his parents, both of whom seem quite open to his questions, it doesn’t appear that they intended for Liu to feel awkward, embarrassed, or even wrong for a natural part of development. But their silence meant he was left to the wayward American education system, which primarily values abstinence-only over comprehensive sex-ed.
Conversations with others his age reveal the woefully inadequate education most of us have, not only concerning sex, but also some of the basics of human biology.
Liu could probably have done a bit more exploring. Still, A Sexplanation offers a non-judgmental safe space for the questions that many of us (okay, probably all of us) have had when it comes to masturbation, sexual proclivities, and the whole exciting and wonderful topic that is sex.