An Exploration of ‘A Sexplanation’ [InsideOut21]

There’s been an ongoing discussion on the topic of sex education in schools for about as long as I can remember. It’s been on numerous occasions linked back to “liberals want to expose our children to sex at a young age” and “conservatives want our kids to be celibate until marriage,” but it’s so much deeper than that. There’s a lot more of a gray area to look at that falls under what sort of information should be handed to a child/teenager from an adult figure and at what age. As much as I agree that many, if not all, education systems lack a well-put-together and effective sex education program, you also have to take a step back and wonder what the motive or agenda of the program is. Every lecture comes with an agenda; just think back to when they used to tell kids to stay celibate or you’ll catch an STI and die. Luckily for the Inside Out Festival this year, Alex Liu presents us with a documentary to discuss where we currently stand on the sex education system, why it’s important, and a dissection of his generational shame on sex and sexuality. 

A Sexplanation follows 36-year-old gay man Alex Liu on his journey and exploration of his very own sexual shame that was built up from birth and throughout his adolescence and teen years. Alex describes that his shame was generationally passed down from his grandmother, to his parents and onto him. This goes as deep as the women in his family being embarrassed and uneducated on their periods even, which isn’t very uncommon in a religious, Catholic especially, household. On top of it all, growing up as a gay kid in the closet can produce even more shame because of the lack of acknowledgement towards queer kids and safe sex in school. Honestly, there’s so much to unpack within this documentary with how many conversations and topics it opened up considering he went across the United States and even to Canada to meet with researchers, therapists and even a Catholic priest to discuss sex education or lack thereof. 

As stated by the writer-director himself, we all at some point must navigate shame and doubt, most specifically through puberty and our teenage years. For many, the topic of sex is taboo and as a parent, you must educate your children and have “the talk”. The idea of that talk on puberty and sex with your kids being aggressively known as awkward and uncomfortable is problematic in itself because that embarrassment falls onto your children. If the conversation and dialogue are openly dreaded and a “sorry but we’ve got to do this” kind of attitude is present, what message is that sending to someone? Why would a kid come back with more questions that they’ve been curious about when there’s already some type of dread involved? Instead of an emphasis on a specific talk being the centre of the topic, a healthy and comfortable ongoing dialogue should instead be highlighted. I’m not trying to say this is supposed to be the easiest conversation for a parent to have with their child because who wants to sit and talk about sex with their family, but a safe space for curiosity and to comfortably learn more without judgement seems to be the correct take. 

Before we dive into more of Alex’s story, it’s got to be said that we’d truly be lying to ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge how sexist the sex education system has been towards women and the way our society doesn’t pay enough attention to women’s pleasure. Believe it or not, women should have orgasms and enjoy sex just as much as men but there’s just too little discussion about how women should have a comfortable experience past the conversation of consent. There’s a lot more to a vagina than just menstruation and birth, so why is there so much more tension and a larger taboo on female masturbation. Why are we raised in our society to believe that women aren’t as sexually active or as interested in sex as men? The documentary raises these concerns that have been highlighted by many women already and it’s important to continue acknowledging this flaw so that we can continue to improve upon what our education should look like.

When it comes to Alex’s story, he like many other young queer people had an added amount of shame due to his sexuality. Sexuality in itself is such a terrifying thing to grasp because it’s constantly being reworked and changed along with us already having a lack of understanding and education on it. How are we supposed to feel comfortable with ourselves and how are others around us supposed to have a clear understanding when talking about it in sex-ed is completely off the table. The way we’re given a sexual education makes sex out to be for the sole purpose of reproduction and this film along with the experts does an incredible job of constantly reinstating that we’re all sexual beings whether we like it or not. As mentioned in the documentary, sex helps us with our identity, connection and expression. Those three words stuck with me throughout its runtime because they’re three of the most important aspects of our existence and they exist to create a better understanding of who we are as people and not only what we want in life, but in bed as well. 

While I enjoyed hearing critiques from professionals on sexual education being taught in schools, there were two very different topics of conversation that left me thinking after they came up. One of which being multiple conversations about views on pornography from different counterparts. Sitting down with a republican figure for a calm and collected conversation about whether pornography itself is dangerous for our youth or not. The Republican man stated that he doesn’t believe porn is healthy and should not be consumed or watched by people, especially teenagers due to it becoming an addiction and creating a dangerous perception of sex. The thing is, porn is fantasy and we all fantasize about one thing or another. Sexual fantasies exist within every single human being’s mind and they’re not always ideal. Some create a disgusting amount of shame because of how taboo the subject is but just because we fantasize about something does not mean we want it to be our reality. As stated in the film, we have complete control over our fantasies so why dwell and feel shameful about the ones that are harmless because of how wrong or dirty we think they are. I do believe porn creates a somewhat unrealistic portrayal of sex but the truth is that there’s so much that goes into a performance behind and in between the scenes. This brings us to a fact that should be very widespread – lube is your best friend. If you wanna throw in little Easter eggs for queer kids without explicitly talking about it in sex-ed, just let that be said and known. 

The second of conversations that took place in the documentary that stuck with me is when Alex sat down with a devoted member of the Catholic church – which is a known institution that has berated the queer community, has been fuelled with sexist views and has promoted celibacy as the best contraception and of the godliest behaviour. The member himself acknowledged that how the church has dealt with homosexuality and sex has been in a very negative light before explaining that he knows and believes that Jesus himself was a sexual being just as all of us, and that sexuality itself is what drives us towards other people. That’s not to say you want to have sex with them because sex is only one aspect of sexuality, another aspect being connection. While I also acknowledge that not every church is like this and not every member has evolved with modern views, it was refreshing to hear from a devout Catholic church member that we shouldn’t fear sex and sexuality, but instead, better understand it. 

As you can see, there’s so much to take from this humour-filled, entertaining and educational documentary. Seeing someone be so candid about their sexual repression and shame, as well as shed so much light on the conversations we don’t have enough of was brilliant. The truth that this film shares with us is that there is a solution to breaking this shame we experience as we go through some of the most trying years of our lives, and that’s a comprehensive sexual education. Sex-ed as described by professionals is giving kids the information before they need it. It’s so funny to me because you’ll see parents and other adults protesting sex education within schools and that it’s a topic that should be discussed at home with information being handpicked by the parents, but aren’t these same people the ones who aren’t comfortable talking about it with their kids and make it out to be a taboo subject? I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that never once made sex out to be unnatural or taboo where any questions we had were never looked at or answered in a judging way, but so many others aren’t given that privilege which is why sex education is so important. There needs to be a safe space without judgement for lessons on sex to be taught, where any question can be answered and queer sex (which includes experimentation) needs to be added to this lesson for those in the closet and are having safe sex lessons for heterosexual people shoved down their throats. The names of the parts of our anatomy like clitoris, penis, testicles, vulva, anus need to stop being seen as uncomfortable to say. This film shows and states that while sexuality isn’t a choice, fearing it is. It’s time to stop fearing sexuality and having it be taboo to start openly talking about it because at the end of the day, we’re all sexual beings and that will never change.