I had an unexpected response while sitting down with Alex Liu's engaging and remarkably informative feature doc A Sexplanation, a film I inexplicably missed during its run in my hometown Heartland International Film Festival.
I cried. A lot.
I mean, okay, sure I also laughed a lot. Alex Liu's a genuinely entertaining and immensely likable fellow whose journey through the naked truths and hard facts about sex is presented in the most perfect way possible here.
Yet, I can't deny it. I cried. A lot.
And that's okay.
It's okay that I cried remembering how the church that I grew up in booted me out once they discovered, or at least believed, that I was gay (I'm not. Try unpacking that for a few hours).
It's okay that I cried, and even grieved, over an experimental surgery performed during my adolescence that both improved my quality of life AND would negatively impact my sexual performance later in life.
It's okay I cried over years of various forms of sexual assault and abuse and the realization that I have been sexually assaulted more than I have ever felt physically or sexually loved.
It's okay that I cried over the years of shame, some of which most certainly still exists, caused by a body that is different and that means my sexuality is expressed in different and decidedly not mainstream ways.
It's okay. It's all okay.
This is what I came away with from A Sexplanation, a documentary that manages to entertain as much as it informs and a documentary that manages to give a green light to questions and conversations, exploration and curiosity.
36-year-old Alex Liu sets out to right the wrongs of his all-American sex education. He commits to the journey no matter how awkward it gets and he commits himself to a full-on, comprehensive exploration that includes everything from neuroscience labs to church pews and the full political spectrum. While it's unlikely that everyone is going to embrace A Sexplanation, Liu is a queer Asian-American after all, but for those open to fiercely frank and relentlessly honest discussions around sexuality it's difficult to imagine it being presented any better than it is in A Sexplanation.
As someone who grew up with a short (Admit it. You think I'm going to say penis.) life expectancy due to spina bifida, I was ill-prepared for the fantastic yet frightening world of human sexuality. It was this basic fact, a complete absence of anything resembling sexuality education and parents who yelled at me if I dared to ask a single question (I stopped asking!), that at least contributed to a wealth of abusive experiences before I ever ventured into the world of consensual sexual expression. It would be years later, and I still remember the exact relationship and moment, when I would realize that I was physically "different" and this would largely fuel an already existing shame spiral around anything resembling human contact.
While Liu's experiences are nothing like my own, it's largely his own willingness to have awkward, uncomfortable conversations around his own hang-ups and shame that took me inward throughout A Sexplanation's 81-minute running time. While Liu grew up in the political climate that said that abstinence was good, in my case abstinence was more assumed.
After all, who would really want sexually confused paraplegic/double amputee with body function issues, a curved spine, and a host of other issues?
Much to my surprise, quite a few. That's who.
A Sexplanation explores the comprehensive world of sexuality in ways that remarkably balance accurate information with an abundance of humor and, perhaps even more surprisingly, an even greater abundance of heart. You can't help but like Alex Liu, whose playfulness creates a playground of safety as he discusses sexuality with psychologists, sex researchers, a Jesuit priest, politicians, and he even visits my home state of Indiana to visit the Kinsey Institute.
Oh, yeah. Liu also talks to his own parents.
A Sexplanation is, within its very essence, a lighthearted yet passionate call for comprehensive sex education and for a communal vulnerability to have difficult discussions that make us better human beings and better able to relate to one another. As a disabled adult who has at times required assistance with personal care and as someone who works in a professional field where physical assistance is often expected, I've long expressed that even caregiving is an act of intimacy that can open the door to important conversations, healthy personal development, and deepened friendships and relationships.
Instead, we often shy away from them. Or, even worse, we consider them taboo.
The shame spiral continues.
Let it stop now.
A Sexplanation is a sex-positive breath of fresh air and an encouragement that we can break the cycles of shame regardless of how we obtained them and finally move enthusiastically toward the enjoyment of pleasure, intimacy, and a healthier sexuality.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic