“We need a book,” says Alex Liu, director and star of the frank, informative, and just a tad bit titillating documentary A Sexplanation. “Like there was that book 20 years ago, Everybody Poops? We need the book Everybody Masturbates.”
A health and science reporter who has produced content for NOVA ScienceNOW and CNN Health, Liu created A Sexplanation with production partner Leonardo Neri as something of a course correction, combating his own years of repression and shame.
The film aims to demystify everything Liu, who is gay, always wanted to know about the science of sex — from gender and orientation to orgasms, porn, and masturbation.
In the film, Liu puts his body where his mouth is, so to speak, submitting himself to study at the Kinsey Institute, where scientists are hard at work probing the physiological mechanisms behind orgasms. As Liu discovered, after strapping in for a masturbation session inside an MRI machine, even the experts know relatively little about these universal aspects of the human experience.
“Scientists can’t even agree what the definition of an orgasm is,” says Liu. “They don’t have even the basic structure of an orgasm to understand how it affects your body, your brain, your nerves. Is it like a sneeze? Is it like an epileptic seizure? What is an orgasm? People are still debating that. So submitting myself jerking off in an MRI machine, they’re trying to answer the very basic questions.
“It’s crazy because I feel like a third of my life is in pursuit of an orgasm — and that I don’t really even understand why or how or what it brings me in terms of health, happiness, is kind of nuts.”
Both onscreen and in his work, Liu pursues his “sexplanations” with an engaging emphasis on sex positivity. Raised in a conservative household, in the era of abstinence-only sex education, now he hopes to shine a light on the questions that left him feeling confused, ashamed, and at times, unworthy as a kid struggling with his own identity.
“I think I’ve always had anger around the fact that my queer identity was a source of so much suffering, when the sex education curricula that could have saved my life in so many ways was just never given to me,” he says. “And often parents don’t have the support, schools don’t have the support. No one’s willing to support kids in ways that they need to.”
Liu hopes A Sexplanation can provide support for sensible sex education, noting that he has been contacted by a number of schools interested in screening the film for students.
“Colleges, mostly,” he says. “We had a couple of high schools approach us, but I think it was too much for them. And sadly, it’s not the descriptions of sex that freaked them out. It’s that 90-second montage of nude bodies. It’s like, you can show depictions of rape and murder, but the nude body really freaks out censors.”
The main thrust of the film is that none of us should freak out about sex, or even talking about sex.
“I think often the first messages we get around sex are negative,” says Liu. “But the core fundamental message kids should understand from birth is that, ‘Pleasure is good, sex is good, your body is a gift. Isn’t it amazing? And come to me with any questions you have about how to use it for good and to make it work for you.’ I just hope that this movie gets people to understand that that could save lives.”
A Sexplanation is available for download on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.
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