REVIEW: Cucalorus kicks off with enticing curiosity in ‘A Sexplanation’

Boyce Rucker, Intern

Sexuality is one of the largest taboos across America. It’s a catalyst for the youth’s curiosity and a component for countless ongoing debates, such as birth control and advertising. Furthermore, a more personable issue lies in society’s suppression and weaponization of sex and sexuality. Filmmaker Alex Liu’s feature-length documentary “A Sexplanation” explores the flaws in America’s sex education and offers subjective, yet convincing, thoughts on sexual behavior. 

Liu explores the flaws and impact of America’s sex education, embarking on a sex-positive quest to correct the misconceptions of sex brought on by America’s inadequate sex education. Liu sits down with psychologists, a politician, a Catholic priest, an anonymous Pornhub employee and sex researchers to find truthful answers for a brighter and more relaxed future. Candid yet vibrant, this film explores a natural view of sexuality that’s awkward in the beginning but enlightening by the end. 

Liu demonstrates a strong and personal investment in the film’s subject. He is diligent in his research of sexual health and science and he finds the most creative ways to present his findings, as seen in his various sketch videos

The film is as much a story of Liu’s experience of sex as it is a critique. Liu explains how his time in school during his youth included some of the most ultimate condemnations of sex. He and his classmates were taught to believe that premarital sex was a shameful thing with horrific consequences. Childbirth videos and graphic STD photos were shown to deter kids from engaging in sex. Because of this, many people could only see the shameful side to sex and not much of the pleasurable or rewarding side to it. These images especially affected Liu, who is a gay man. Even so, Liu found pleasure in surfing the web for pornography but felt shame afterward for giving into lust. As sex was framed as being unnatural and something he thought his family would shame him for, it pinned him into a corner of isolation.

Alex Liu in “A Sexplanation” (2021). (Alex Liu/Herra Productions)

The documentary is unique in its presentation and approach to the subject material. Liu excels at making sex education feel like a naturally lighthearted part of life and not just the elephant in the room for a health class. In the opening minutes, he immediately signals an exhibitory film that changes the way we think about sex and sexuality. The film’s opening catches us off guard in a humorous manner, as Liu’s narration is accompanied by shapes and words in the environment that blatantly represent to sex. The audience becomes desensitized to sex as a taboo as we see all censorship stripped away within the first few minutes. The humorous style is similar to the Netflix show “Big Mouth,” although there’s a rewarding payoff to Liu’s comedic timing. At this point, we see the film become a fruitful comedy and not just a simple exposé on flawed sex education.         

Liu gathers exceptional interviewees whose responses leave us with life-changing concepts about sex as a natural part of the human life cycle. The interviews are engaging and each interviewees’ responses craft a new talking point within the film. For instance, the interview with the Pornhub employee (whose crotch the camera points at for anonymity), leads to a greater look at porn analytics. One sexual health researcher adds that people mistake fantasy with wishes. Porn creates a liberating fantasy that shows the act of sex without consequence or shame, a source of liberation which Liu found in his own youthful exploration. However, this doesn’t mean a person desires the illustrated porn experience for themselves. This concept rips away at sex as a shameful thing, highlighting its inevitability as something everyone confronts at some point. There is never a wasted conversation in this film, as we’re always treated to a new piece of information that enlightens us on the treatment of sex. 

On another note, Liu is a great “leading man” of this film as he spices up the conversations with his own brand of flavorful humor. But with this humor, it’s easy to see that he’s learning these ideas alongside us. The project is very much about identity and self-discovery in the face of societal pressure towards sex. Liu’s story is inspirational, in that it speaks for everyone who may feel ashamed due to societal repression of sexual behavior. He accomplishes what a middle school sex education film isn’t capable of doing. He removes delusion and frames sexuality as an introspective experience, supplying us with the profound truth that it is hardwired to our biology. 

“A Sexplanation” is an exciting and perceptive documentary that can encourage a new way of thinking towards sexuality. While it’s already been screened at Cucalorus, those interested in seeing it can be on the lookout for the film at upcoming festivals listed here.