Alex Liu’s A Sexplanation is a funny, frank and substantial look at the landscape of sexuality in America. Liu aimed to make a film to balance the lacking nature of sex education in the United States, and although it’s hard to imagine middle America ever approaching this topic with their children through the lens of an incredibly charming middle-aged gay man, Liu has succeeded at making a movie for those kids to discover once they enter the real world.
The film starts with a mission statement: This isn’t going to use euphemisms or beat around the bush. This is a sex-positive documentary, and all topics are fair game. Liu has open discussions about the pros and cons of pornography with sex experts, delves into the nature of sexual shame with psychologists, and discusses (openly) the lack of communication about sexual topics with his aged parents. “We cared more about your grades than what you were leaning in sex ed,” Liu’s father says, although neither of his parents seems uncomfortable participating in the documentary. Liu casts a broad net, touching on every possible topic he can cram into the 90-minute runtime. It’s a crash course in the sheer diversity of sexual expression.
To his credit: Liu is open about his biases but also interviews many people with whom he disagrees — for example, a Utah senator who championed the state’s ban on pornography, counter-protestors at a Women’s March and abstinence-only champions. There are a lot of views of sexuality in America, and not all of them are sex-positive. Of course, the prevalence of those views is the genesis for Liu’s story. Had he not grown up feeling shame about his body and about himself, he might never have felt the calling to make a documentary about sex.
Although it covers a lot of territory in a short time, A Sexplanation is ultimately grounded by Liu’s openness about himself, his hang-ups, his fetishes and his sexual history. He’s a so charismatic and instantly likable that even those unaccustomed to discussing these types of topics will have trouble rejecting his perspective. He’s a smart guy who made an engrossing and thoughtful movie, helping himself come to terms with who he is in the process. Liu walks the walk and never sugarcoats the sometimes tumultuous journey to being comfortable in your own skin. A thoughtful, excellent work.
A Sexplanation is available as part of the Heartland Film Festival’s online offerings from Oct. 7 to Oct. 17.
An in-person screening will be held at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Monday, Oct. 11 at the Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie.