Filmmakers Alex Liu and Leo Neri speak with Karen about “A Sexplanation,” their lively and smart new documentary on sex education in the US told through the lens of Liu’s own upbringing.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
#S3E13 | "A Sexplanation" with filmmakers Alex Liu and Leo Neri
[Wild & Sublime theme music]
Alex Liu: Same sex education curriculum is dictated by individual local school boards who have to run local campaigns to get elected, and they're just not going to run on a campaign of, like, normalizing masturbation, normalizing non-heteronormative, monogamous sex.
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. I chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You'll hear meaningful conversations, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I'm sex educator and intimacy coach Karen Yates.
This week, I talk to filmmakers Alex Liu and Leo Neri about their new, irreverent documentary, "A Sexplanation," that examines sex education as it exists or doesn't in America, through the lens of one man's upbringing. Keep listening.
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Hey, folks. Today marks a milestone in the Wild & Sublime podcast: our first film interview. "A Sexplanation," a documentary about sex education in America, will be dropping on many platforms this week, including iTunes, after an award-winning festival run. On this episode, I'll be interviewing writer and director Alex Liu and cowriter and producer Leo Neri about the making of the film and what brought it to be in the first place. "A Sexplanation" is playful and engaging, and covers a lot of ground. We watch Alex, who is also a health reporter, interview multiple North American experts, leaders and teachers, including his own parents and an executive from Pornhub, as they all weigh in on how sex information gets transmitted, especially to kids. Through all of it, we watch Alex unpack his own sexual shame, brought on by his subpar sex education that excludes pleasure and queerness. But let me be clear, in case you think this is a wah-wah, handwringing kind of film — it isn't. Alex gracefully projects relatability and humor as he wends his way through the ludicrousness of us sex education currently, while managing to stay upbeat. Alex Liu and Leo Neri sat down a few weeks ago to discuss the film and their own journeys while making it. I think you're going to enjoy our conversation.
Alex Liu, welcome.
Alex Liu: Hi. Hi.
Karen Yates: And Leo Neri.
Leo Neri: How's it going? Thanks for having us.
Karen Yates: Yeah, it's super great to have both of you on. So, Alex, I was so struck by how many voices you had in "A Sexplanation." Like, how many experts from all different areas of sexuality studies were in the film, creating such a nice, broad view of sexuality and what's going on in America right now. And oh, my God, what can we do about it? In addition to people just doing straight research. The other thing that really surprised me is how personal the film was. And how—
Alex Liu: It surprised me too!
Karen Yates: Yeah, right? I got that sense. As I was moving along the movie with you, I'm like, Oh, wow. He's like, he's kind of in real time here. Like, this isn't canned. Like, he is part of the process of the movie. And you talk in the movie about how your impulse for making the film was your sexual shame. And sexual shame is such an intense topic. And we talk a lot about it in the podcast. You say that the impulse for making the film was that you felt that the reason you had sexual shame was — one of the reasons was your lack of good sex education as a kid. Can we dig into this a little bit more, about the realization and what it looked like? Was it like a lightning strike? Was it over a period of time? How did you come to this?
Alex Liu: I think it was slow, and then fast, I think is the best way to put it. I came out of the closet relatively early for someone my age, at 17 in the 2000s — 2001, right when the gay marriage debates were really hitting some pretty ugly moments. And it was a matter of life and death for me to come out. I probably would have killed myself, frankly, if I didn't. And luckily, I have amazing parents who are able to provide the emotional-psychological support, put me in therapy, to help me understand and contextualize this thing that I've been trying to deal with on my own in complete silence, which was not healthy. And finally coming out, I mean, that was such a relief. But it opened up a whole new set of problems, which is, now that I've admitted to the world that I'm gay, how do I actually make this thing work, or work the way I want it to? And as I started to have sex, I thought coming out of the closet would be the hardest thing. But the actual ins and outs of how do you actually have a good, healthy, fun, fulfilling sex life was like this whole other battle. And luckily, I was in college, I was studying Molecular Toxicology, kind of this biology background. And through that, I basically discovered that there's a lot of actual research — it's not tons of research, but there is good research out there. There's good sex education curriculums that have been put in place since the 80s, really. And just reading certain, just simple phrases that kind of showed the distribution of basically, every single kink, quirk desire is totally normal. Just seeing that written out. I mean, you can go back into the Kinsey reports, it's something I didn't know about until much later.
And then you start to think, Okay, wow, if I just heard these very simple phrases from some sort of authority figure, whether it be my community, my school, my parents, whomever, things would have been drastically different for me, just so much more different. And then I just started doing the research — why isn't this taught in school? And then you understand that sex education curriculum is dictated by individual local school boards, who have to run political campaigns to get elected, and they're just not going to run on a campaign of like, normalizing masturbation, normalizing non-heteronormative, monogamous sex. It's just not worth it to them, even if they might believe it. Because there's just so many other issues. I mean, as you can see, right now, schools are always going to be this kind of hot potato, this flashpoint in our culture. Really low down on their list is good, comprehensive sex education, because they're fighting to even get accurate history lessons, right?
So then the anger starts to get even worse, because you realize it's just such a difficult, intractable problem. And rather than throw myself into existential screams into the night, I decided, maybe I could try to take my science background, my reporting background, and try to process these feelings and what to do, and a guidepost to help — really, you know, it ended up being about families, like, how do families deal with this? And how do you deal with the fear? So I ended up having a lot of empathy for families who are anti-sex ed, because they never got good sex ed. So what do they know? You know, it's really easy to fearmonger. So this is my way of trying to help actually talk to people. Like, we actually all I think, are, even if you're conservative, very much on the same page for a lot of these things.
Karen Yates: Absolutely. I even got this sense — and maybe I was reading too much into it — when you were talking with the Utah senator, it almost seemed like you did have a bit of understanding with him. What was your feeling in the moment?
I think it might be frankly, Utah is an outlier when it comes to conservative politics. Because of the Mormon faith. I actually do think some of the values — being there for an extended period of time, it was very enlightening to understand that their values are much more aligned than maybe, places like — not to generalize, but other conservative bastions in the United States. And there is a real strong feeling of generosity and kindness, and they extend it to people who are outside of them. They have a background of going to places that are outside of their bubbles, and learning to see how big the world really is. But I think if I had done that interview, frankly, 10 years ago, it would have been a lot more contentious. I would have just been so angry. I would have just been so looking for ‘gotcha’ moments, looking to make him look bad. And early iterations of the film, I think, were much angrier and were much more reactionary, but I think, speaking to so many wonderful sex educators about all of these feelings, you soon realize that what you're looking for, what I'm looking for, is love, tolerance, acceptance, understanding. But if I'm unwilling to give those to the people who I want it from, how can I expect them to give it to me? And so, going into those interviews in the later stages, I had a lot more empathy, and a lot more focus on listening to what they actually were trying to say, and finding moments of connection, rather than trying to make myself look right in front of them.
Yeah, yeah. And I'm looking forward to digging into some of those interviews in a bit. But I want to ask, Leo Neri, you were the cowriter on this project and producer. So, what made you jump on board into this project?
Leo Neri: Well, I joke that I was conned into it. So, Alex and I went to college together. I have a creative background, and Alex used to have an awesome — he would do chemical science of sin. Occasionally I would pitch in like, like holding a lamp, you know, doing sound, and then it was like, Oh, why don't you help me write a line? And he's like, Hey, I'm working on this documentary about sex ed. Do you want to pitch in maybe a little bit? And then six or seven years later, you wake up in the haze. And you realize that you've been completely involved in a feature-length documentary. But getting to embark on a creative endeavor with a friend to explore a topic such as sex, which is all encompassing, and could be a very moody, dark, depressing topic that causes a lot of pain. But getting to flip it on its head and do it in a tongue in cheek kind of light hearted way. It was a really fun opportunity to do something interesting and hopefully creative. And also, you know, me also being a queer man, I also had a lot of unresolved issues that I wanted to explore. And this was like, definitely an outlet for it. So, checked a lot of boxes.
Karen Yates: Yeah.
Alex Liu: Leo was great. One, at making this more of a story. Right, right. I often say that the way it was initially pitched was just kind of like a really sexy episode of, like, "Nova." Educational infotainment, but not a story, right?
Karen Yates: Mmmm, sexy "Nova."
And Leo was great about, like — as you can tell, I'm very animated and passionate about this. And he was saying, like, the conversations I was having around why I wanted to do this work, much more engaging, than, you know, the views were interesting. And then also, Leo just has such a special, unique, just beautiful sense of humor and pulling that out was just incredibly joyous to do.
Now you're moving into an era I want to discuss. So it sounds like the conceiving of the movie started one way, and then it moved into another. And like, as I said, I noticed like, wow, you were zooming all over North America, grabbing these interviews. And so, you started as this concept of a sexy Nova. And then what — was it this moment when Leo was realizing you were very interesting and needed to be the heart of the story? Like, what shifted? What was going on as the movie started, like, breathing and developing?
Leo Neri: And to be clear, I'm still realizing that you're very interesting.
Alex Liu: Leo is very good at making me seem and look interesting that way. Leo was asking lots of questions throughout the process, and I think that was kind of where he was pulling. Yeah, yeah.
Leo Neri: I mean, I think first to echo what Alex was saying. And you actually kind of touched on it earlier, Karen, about how, you know, we had all of these interviews, we had so many interviews from so many different people. And a lot of that was like, information FOMO. And Alex is just like, such a voracious learner that we really wanted to try to capture every single possible angle. So we did have this interesting constellation of interviews that mapped out sex in a really interesting, fascinating way for many perspectives. But A, we had to whittle it down. And then B, we just, we needed a personal touch to the story and why it matters. And why Alex is telling the story. We would have all these planning sessions, trying to plan the narrative arc of the documentary or he would kind of get, like, really heated and passionate, and tell me how he always goes off about his white-hot rage for making this film, you know. And what we would see is like these nice, composed, insightful interviews. And like, No, I think we need some of that. I think we need some of this, this angst in the film, you know, why is this important to you? Why are you telling the story? And I think once we kind of tapped into that, it was a little bit easier to unlock the remaining story. And the themes that kept popping up were mostly issues of shame, and issues of connection.
Karen Yates: Yeah, yeah. Alex, did you want to add anything to that?
Alex Liu: No, that was beautiful. You know, I don't know if I could have done this alone, simply because it was so vulnerable. And ultimately, though, even though it is framed as my story, so much of it is Leo's story, too, because, you know, we talked a lot about what it was like to grow up gay, you know, in a Catholic household. What was it like to have sex for the first time — you know, we got really, really, you know, opened up to each other in ways, you know, we haven't maybe with anyone else. And the things that really resonate with both of us got into the movie. So I think hopefully that kind of specificity lends itself to the universal story.
Karen Yates: Absolutely. I was reading in your interview with the Hornet that you came to this realization that a lot of your sexual values were based on shaming pleasure. And so this whole pleasure piece is one of the hearts of the story. And can you talk a little bit about this realization of pleasure being left out of the dialogue of sex education?
Alex Liu: Yeah. I think the reason why sex education in America, broadly speaking, does not work, is because kids, and I mean pretty young kids, understand, first and foremost, that people have sex because it feels good. I think it's just obvious. Skin on skin feels good, you know. And when they hear sex education curricula, that tells them that it's wrong, and makes them feel like it's wrong, it's this huge cognitive dissonance that can really screw someone up. And I think that fundamental shaming of pleasure — and it can be as simple as, children can often touch themselves in, you know, the genitals, when they're young. And often, a parent's response will be to hit their hand away, it will be to tell them to stop it. And so they associate this feeling good with something that's wrong, or shameful, or unlovable. And so very early, we kind of have these messages put together, and I just do not see a world in which a person has a healthy sex life, and the immediate reaction they have when it comes to sexual pleasure is that of shame. Which I think it has been for me, and still will be for the rest of my life. I just have to work through it and understand how to deal with it. But that, to me, is the fundamental tragedy that makes me so sad and angry.
And I don't want to blame parents. I think it's just a discomfort that we all have, and not knowing how to deal with it. But that is the fundamental disconnect, and tragedy, and real, unhealthy behavior that we learned so early on. So very quickly, we understood that this movie had to be centered in a different way of framing sex, which is that not only is it pleasurable, but that pleasure is so good for you. It is so amazing and wonderful. And the goal of sex education should not be about how to prevent the worst things of sex, but should be how do you maximize the best parts of sex, while making sure you stay as healthy as possible. That's the main reframe we wanted to do with this movie.
Karen Yates: Yeah, and I love it because, getting a little bit now into the making of the movie, one of the key segments was, you went and had an MRI with scientist Nan Wise, and her mentor, whose name I don't have at the tip of my tongue—
Leo Neri: Barry Komisaruk.
Karen Yates: Yes. And you went into an MRI and you jerked off as they scanned your brain. And that was — I mean, I'm pretty adventurous, but I saw that and I'm like, wow! That is a high bar. That's something I don't know if I would do.
Alex Liu: That was not a very pleasurable experience.
Leo Neri: How far were you in development of the movie before — like, that wasn't one of the first interviews you did. That feels to be like you—
Alex Liu: It was actually one of the first — the second interview we did. And it wasn't necessarily something that I was expecting to do. But I grew up in the basic sciences, molecular science, and so like, how do we get down to the molecules of sex? Who's doing that research? Like, what is an orgasm Really trying to get what the definitions of sexual terms and there just happens to be like the only orgasm researcher in the world, or there may be one more in Europe, but but in North America is in Rutgers, so I talked to him, would you sit down for an interview, he helped me understand what the sex thing is. And the second question, I was like, do you want to be a participant? We need participants. And at this point, you know, you're like, Okay, you're making a movie. So you need these moments. So yeah, that was an amazing moment to have. It was terrifying and clinical and not erotic. But I think it was a great way to set up the idea of why — I mean, there's a distinction in privacy, right? I think privacy is important. But why do I have this shame around masturbation? Like, why is there this thing that pretty much everyone does, we're ashamed to talk about it, which is kind of like a weird way to think about — you know, it really started to get me to think long and hard about the real, deep-seated shame. And that was a great way for me to really start to deconstruct and start to see everywhere, how all of my sexual desires or behaviors were just coded in shame in ways I hadn't really even realized.
Karen Yates: Well, and this brings me to your parents. And not that sexual shame and parenthood are inextricably linked. But I will say I was — you sat down with your parents to talk about their sex education, and with your grandmother, so the lineage of sex education, or lack thereof, and then them ultimately, at the end of the movie, talking about their own sexual relationship — I was like, wow, mind blown. And I wish my mind wasn't blown. I wish I could be like, Yeah, that's really cool. But I was — you know, both of my parents passed, they had both died by the time I started moving into the field of sexuality. And like, that was actually for me, that was like a "whew, I don't have to deal with that." And so when I saw you, kind of just head-on talking with them, finding out their stories. That was extraordinary. And I'm assuming you didn't know at the jump that you are going to be doing this. When was the moment? Was it a conversation between you and Leo? Was it an internal moment when you're like, I've got to talk to my parents about this.
Alex Liu: I don't remember exactly. Leo, do you remember? I think at a certain point, when you just heard over and over again, how early sexual shame can be instilled, often through silence, right? It's not an overtly intentional shaming thing, although it can be. That often it's the silence in families that instills shame, and we just heard it over and over again. So we interviewed my parents, getting kind of close to the beginning. And we were looking like, how do we end this thing? And then it kept coming up, I was probably trying to avoid it. But if we hear over and over again, that parents really set the stage in many ways for it for own development, why wouldn't we include sexual development? That maybe I had to have that conversation. Because all families are different. People are all, how do I have this conversation with my family? You know, I wouldn't recommend it unless you feel like they're open to it. You know, it takes a long time to get there. It took me 20 years of being out and them slowly meeting gay people. And you know, it's not something you can dive right into, we had set the stage for it. I will say to having that conversation, I now feel like when your mom tells the world you're a sloppy masturbator, it's just hard to have sexual shame about those things anymore. You know?
Karen Yates: I thought about myself. I'm like, wow, did my mom know, like, did she know that...? [laughs]
Alex Liu: Yeah, so it's difficult. So that was a huge, it was a huge relief and release, and something that I was terrified to do.
Leo Neri: Being a fly on the wall for those conversations, I will tell you, it was exhilarating. You know, I'm just like reeling it in the background — and for those of you who are listening who have not watched the film, I've seen this film now, I don't know, 100 times, because I've worked on it. Every time I watch that closing interview with his parents, I still — it never gets old. I get so anxious. I get like, nervous laughter. Like, the reactions of his parents are fucking amazing. The questions are just so awkward. And we really leaned into it. I white-knuckle through it every time, it's so good.
Karen Yates: I'll return to my conversation with Alex and Leo in a moment. Do you want sex-positive resources to point you in a new direction? Go to wildandsublime.com. Are you looking to improve erotic communication with your partner? I work with couples in Chicago, helping them increase pleasure, learn how to express desires, and become more connected. All of this through dynamic, body-centered sessions. Go to the show notes, or karen-yates.com to schedule your free consultation with me. Now, let's return to my interview with Alex Liu and Leo Neri about their documentary "A Sexplanation." In this half, we talk about Alex's surprising interview with a Jesuit priest, how being queer and Asian-American influenced the making of the film, and why we should all be running for the school board.
I felt like as the movie went on, and obviously this was probably your design, that like, it kind of ratcheted up with the OMG moments. You know what I mean? And I'll move right into the interview with the priest that you do, which to me was one of the hearts of the movie. Mind-blowing, I did not see it coming. And I'm not really going to talk explicitly about what was going on. But like, the beautiful message this man gave you. And how did you find him? Did you know him? A Jesuit priest. Yeah, talk to me about that part of the interview.
Alex Liu: I did not know him before. That was one of the first interviews we did, actually. And I knew we needed to speak to a Catholic priest, simply because I just know that the Catholic Church, frankly, has instilled so much shame into the world, around bodies, around relationships, around some of those beautiful things about being human when it comes to sex, sexuality. And it was very difficult to find someone who would speak to me on camera. And luckily, we shot the film in San Francisco for the most part. And so there is a Catholic church in the Castro District, which is the gay district in San Francisco. And talking to the priests there, they were like, you need to talk to this guy. I had no idea what to expect. This was maybe my more angrier part of what I was trying to do. So I really wanted to attack him for all these things. But as you can see, you'll see in the film, he's just one of the sweetest, kindest, most loving, understanding men ever. It totally — I mean, that was probably a moment where I was like, Oh, the whole movie needs to change, because I am now processing what sex is in a way that I never had before. I thought it was important to put that in because it's like — I mean, he is an outlier. I don't think you should necessarily have positive feelings about the Catholic Church because of one man. But I think it was just like a lightning bolt of, oh my god, if someone had just in the Catholic Church, preached this message, how different the world would be! That there is a role that I have been repressing and numbing and ignoring, of spirituality around sex, around how to be moral being around sex, all these things that we all need so much help with, and that the Catholic Church and churches in general are so well positioned to help us with, but they're shirking their duty. And this one man is trying to help as much as you can. I mean it changed my life. It changed how I see sex and sexuality, and the fear I have around it. I mean, he's just such a wonderful person. And I know he sometimes gets in trouble talking about this. So just his bravery to be on camera, I just am so grateful for.
Karen Yates: Yeah, and one of my takeaways from that interview is, he talks about the way of being — like, the ways of being with sexuality in the world. And sort of this way of being is fluid, you can't put it in a box, right? It is a way of being, which leads me to — you're Asian American, you're queer. And how much did this inform the making of the movie for you? Like, as you lived and breathed the film, what was going on with your identity in these areas?
Alex Liu: I think for me, queer identity, it is the fuel of this film. I kind of flipped around, you know, so much of the queer rights movement. And I understand why, for political reasons, the message has been "born this way," right? We're born this way, so it is immoral, inhumane to deny us basic human rights. Because the argument has always been it's a choice, right? You know, after doing this movie, I thought so much about, so what if it were a choice? It is a perfectly rational, reasonable, lovely choice to make. And without talking to all these people, I don't think I would have thought about it that way. You know, that these choices that we make about who we get to share our lives with in the most intimate way, is so beautiful. And the playground is so vast and expansive. And I think being queer has helped me think about this in a way that is really from all different angles. And as far as the Asian-American piece, I do think we really did — after having the interviews with my parents, I really, really did want to put that at the center, because, I don't know, I don't know what you think, or if you experienced it, but I've never seen a family like mine necessarily depicted in media, open to have these types of conversations. And we're — that's how most of us are, you know, it's basically not modeled. So I think those two things have been really warm and amazing to put out there.
Leo Neri: I kind of have a slightly different recollection of the queer thing. Yes, I think it's obviously the foundational structure for why we're embarking on this journey, or why Alex is embarking on this journey. But I think it was towards the end of wrapping up the story. It's like, oh, shit, you're Asian. It was just such an afterthought, right? Like, we're just, for the purposes of this story, it's like, Alex is an American, all-American kid, who was raised in the American educational, public educational system, you know, and has faced society, as much of us have, with all of these external forces shaping us. But then like, we didn't at all touch on — yes, we do sit with his parents and his grandmother, and like, there is some level of introduction there that we weaved in. But it wasn't necessarily core to the experience. But it was like an incidental, an extra part of his identity that, in all reality, we just give these little nods to maybe at the beginning, and at the end, just because visually, you see that there's an Asian family. But hopefully it's like a universal — even being queer or Asian, I think it just gives like a slightly different lens to the story. But ultimately, it's a universal story that's been for everyone.
Karen Yates: Yeah, I mean, that was my experience. It was like, wow, this is speaking to me. I know it would speak to anyone who watched the movie. You know what I mean? Like, this is the conundrum we're dealing with in America right now, of pleasure and sex ed, or lack thereof. So, yeah.
Leo Neri: And one of the great things has been like, generationally, I think Alex is of a certain age, but I think it's been, based on our film festival circuit, younger people have resonated, young parents have resonated with, it's resonated with them. And we've even had, like, older, you know, 60-plus, 70, like, people have come up to us. And it's really struck a chord with just a good range of humans that have watched the film.
Karen Yates: Yeah. And I also have to say, the film is, for all of Alex's white hot rage, it is an upbeat film that is positioned in terms of art direction, and everything. It's very — graphics. It's friendly. It's a friendly movie, that isn't like, oh, wow, oof, ah. I mean, and also, I'm broken — like, a lot of things that might be shocking to people, I'm like, [laughs] You know.
Alex Liu: Yeah, we had to pull that back big time. Because like, Oh, that's right. Most people would be shocked by this.
Karen Yates: Right, right. When, you know, if you're talking about fisting, it's like, yeah, all right. [laughs] There wasn't fisting, by the way. Yeah, so it's like very, it's like a super friendly film. And I'm like, Wow, this film, "A Sexplanation," could be shown, like, to a lot of people as like an entree to wrapping their minds around just the issues around lack of sex education, or what have you. And so, that leads me to my next question: At the end of the film, as with many indie films, you see the list of people who helped. And I'm assuming, like, it was a super-long list. And I'm assuming some of those folks were, you know, giving money. Was there sort of a community like, you know, Kickstarter, was there, like, what was going on around that?
Alex Liu: We ran two crowdfunding campaigns. And then I think we're lucky to have a wonderfully supportive community of friends who maybe are a little tired of us begging them for money. But I think they have been so supportive and so wonderful. And yeah, when you know, this is our first time doing something like this. And I often say, you know, if I had known what we'd have to do to get into it, I probably would not have started but you know, ignorance is bliss. And so we've got through this. And yeah, you kind of just put together piece by piece, meeting all sorts of different people from around queer communities, kink communities, sex education communities, Asian American communities. And I think a lot of people, frankly, were femme identified and queer identified, and hungry for this, this type of work. And hopefully, I'm hoping we gave them something that helped them process a lot of these feelings that we're all dealing with. And that was our goal.
Karen Yates: I was just talking to a friend of mine who teaches gender studies in Vermont, and I was talking to her about this upcoming interview. And she's like, Yeah, you know, a lot of my gender studies students are just enraged, and up in arms, that here are people who live in the state of Vermont who say their education is different county by county. Like, they don't even — it's not even statewide. And I'm sure this is true of, like, I don't think it's just Vermont. And so she said, Yeah, my students are like, what can we do? What can we do to like, change this? And so, are there any major institutions or organizations, nonprofits, that are like doing the important work that you've come across, that you can direct people to if they want to really help, or want to become involved in changing this situation in America? Please don't say no!
Alex Liu: That is tough. Because as you've correctly identified, it's not even county by county. In some instances, it is school district by school district. So in the same city, it can be different, because the school board decides on the curriculum, votes on the curriculum. There are some states — California, for example, is the first state in the country that — at seventh grade is little too late, I think, but seventh grade and up, they have to be given comprehensive sex education for their strong sex education standards. And it's a little bit of a flippant answer, but it is, get involved in local politics. It is in the United States, because of the way we're designed, know who your school board members are. You know, these people have so much power. And often people who run for school board are using it as a springboard for higher office, so they don't really care about this stuff. And most of them are elected only by strong partisan ideologues. There's a lot of money being given to evangelical groups, to conservative groups. We don't really have the infrastructure for kind of even centrists, or definitely not progressives, to get into school boards. And fortunately, it will have to be very grassroots. So if this is something that's really important to you, run for school board, figure out who your school board people are, figure out how to do it. It works. In California, for example, there are people who are fighting to get comprehensive education as early as kindergarten, but it takes a lot of local, hyper-local political activism. And frankly, there can't really be a huge national organization to deal with it all. Because it's not really decided at the national level.
Karen Yates: That's great information. And of course, it makes complete sense, based on everything. And I saw, in the movie, there were a lot of parents that were taking matters into their own hands. And there were programs, out of school programs that parents are taking their kids to, or getting information on their own. And so, that's the other avenue as a parent, really making sure you're comfortable, right? Because of course, a parent's sexual shame, as I'm fond of saying, will come out into your child sexual shame.
Alex Liu: I almost think that a lot of the political fight we're having — for example, in Florida with "Don't say gay," I am so empathetic and sympathetic to those who are fighting this really kind of hateful — I mean, not kind of, very hateful bill, law now. My advice to people who ask, like, how do you deal with this conservative political effort? Because it's very difficult. We focus so much on the kids, because they're the ones who will be harmed the most. You know, I've been asked by school board members now, what should I do? You know, getting masks in school, I get death threats. So I'm not going to start doing sex ed, you know, it's too difficult. And my advice to them, which I don't know if it's good advice, but is, you have to meet that parent's fear where it is. That sex education is not about the child, although it is really, but you have to frame it in that, this is to help you as a parent have the conversations that none of us have been trained to have in the household. That good sex education, when done right, is just the springboard to the conversations you want to have in your household around sexual values, which you as a parent should have the right to instill in your kids. And then if frame sex education not so much to teach your kid all the things about sex with no parental involvement, because the parents might have bad values, but to frame it as no, this is a partnership between parents and schools, because most parents don't have the medical background. And schools aren't trained, should not be instilling some of these values. But to focus the energy around, how do we get parents to understand that this will be good for the conversations they really want to have. Most parents really, really, really want to have these conversations, but they have not been modeled how to do it, because none of us have, really. So that's kind of my one advice in the politics of all this, that I think you can kind of really take some of the moderate, conservative parents who are concerned by focusing on really helping them have the conversations they want to have.
Leo Neri: Yeah, I was actually just thinking, like, we're using terms like "comprehensive sex ed." I think that sounds scary for people who don't know what that is, or what that means. So I think a lot of it is also just like a branding issue, right? If you know that comprehensive sex ed, your kid would be taught that at a young age, but that actually means something that's just medically accurate, factual, and age-appropriate. You know, and that looks different at every age, obviously. I think people maybe would be a lot less scared to know that your kid is getting very useful information, just to help them understand their bodies, or just to understand puberty. You know, but I think it's such a hot-button issue that people's heads just explode when you mention the word "sex." So I think getting around that is also crucial to dealing with this effectively. You know, exploring my sexuality as a queer man took a lot of cataloging and inventory internally to kind of sort out who I am, where I am, and why I am, and that led into — I used to work in nonprofit sexual health. And then now, having made this movie, and at the end of this film, I think I've now learned that I used to be pretty sex -positive, and try to actively be a safe space for people to be open, just to have an exchange of thoughts and ideas. And I think there is a little bit of a pitfall in being too overly sex-positive. So I now look at it as being more sex neutral, not tugging people one way or another. It's okay to meet people where they're at, and all for the purposes of creating an honest exchange with someone, to be more connected, to actually hear someone, and to actually be more present in A, my body, and then B, like, relationships with people.
Karen Yates: Well, I love that. I love that. And it kind of harkens back to the earlier part of this conversation, when Alex was talking about talking with the Mormon senator. It's like, meeting people where they're at, instead of this, like, rahhh, like, the injustice of it all! And because we all have a right to our sexual values, right? That's what this movie is about. So thank you for that. Okay, I know it's too early to ask about this, because you're still in the scrum of promoting this film, but what's on the horizon?
Alex Liu: I think you've correctly identified, getting to tomorrow is going to be a challenge. A year from now... But I think Leo and I, you know, I think we're really interested in, like, you've identified the — talking to Republican senator, talking to the Jesuit priest, people I really do not interact with on a day to day, or really never, but those conversations have stuck with me so long, and have changed me really. And just considering the state of tribalization in this country, the way that kind of direction we're going, how do we have these really difficult but juicy conversations, is something I'm really interested in. How do we love each other, even if we vehemently disagree? But then also, like, there's so much that we filmed in the movie that didn't make it in. Some things like, we went to a trans health center, and we had some great interviews, but it became very quickly in doing the movie that we can't cover those in three minutes. It's just not enough time. And we really needed, we knew for a documentary, we needed to keep it as tight as possible. We're talking to historians about the history of sexual shame. Like, why does sexual shame even exist? Things like that are really interesting, like, seminal moments in sex history. I don't think there's anything else.
Leo Neri: I think generally, we just like to continue having these difficult conversations that are awkward, and just tackle the taboo and do it with our sensibility, to hopefully make people hopefully laugh, hopefully learn something, and hopefully be open to having the conversations. Yeah.
Karen Yates: So, "A Sexplanation" is going to be available on iTunes in the US, correct?
Alex Liu: Yes, yes. And hopefully it'll be more platforms — Amazon, Google, YouTube, all those.
Karen Yates: Awesome. Well, Alex Liu, thank you. And Leo Neri, thank you. "A Sexplanation" will be out this week on iTunes and other platforms. For more information, to view trailers, and to purchase, go to asexplanation.com, or click on the link in the show notes. Wild & Sublime is supported in part by our Sublime Supporter, Full Color Life Therapy, therapy for all of you, at fullcolorlifetherapy.com. Well, that's it, folks. Have a very pleasurable week.
Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I'd like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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- A Sexplanation – Available on iTunes!
- Nan Wise’s work on sexuality and the brain
- Planned Parenthood – What’s the State of Sex Education In the U.S.?
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