The debate around American sex education doesn’t get much more personal than “A Sexplanation,” an insightful documentary in which the director Alex Liu explores the politics and culture of sex ed in the United States while confronting his own shame around sexuality that stems back to his adolescence.
As far as its approach to the topic, “A Sexplanation,” available on demand, is hardly reinventing the wheel. Liu, who identifies as gay and previously wrote for the PBS educational program “Nova ScienceNow,” is not shy in expressing his preference for comprehensive sex education over abstinence-only curriculums. He travels around the country and to Canada to interview a variety of sexual health experts
researchers and educators who dish out common talking points on the topic of reform: Shame-based programming doesn’t work; lessons should incorporate discussion about consent and cover L.G.B.T.Q.-inclusive experiences; conversations about pornography can help teenagers decipher between reality and fantasy and gain more realistic ideas about sex and relationships. On the other side of the debate, Liu interviews Todd Weiler, a Republican member of the Utah State Senate who has lobbied to mandate pornography filters on the internet, and speaks with several anti-abortion campaigners outside the San Francisco Women’s March.
Liu’s cheekiness occasionally leads him to some “Supersize Me”-esque stunts, like when he masturbates in an M.R.I. machine as part of a comprehensive scientific study on how orgasms affect brain activity. But he’s equally willing to bare his whole emotional self, like when he speaks to a particularly open-minded Catholic priest on the nature of sex and intimacy or has an awkward yet sweet heart-to-heart with his own parents about sex. Liu lends a frankness and sensitivity to the topic that would make “A Sexplanation” suitable to be shown in a classroom, which was perhaps his intention all along.