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Sex/Life On Netflix Isn’t Perfect. But Here Are 5 Things It Got Right About Female Pleasure, Marriage And Friendship

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I joined the Sex/Life party pretty late, even though Netflix kept thrusting it (pun intended) up the new arrivals queue. Many people had already seen it. And also seen IT, by which I mean the shot that arrives some 20 minutes into Episode 3 and is now pretty much what the show’s famous (or infamous?) for. There were some reviews out there too; headlines with the same old complaints of how the show uses sex for shock value without much substance or decent dialogue and character development. I don’t know why there were such lofty expectations from the show in the first place. And I don’t mean that as a necessarily negative thing. Some foods you eat for your health, and some you eat because they taste nice and are comfort food. Clearly, Stacey Rukeyser’s show, starring Sarah Shahi, Adam Demos, Mike Vogel and Margaret Odette, falls in the latter category. So let’s just enjoy the ride as much as we can, right ladies?

 

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What’s happening in Sex/Life?

If you were to remove that ‘slash’ and read me that question again, I’d probably break into tears. Thanks to Coronavirus, ya girl is stuck at home with nary an interesting development in her sex life. As for our protagonist in this show, Billie (Sarah Shahi), her sex life is stuck in a rut because she just became a second-time mother. And her perfect husband, Cooper, isn’t partaking in the luscious fruit that is her body, because he is too busy working and being Super Dad to their kindergarten-going son. Billie does indeed have the dream white picket fence life in Connecticut, away from the city hustle and bustle which is just a few train stops away if she ever needed to go there. Cooper is doing spectacularly at work, a star player, if you will. And they both love each other deeply, even though lust might be sparse right now.

It is this suppression of her desires, postpartum, that drives her to write in her journal memories of her wild past self. She was a Psych PhD student in New York City during the day and indulging in all sorts of debauchery with her BFF Sasha Snow during the night. It is one of these crazy nights that had brought Brad Simon into her life, a bad boy billionaire record producer with daddy issues, who engaged her wildest fantasies and made her feel liberated in every way.

Of course, fuckboys are rarely husband material. Over the course of the show, through Billie’s journal entries, we and her husband Cooper, catch glimpses of Billie and Brad’s intense whirlwind of a relationships, the damage left in its wake, why she chose Cooper to settle down with, but still misses the sex she had with her toxic ex.

Naturally, this isn’t going to go well, and we’re going to find out just how not well, while enjoying roughly 2.5 sex scenes every episode. Hey, bring me some wine and dark chocolate, I’m do this!

Also Read: Haseen Dillruba Review: A Treacherous Mistress That’s Morally Ambiguous But Absolutely Engrossing

Before we get into The Good, let’s dive right into the B(r)ad and The Ugly, shall we?

There are sex scenes galore, so many that I would like to tip my hat to the director and intimacy coordinator for trying to do something different with each scene, and trying to not get repetitive. The actors do have decent chemistry too; in fact, I found it two episodes in that Adam Devos and Sarah Shahi are a couple IRL! But despite that, I couldn’t feel that… connection, if I could say? I think it could be the lack of build-up, which works like foreplay, and is actually more important than the actual act. There’s no ‘burning’ happening here, so no matter how explicit the scene gets or creative and kinky, the goosebumps or dry mouths aren’t triggered.

I think the show’s lowest point is the sex club sequence, which to me felt unnecessary and force fit. The characters reactions felt uncharacteristic to me, and I would’ve instead opted for more conversation between them to sort the situation out.

 

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Then, there’s the narrative dialogue, which reminds me of telenovelas à la Jane The Virgin, for some reason! They’re not as funny, but since they are things that Billie would write in her journal, they sound so unreal, like a teenager writing in her diary. It’s very much in the space between millennial and Gen Z, particularly the way Sasha and Billie talk.

And finally, let’s talk about the plot and characters. Apart from the sex and the curiosity about what (and who) Billie ultimately does, there really isn’t much that would grab your attention or make you invested. No layers, no deep dive into the characters’ psyche, such as Brad’s relationship with his estranged father, that would actually give the story some depth. We get these very superficial characters who we know like 3-5 things about which then become their entire personality. It’s probably why the sex scenes sometimes might be steamy but don’t have you burnin’ up with passion off your screen. *Yawn*

I think both Adam Demos and Mike Vogel looked too airbrushed for my eyes. I am not saying they aren’t that perfect, but my God, they were just unreal.

5 things that Sex/Life actually got right

I was very skeptical about Sex/Life treading into the 365 Days zone, particularly when it comes to matters of consent and problematic relationships. And I am glad to report that it avoids that zone sufficiently. Sure, Brad is every kind of fuckboy you would’ve encountered, rolled into one, and most of the issues in his and Billie’s doomed relationship gave me déjà vu. But it never got to a point where I thought, okay this is glorifying something very wrong.

In fact, I think the show had some pretty great raw themes sown into it that probably should’ve been cultivated well. Nevertheless, here are the things that I actually liked about Sex/Life.

Also Read: ‘Sexify’ Review: A Show About Women In STEM Cracking Female Orgasms? Oh God Yes!

1. The focus on female pleasure and the female gaze

Yaaaas, we finally are going all the way there with male full-frontal nudity! That’s equality done right, my friends.

Sex/Life is a show that is meant for women to watch and feel horny. Therefore, there are subtle ways in which this has been enabled. For example, you’ll see as much male nudity as female nudity in here, perhaps even more in some cases. The camera that usually zooms in on the female body during such scenes thanks to years of male gaze conditioning, shifts and focuses on the male bodies more.

Another change brought about by the female gaze is how the sex scenes are written. I didn’t realise it until midway, but there’s a huge emphasis on foreplay, which for those not aware, is how most women orgasm, as opposed to the belief that penetrative sex does it for both men and women. In one of the earliest scenes, Billie asks her husband Cooper to get the vibrator, and unlike the Indian men in Instagram comments who think sex toys render them irrelevant, Cooper is all cool with it.

Brad being portrayed as this sex god, and Billie’s urges to go back to him draw their conviction from these very sex scenes, which established that he always prioritised Billie’s pleasure.

Another think I liked was the portrayal of motherhood and just how messy it can get. What happens to Billie happens postpartum, and I think it needed more exploration for how women might feel unwanted post childbirth, and how men tend to lose interest or don’t acknowledge all the ways in which they might be contributing to this.

 

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Also Read: 15 Men Who Are Our Current On-Screen Crushes And Make Us Feel Like.. *Heart Eyes*!

2. The friendship between Billie and Sasha

The norm in most on-screen portrayals of female friendships against such a story backdrop is that the BFF encourages the protagonist to act on her urges. And assures her that she will support her no matter what. Thankfully, Sasha is not a stupid character at all. She knows a practical choice when she sees one and doesn’t encourage Billie to make stupid decisions. She calls her out when needed, supports her as well, and is a friend who gives Billie what she needs, not what she wants. Here for such friendships!

 

 

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3. How society’s perception of female sexual desire needs to change. No more repression!

Billie is perceived as some kind of nymphomaniac by the other characters for making “such a big deal” about sex, which is terrible because, isn’t she a mother of two and has a loving husband at home? Sigh. Similarly, Cooper, and Billie’s friend group of school moms, find it so hard to imagine that sex could actually be such a big dealbreaker between a married couple.A couple can be in love, have a beautiful family, and still, not having enough sex can be valid grounds for estrangement between them. And that’s repeatedly asserted in the show.

 

 

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4. How marriages need constant work and communication

Sex/Life manages to sneak in these moments of great impact, in scenes between Billie and Cooper, where they’re talking about female desire and how its repression by the society we live in causes more damage than we can anticipate. None of these problems would’ve arisen had Billie been able to talk openly with her husband about just how important sex is for her and how much she misses it.

There’s an important question raised here too. Can you get a partner that both excites and thrills you and is at the same time dependable and makes you feel safe? Cooper is the latter, and Brad is the dangerous, thrilling one. A woman who is feeling to sucked up into her own life might naturally gravitate towards that thrill that could make her feel alive again. But then, is it worth destroying the marriage over? More importantly, is this just a phase that’ll pass or does Billie need this thrill all the time?

 

 

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5. The emotional manipulation of fuckboys.

Oh, if I had a penny for every time I encountered some messed up version of Brad! I think it gave me some pretty bad flashbacks of dating emotionally unavailable men who would pull you close one minute and push you away the other. We all women want to believe that somewhere out there is a bad boy who’s going to be good just for us. He’s going to show us his vulnerable, soft heart just to us, and a happy future is possible with them. Unfortunately, that very rarely happens in real life. And just because Brad changed, or claims to have changed, does not mean the boy who messed you up once and wants to return into your life, also has. Stay away, girl!

Verdict

Now this isn’t your quintessential review, because Sex/Life isn’t a show you ‘review’. Like porn, some people come for just the fake sex, and some come for the story. I read some people saying they’d rather watch porn. Well, to each their own. My suggestion? Give it a try, just to see how far we’ve come in this kind of harlequin storytelling.

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