A shot from the series 'Sex/Life' (2021).Instagram/@sexlife

Content Note: This article contains discussion of consent and male genitalia.

From the outset of the recently released Netflix show Sex/Life, the mediocrely talented writers wanted to make one thing distinctly clear: this is not a show about someone’s sex life, or even a story about sex and life. No. This is sex-slash-life, a show in which these two directly opposite themes relentlessly compete for one woman’s attention in the midlife crisis to end all of Netflix’s midlife crises. And yet this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to disappointing aspects of this newest bingeable series.

“Why is it that that shows like these present ‘sex’ and ‘life’ as two categorically opposite forces?”

So, what is Sex/Life about I hear you ask? Well, it’s less about a story, per se, and more about gratuitous steamy shots of two very attractive actors ‘getting it on’. Created by Stacy Rukeyser, the show follows Billie Connelly, a suburban housewife who, on the surface, ‘has it all’ and yet is unsatisfied, as she lives vicariously through vividly relived sexual encounters with Aussie ex, bad-boy Brad, who has about as much personality as a wet dishcloth. Billie struggles with a longing for the sexual frisson of her youth, while at the same time craving the stable marital existence that the American dream promises — provided to her by her bland, albeit attractive, husband Cooper Connelly.

Fragment of the script of 'Sex/Life': full frontal male nudity.Instagram @sexlife
A shot from the series 'Sex/Life' (2021).Instagram/@sexlife

Recently Sex/Life has been gaining a lot of traction for one particular scene which involves full frontal male nudity and a rather large appendage, which has left many viewers questioning whether it is real. The scene in its gratuitous exhibitionism looks horribly unrealistic, thereby promoting unrealistic male beauty standards. The shot is also interesting because legally full-frontal male nudity in a sex scene means that a film or series must be classified as pornographic without hesitation. However, by including this nudity in a non-sexual scene, which this show does, Netflix is able to cleverly escape the label of pornography. This opens a more general discussion about the kind of close-to-pornographic, extremely sexualized content Netflix has been releasing lately (see: 365 Days; Yes, God, Yes; A Nice Girl Like You; and Fifty Shades of Grey), begging questions about what this tendency says about the film and TV industry today. Have we become so dulled by the banality of clothed characters that only a ginormous phallus will pique our interest? Or, is this kind of male nudity catering to the female gaze instead of the male gaze that has so long predominated cinema and TV? (Although there’s plenty of female nudity in Sex/Life too). Still, is this right? Is the ultimate solution to years of sexualising women on film simply to start sexualising men instead?

Sex/Life seems entirely uninterested in asking these kinds of questions. Instead, it ventures out into even more controversial, and ultimately harmful, territory. Specifically, the show features a scene where the principal character masturbates to a Facetime video of her best friend and her ex-boyfriend having sex. This in itself is problematic, before you even consider the fact that the best friend is being filmed having sex without her knowledge, and therefore also without her informed consent. Is this the kind of content that Netflix wants to promote? Changing the romance genre in such a way that teaches young men and women that filmed sex without consent is acceptable and that penis size is of vital importance?

'Apparently, even though it is 2021, Sex/Life demonstrates that women still can’t ‘have it all’Instagram/@sexlife

Ultimately, the Netflix writers are slacking, and with a captive paying audience perhaps we should be keeping a closer eye on them, as they tenuously toe the line between narrative entertainment and pornography. Sex/Life gives us plenty of sex, but not a lot of life, as it blatantly jumps over plot holes and stereotypical characters with poorly written dialogue that, at times, has the potential to perpetrate dangerous ideas about sex and consent.


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Apparently, even though it is 2021, Sex/Life demonstrates that women still can’t ‘have it all’. The story leaves no plausible explanation for how our heroine plans to rationalise her affair to her husband, who ends the show looking perplexed and hurt in equal measure after agreeing to a monogamous relationship with his wife. Why is it, then, that shows like these present ‘sex’ and ‘life’ as two categorically opposite forces? Is it a good representation, with the theme of female desire indeed coming to the forefront of a popular show, or is it instead a somewhat puerile representation with two-dimensional characters whose psychological depths go as deep as a puddle. Either way, the ’can we really have it all?’ question still being asked in relation to women and not men, is frankly overused. And yet this has not seemed to stop Netflix, who continue to delight, not only in flogging this dead horse, but also flagrantly dancing on its unimaginative sexist carcass. And so this attempt at a feminist sexual reclamation story, I think, falls very short of the mark.

Despite being entertained by Season One, against my better judgement, unless Pornhub goes down or we enter into another Government sanctioned lockdown, I think I would give Sex/Life Season Two a miss.