What We Learn About Sex and Relationships From Sex/Life

Security, safety, and hot sex...can you have it all?

When we saw that Netflix released a new show with titillating sex scenes, we had to give it a watch. Sex/Life on Netflix was released at the end of June and maintained a spot in the lineup for the top ten most-watched shows for days. Why? We had to find out. 

Sex/Life is about, you guessed it, sex and life. More substantially, it’s also about the divide that the protagonist, Billie, faces over the security she feels with her husband Cooper at home, and the passion she experienced during her former wild nights on The Lower East Side of New York City with Australian lover, Brad. 

Her conundrum is that Cooper provides Billie security and a feeling of safety, yet the sex is lackluster, so she fantasizes about blast from the past, Brad. The question that viewers might relate too, is, is it possible to have it all? Meaning, is it possible to have a partner who imbues you with a feeling of safety but also rails you properly and frequently?

The show constantly flashes back to steamy encounters with Brad and Billie. Billie becomes overtaken by the nostalgia she feels for the desire they shared, and writes about it on her laptop, which as you can guess, her husband finds because it’s not password protected. (You could have saved yourself so much heartache, Billie) Viewers follow Billie through her midlife crisis as she questions her relationship with Cooper, and whether or not she should go back to Brad, even though other than the sex, their relationship was tumultuous because Brad couldn’t commit. 

Why is Sex/Life trending?

We constantly search for new representations and portrayals of sex in the media because sex is still such a taboo and closeted topic. Mainstream media’s depictions of sex have been anything but on the nose. So we watch for educational purposes, but also to see if our experience of what sex is and looks like might be a shared reality with others. 

In The Ethical Slut, writers Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, who have written extensively about sexuality for decades, express, “what sex actually is—is a journey into an extraordinary state of consciousness, where we tune everything extraneous to our emotions and our senses in this very moment.” Easton and Hardy later go on to clarify our misconceptions about what sex is, in that we think it’s only genital stimulation and orgasm, yet the territory of what sex can be, is so much greater. 

Does Sex/Life portray this infinite landscape? Not entirely. We do see the passion and pleasure in Billie’s eyes, female oral sex, as well as Billie masturbating, which are new spheres for media to show. The sex does read more like it was written to fulfill a fantasy by viewers rather than a relatable depiction. (Take, for example, the scene where Brad licks chocolate sauce off Billie’s body from places that might in real life procure a yeast infection.)

What do we learn from the sex?

In the show, we see a lot of thrusting and pumping and humping and very little foreplay or arousal. The sex goes from 0-10 in a millisecond, and this is concerning, mostly for Billie’s sake, as it fails to consider responsive desire, arousal, and being ready for sex.

A paramount element that is missing from the show is communication. When Billie is unsatisfied with the sex she shares with Cooper, they don’t talk about it, so the problem festers.  Any marital and couple’s counselor might suggest communication is a pivotal step in getting what you want from relationships or at least working on it. 

Another rather obvious point to make is that women can be sexually unfulfilled in heteronormative relationships, too. Media typically only posits this as a male experience, so in this case, that’s one of the things the show depicted well. 

Can you have it all?

Do you have to choose between passion and security? A therapist from Billie’s past (when she was a Columbia Ph.D. student) offers her the feedback of, “the person who gives you security can’t be the same person who gives you the thrill.”

Realy world sex therapist Emily Jamea Ph.D. disagrees with this statement entirely in an article on Psychology Today and says sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction go hand in hand rather than work as opposing forces. 

It’s easy to get nostalgic for lovers past, especially when the sex was so good. But as Emily points out, good sex doesn’t make a relationship. She offers, “ultimately, bad sex can break a relationship, but good sex doesn’t make a relationship.”

So, it is possible to find that both sex and relational happiness coexist. Only, it takes communication and honestly, which were two elements pretty much utterly devoid from Billie’s relationship with Cooper. 

Billie has her own version of having it all when the season of Sex/Life wraps up and Billie decides what is and is not enough for her. She ultimately decides that her relationship with Cooper isn’t enough to fulfill her. She ends up not choosing a relationship with Brad either, which was a well-rounded awakening for her. This begs the question, how do we re-imagine a life for ourselves where we are sexually fulfilled and choose relationships that fulfill our needs, too? A large part of this involves knowing our needs in relationships before we enter into them for the long haul. You don’t have to make any colossal sacrifices when a chunk of the pie is missing!

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