Trigger warning: this article mentions rape/assault. If you are struggling with the aftermath of rape or assault, contact a qualified therapist to help you! You are not alone, and recovery from this type of trauma is possible!* If you are like most Americans living through the pandemic, you have probably spent a lot more time watching Netflix and other media streaming services in the past two years. The numbers confirm this: at the height of the pandemic, Netflix had more than doubled their price per share due to most people being stuck at home watching TV. One of the most popular shows in 2021 has been “Sex/Life”, with over 67 million views since it was released this past May. While the show was entertaining and albeit, titillating at times, this therapist is somewhat troubled that a show this popular potentially spread such a negative view of sex, marriage, and the kink/fetish/polyam community. Let’s take a look at what the show got right and what the show got very very wrong.
What the show got right: To its credit, the writers of this show did attempt to address some pretty difficult topics about love, marriage, and sexuality. These topics are rarely talked about in broader society, although they are far from foreign. The show highlights some of the difficulties of maintaining one’s sexuality while child rearing. For example, Billie, the main character, struggles with boredom in her marriage and then one day runs into her ex, who she still has unfinished business with. This leads Billie to try to escape the demands of her life (kids, judgmental friends, lackluster sex with her husband) by fantasizing about the sex she used to have with her ex. According to the Gottman’s in their book “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for A Lifetime of Love” it is normal for couples to experience their greatest period of relationship dissatisfaction when they begin to have children. With each subsequent child, studies have shown that the unhappiness grows. It is understandable and quite normal for people to fantasize about times when it was easier to prioritize sex. It is also normal to experience lack of sexual interest, or low desire from time to time in a marriage regardless of whether or not you have children. It is just too easy to get caught up in the day to day and forget to incorporate sexuality. Think about it: when you were dating your spouse, you spent a lot of time pampering yourself and getting ready to impress them on dates. You maybe spent more time apart, adding fuel to the excitement about seeing them. These are the types of behaviors that foster the relational climate that leads to sex. Part of recapturing that sexy relational climate is to start taking care of yourself in the same ways you did when you were dating. Unfortunately, our culture does not do very well at encouraging couples to have separate time, as we are not overly community oriented as a society. Our community is our spouse, especially since being quarantined due to the pandemic. It is a lot of pressure for ONE person to meet all of our needs, and yet this is becoming more and more how our society is.
What the show got wrong: Do a quick google search about this show. Most reviews from professionals are negative. Why? The first thing that came out of my mouth after I finished the season was, “Wow, this is probably going to cause a lot of marital fights!” The show attempts to suggest polyamory or non traditional monogamy as an alternative option to getting stuck in the hum drum of a marriage with kids. In the show, Billie wants the stability and safety that her husband and family provide, but she also wants the excitement and chemistry that her unstable relationship with her ex had. This is a common issue that comes up with the couples I work with. First off, this CAN be a great option for some couples, but both partners have to be on board. There has to be something in this type of arrangement that BOTH partners can see themselves benefitting from. Second, this type of arrangement needs to move slowly. There needs to be deliberate research done by all parties involved, and there needs to be a lot of communication. There also needs to be a willingness by both partners to express their true feelings and desires, and this can take time and therapy to cultivate. In the show, Billie fantasizes about the type of life in which she has her cake and eats it too, and ultimately she chooses it for herself without first having a conversation with her husband. The show ends on that note, which gives viewers who may have similar ideals a bad example.
The second issue with the show is its handling (or mishandling) over the topic of consent. Granted, this is a loaded topic and one that is difficult to do well on television, however more responsibility clearly could have been taken by the writers of the show. One example occurs when Billie is trying to rekindle things with her husband. They are attempting to have sex in the car, but Billie isn’t feeling it. She tells her husband that she would like him to stop, or that she is uncomfortable, and he keeps going, saying “I’m almost done.” The writers of the show don’t address the non consent, and then the show goes on to show even more nonconsensual experiences! This is troubling because many women have been raised, particularly in religious cultures, that they are to please their husbands sexually, no matter what. Women are trained to keep men sexually satisfied in order to avoid abandonment, but never are they taught to value their own pleasure. Furthermore, the show missed a teachable moment about how consent must be ENTHUSIASTIC. This means that both partners engaging in sexual activity are looking for emotional queues in their partner that may indicate if the sex is being enjoyed or not. This enjoyment (or lack thereof) may be verbal or nonverbal, but it is important that those engaging in sex are are aware that consent is not just the absence of a “no”.
If you or someone you love has been the victim of rape or assault, reach out to a therapist today. Going through this can be so isolating, but you don’t have to do this alone! Send me an e-mail to start our conversation about your recovery! firstname.lastname@example.org