To paraphrase The Usual Suspects, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was giving most people a sex drive and then socializing us all to believe it’s shameful to feel horny.
If you’re interested in sexuality beyond the realm of erotica, and want to explore the topic of non-monogamy or sex in different subcultures, Netflix hosts a robust collection of documentaries on taboo desires and how people around the world seek to fulfill them. The best of Netflix’s sex documentaries explore topics far apart in the range of what’s socially acceptable, from swingers’ parties to arranged marriages, and from virginity to life on the sexual predator registry.
The goal here is to make you feel a little uncomfortable at first, and then entertained, and finally more closely connected to your fellow man.
Real Life Wife Swap
This British docu-series begins with sexy sounding music and a shot of a sidewalk crowded with cars. One of the women involved with the swingers lifestyle the documentary purports to explore says, “There will be threesomes, twosomes, whatever people want to do.” Though the first episode begins with a bang, Real Life Wife Swap eventually moves past sensationalizing its subject and focusing instead on the humanity of swingers and the ethically non-monogamous.
Overall, this is a really fun look at a swinging community in suburban Britain, in which most of the happy participants look like your grandparents or someone who might offer you tea on a rainy afternoon. In fact, in many cases, these swingers might actually be all of those things at once.
Right-wing politicians, including our current president, have long used the mistreatment (and assault or murder) of gay people in other nations as a bargaining chip to get gay Americans to stop protesting what our nation still doesn’t do well. However, you never see those same right-wing politicians or talking heads citing documentaries like Oriented, in which three gay Palestinian men navigate their personal lives while living in Tel Aviv.
Oriented isn’t just a look at sexuality — it’s a meditation on the role family plays in our conception of romance, and the ways in which our environment and local culture can alter our identities.
Autism in Love
Much of the research and advocacy poured into communities with non-neurotypical needs is typically focused on children. When teens on the autism spectrum turn 18, if they don’t have access to transitional assistance or supportive parents and friends, they’re often just as lost as the rest of people their age, with the added challenge of having to navigate the subtle social cues that neurotypical people take for granted.
Though Netflix’s drama series Atypical does a fine job representing people in their late teens on the autism spectrum, Autism in Love follows actual young people as they decide (like neurotypical people of a similar age) what they’re looking for in a partner.
When Hari Got Married
It’s difficult to find documentaries on Netflix about arranged marriages that don’t make the whole enterprise sound abusive. Fortunately for the curious, Netflix’s When Hari Got Married essentially functions as HBO’s Big Love did for American polygamy.
While not every arranged marriage is a happy one, some of them certainly are. When Hari Got Married does a great job analyzing all the minute conflicts that arise when technology and modern sensibilities rub up against a society’s understanding of decency and tradition.
Although data tells us fewer and fewer millennials are having casual sex (or any sex at all!), our society still hasn’t figured out what to talk about virgins of a certain age. Of course, the concept of “virginity” is steeped in historical misunderstandings of sexuality, and has all but become obsolete, but the fact remains: the average twenty-something virgin is at risk of feeling as though they’re missing something elemental.
In the case of Virgin School’s subject, he enrolls in a program meant to supplement emotional and physical intimacy with deep conversations and cuddling, in order to work as a proxy for sex. What happens to his identity as he explores what it means to feel connected, in or out of a bedroom, is fascinating.
Pedophiles, or adults who experience sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children, aren’t just regularly demonized in our media; it’s so uncomfortable to even speak about pedophilia in public that most people simply can’t fathom what’s to be done about them. Because not all pedophiles convicted of possession of child pornography, or guilty of harassing or assaulting a child, stay in prison for life, many of them finish out their sentences are simply left to continue their old lives while having their information on a public registry.
In the case of the men in Pervert Park, they simply group together in a living situation that allows them to go about their (legal) daily business without fear of being exposed. Pervert Park is a harrowing watch, whether pedophilia angers or disturbs you, or whether you’re interested in prison reform. Either way, it covers an extremely tough subject.
As The Bloodhound Gang reminded us in their 1999 hit, The Bad Touch, mammals like to have sex. Netflix’s documentary on the sex lives of both animals and humans connects and differentiates between the two. As it turns out, we can learn a lot about ourselves by studying how animals court each other, fuck, and reproduce.