Alex Liu is a well-known sex researcher and filmmaker from San Francisco. He helped created a sexy PrEP video for ImpulseSF and his upcoming documentary, A Sexplanation, tells the stories of the people trying to dismantle harmful sexual shame piece by piece, once and for all. We talked with Alex Liu to learn more about his thoughts on having great sex, overcoming stigma and navigating sexual spaces as a gay man of color.
Hornet: How did sex become so central to the work that you do?
Liu: Basically, I’m just incredibly pissed off at a culture that dehumanizes women and queer people for enjoying sex. And since I really like sex — the more I can help people think critically about sexuality, the better my sex life is going to be.
Much of the work being done around gay sex is about safety and risk and not about pleasure. How can we help gay men have good, pleasurable sex?
Man, I really wish I had a great answer for you. I’m trying by putting out sex-ed content that focuses on the pleasure first. But I’d imagine it would help if the first messages kids hear about gay male sex were positive and validating rather than fear-based and about HIV like it was for me and my generation.
Personally, the more I recognize which of my sexual values are based on shaming pleasure, the easier it is for me to let go of my hang ups and just give into feeling good. And from there my sex life just gets more and more pleasurable. Some amazing cognitive behavioral therapists helped too.
What’s your best sex ever and why?
My best sex has been with — or around — my husband. The level of emotional vulnerability and intimacy I’m able to get to in his presence provides the context for some pretty mind-blowing sex. He loves and accepts me like no other human ever has.
PrEP has changed the conversation around sex without condoms yet stigma around the act persists. How do we combat stigma associated with condomless sex?
This is something I struggle with a lot. It’s a very complicated topic with a lot of valid viewpoints. For me, it starts with the acceptance that condomless sex is one of the best feelings in the world — if not the very best. So I can either shame people for enjoying life, or I can base my values around honoring that pleasure.
The biology and physiology of men having sex with men will always lend itself to higher STI rates than other forms of sex. So much like the battle around female reproductive rights — I think as long as STIs exist and condomless sex feels the best — this battle will always need to be fought.
The “No Asians” or “No Blacks” signs still frequently appear in online profiles. How can gay men of color navigate in an online space and find some sense of resiliency?
Block the motherfuckers. Work on a life that gives you real meaning outside of sexual validation. Other than that, I really wish I had some great answers for you.
But generally, when it comes to resiliency, just like it’s now becoming routine to get a sexual health check-up every three months, it should be routine for gay people to get a mental health check-up as often as possible.
For the foreseeable future, it’s always going to be a little harder for gay people, so we have to take care of ourselves, which will make it easier for us to take care of others. Be an advocate for your mental health, do your research and find someone who can address the specific issues you have.
In the mainstream media there’s still an enormous lack of representation of the Asian community, particularly in regards to beauty standards. How can men of color find confidence in themselves and their beauty in a world that undervalues them?
Wow, that’s another extremely difficult and complex question. Paying for the beauty standards you want to see could be a good start (including paying for your porn).
In general, traveling has expanded my definitions of beauty and opened me up to connecting with people of all kinds of backgrounds. Some places are really racist and others aren’t. But once I saw over and over again how much a person’s culture shapes their preferences — it made it easier to cultivate my own personal standards of beauty rather than trying to conform to one particular culture’s standards.
I understand I’m very privileged to be able to travel — but the more you can open yourself up to sexual beauty in as wide a range of people as possible, I think the easier it is to see it in yourself.
Our mainstream LGBTQ movement divorced itself from sex in the fight for marriage equality. How can we integrate sex into our politics and ensure it is a higher priority?
These questions aren’t letting up! So there’s a lot to unpack in the framing of this question that I’m going to sidestep, but in general, the first thing I’d say is that you have to fight for the future you want.
Culture and politics don’t change on their own. Stop simply bitching on Facebook and Twitter, go join a political organization you’re passionate about, organize a bunch of your friends to support a local school board member who doesn’t shy away from comprehensive sex education, or better yet, run for office! You’d probably have my support.
And do the deep, uncomfortable work of seeing how you contribute to a political culture that shames sex, and try your hardest to change that in yourself.