I hate writing about shows like Sex/Life, which is currently the third-most-watched show in the US on Netflix. The trouble is that engaging with this kind of television — and then writing about it — all but forces me to offer small tidbits about my own marriage, which I’m not really interested in doing. For example: I suspect your enjoyment of a show like Sex/Life, namely when you’re in a monogamous, long-term relationship, speaks to your lack of enjoyment of said relationship. If you’ve been having a bad time at home in the butt department, maybe watching a man eat chocolate sauce out of a woman’s buttcrack in Sex/Life feels like incredible wish fulfillment. But I don’t actually hate my husband or his penis so the show’s tone and content feel a little regressive.
The eight-episode season, which easily could’ve been boiled down into two TikToks, follows Billie (Sarah Shahi), who begins fantasizing about her Australian ex-boyfriend Brad (Adam Demos) as her marriage with also-hot Cooper (Mike Vogel) starts to feel very boring. Billie and Cooper (Have any two more fake names ever been used?) have two young children and a nice home in Connecticut, but their sex life has always been vanilla. Or at least that’s what Cooper learns when he reads his wife’s journal, which is just a series of loosely tied together missives on Microsoft Word about how much she wishes she was still getting plowed by her ex. (Would this show even exist if Billie just put a password on her laptop?) As Brad starts to weasel his way back into her life, Billie has doubts about the big question plaguing all women of a certain age and in a certain financial bracket: Can women have it all?
But you’d be forgiven for thinking that the main thrust (sorry, sorry) of the show is the humping. In fact, most of what you see is just straight-up humping. I watched the entire first season in a day and a half, letting it play while I finished my other assignments, did some laundry, and washed the dishes. Periodically, I’d glance at the screen and see two people slamming into each other in a bathtub, a pool, or another body of water, and think, Sure, why not. Yeast infections for all!
And while multiple real, human women were involved in the making of Sex/Life, it feels like something a group of straight men grew in a test tube. The adaptation of BB Easton’s novel 44 Chapters About 4 Men was created for television by Stacy Rukeyser, who was also an executive producer on UnREAL. The cast is female dominated too. There are really only two major male characters, but both are so wooden they could’ve just propped up two vibrators and given them glasses and fake mustaches instead and no one would’ve noticed.
If a show purports to put plot first and erect nipples second, there actually has to be a story to hold onto.
Ever since I watched Netflix’s other foray into softcore porn, 365 Days, I have been quietly convinced that this kind of content is made specifically for teenagers. It has to be. Teens of my generation and beyond have always had access to a constant, free, readily available stream of pretty much any kind of consensual porn they could be interested in, but surely there are some teenagers too timid to just look up PornHub in incognito mode? Their parents pay for Netflix! It’s a perfect scam!
A show like Sex/Life cannot possibly be for adults because any adult watching this would see it as the men’s rights thriller that it actually is. Right?! It puts forth a child’s understanding of marriage, one that kills sex drives and makes you choose between “fun” you (stoned at a sex party where your friend’s husband aggressively pursues you) and “boring” you (not being a fucking creep at work with your hot boss). How else do you explain this show’s popularity on Netflix while barely anyone I know has even heard of it?
The framing of the entire show — that you can either have a nice husband who takes care of the kids and has a steady job, or you can get fucked, like raw-dog fucked by some music producer who has the personality of an old leather keychain — is like an incel day-mare. Here’s the big spoiler, if you need protecting from the end of this show: Billie chooses to stay with her husband while also fleeing to Brad’s weird-ass abandoned factory condo to demand he fuck her. Did her husband consent to this? He did not! Do they ever get better at communicating their sexual desires to each other? They don’t! Is Cooper painted as the nice guy who gets nothing except a half-hearted emotional affair with a colleague? Sure is! Is there anyone worth rooting for in this show? I dunno, maybe their 3-year-old, who waddles around all eight episodes asking if they’re getting a divorce while Mommy sits at the kitchen table fantasizing about being eaten out by someone who could be the mascot for Outback Steakhouse.
I’m not against streaming shows becoming hornier. Honestly, it saves me a lot of time…googling. But if a show purports to put plot first and erect nipples second, there actually has to be a story to hold onto. Sex/Life posits a version of modern existence where your life is in one category — kids, career, work, friends — and sex is in another (namely, sex with someone who looks like a child’s drawing of that Australian actor from House). Even the title suggests a narrative where your sex life is kept separate from your life-life. For something that’s supposed to be so erotic (that word is doing a lot of work here), the show is surprisingly puritanical: Want great sex? Sorry, but your hot husband can’t do it because his dick doesn’t go down to the end of his Dockers.
Based on flashbacks, Billie apparently spent her twenties being the most sexually promiscuous woman in Manhattan. But she has one of the most tedious sex lives I’ve ever seen — the objects of her interest all look pretty uniform. That’s among the biggest problems with Sex/Life: The sex is actually kind of boring. But I guess I should just be grateful that there’s only one blowjob in this entire show, proof that Sex/Life did at least try to appeal to women.
Can a woman like Billie have it all? No! Obviously not! No one can, least of all Billie, who sucks. But the show doesn’t make a compelling case for why she should pick either her stable but allegedly boring husband or her profoundly uncharismatic ex who has chronically undermoisturized lips.
Sex/Life is the most boring and meager of sexual fantasies for straight women stuck in mundane marriages who wish they had something better to cling to. I know Netflix is still pretty new at prurient content, but if you’re going to go for it, go for it. I appreciated the full-on dong shot midway through the season, but just the one? Billie and Brad having sex in a stairwell is fine, I guess, but haven’t we all seen that before? How do you expect viewers to believe that Billie and Cooper have an otherwise great marriage when they’re clearly plagued with communication issues, she hates having sex with him, and she never got over her ex-boyfriend, a Bloomin’ Onion with feet?
Which brings me back to me watching this show when I don’t hate my husband. I mean, I guess I kind of hate him, but for the normal reasons: He leaves the cabinets open every day, lets his clothes hang out of the dresser, doesn’t like dessert, is white. But to enjoy a show like Sex/Life is to relish the idea of hating the person you’re supposed to love the most. To enjoy a show like Sex/Life is to fall into the trap that a woman behaving as poorly as men sometimes do is akin to being a good feminist, and to accept the assumption that it’s impossible to have a raucous, good time with the person who also makes you soup when you’re sick and holds your hand at funerals. To unquestioningly devour Sex/Life is to believe, on some level, that it’s a good idea to have an emotional and eventually sexual affair with the guy who ran out on you after you had a miscarriage eight years ago.
You know, it reminds me of that old adage, which I just invented: Is he actually that good in bed, or is he just really mean to you? ●