Why The Lack Of Gay Sex In Netflix's 'Alex Strangelove' Is A Problem

12 June 2018, 18:14 | Updated: 13 June 2018, 09:07

Alex Strangelove
Alex Strangelove. Picture: Rich Fury/Getty Images // Netflix

By Sam Prance

This needs to change.

Alex Strangelove came out on Netflix on Friday and it is already receiving huge acclaim from fans and critics alike. The film tells the tale of awkward teenager Alex (Daniel Dahoney) and his mission to lose his virginity to his charming girlfriend Claire (Madeline Weinstein). So far so simple. Things go off course though when Alex meets confident, gay high school graduate Elliott (Antonio Marziale). Alex begins to actively question his sexuality and soon realises that he is attracted to men.

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The teen drama is funny, moving and relatable. The acting performances are great, the script is tight and the message at its core is important for teens and adults alike. Not only does it show how hard it can be for queer people to come out (even in accepting environments) but it also explores the ways in which we can hurt those around us by keeping our sexualities secret. Too often straight girls are used in relationships by questioning boys. Alex Strangelove shows this.

The film is far from perfect though. It could be a lot more diverse (the three leads are cis and white), viewers are upset with its treatment of bisexuality (THAT scene is messy) and for a film about a gay man's sexual awakening, there is no gay sex.

Of course this may seem inconsequential but, considering that Alex Strangelove is a sex comedy with a gay lead, it feels like a missed opportunity. Discussing the inspiration behind the film with The Huffington Post, its director, Craig Johnson stated: "I’ve never seen a high school movie where the conflict involves kids struggling with their sexuality, but also embraces a rowdy, sex comedy vibe." He also pitched it as a "rowdy older brother to Love, Simon”.

Alex Strangelove does feature sex. One of the pivotal scenes in the movie is when Alex and Claire try to have sex together but ultimately fail because Alex is gay and not invested. He also attempts to have sex with a college girl to no avail. However, these are both straight sex scenes. Alex and Elliott share a couple of kisses but no sex.

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This would all be fine if it weren't for the fact that gay sex so rarely features on film and in TV. Even LGBTQIA+ media actively avoids it. Love, Simon, for example, edited out any of the references to sex and lust that feature in the book that it's based on. Meanwhile, Call Me By Your Name controversially cut its one sex scene. And that's just man on man sex. In contrast, sex between men and women features heavily on screen. From Riverdale to Love Island, it is everywhere.

We're also actively taught about heterosexual sex in school in the US and in the UK. From biology to sex education, it's normalised. Queer sex, on the other hand, is not. According to a 2015 survey, only 12 percent of students in the US received sex education that was LGBTQIA+ inclusive. This is awful because not only do queer people not have access to the sex education that they need (most of us are forced to find out how things work by trial and error with our first sexual partners) but cis, straight people aren't taught anything about queer sex either.

This lack of LGBTQIA+ sex education and lack of queer sex in media helps foster ignorance and prejudice. It subconsciously teaches kids that queer sex is not normal and it allows production companies to hide behind the idea that queer sex is not marketable or simply not worthy of screen time. This is why it's so important that films like Alex Strangelove and Love, Simon don't act as if queer sex doesn't exist. Seeing queer sex on screen helps normalise queer sex.

Thankfully, there is media that is depicting it. Grey's Anatomy features plenty of lesbian sex, the latest season of Dear White People just contained a hyper realistic sex scene between two men of colour and Pose is only two episodes in and already addressing queer sex more than most mainstream film and television ever has. Things are getting better.

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With a little bit of extra character development or even a flash forward, Alex Strangelove could have easily featured a sex scene between Alex and Elliott. It could have even acted as a moving foil to Alex's failed attempt with Claire. Sadly there isn't one.

The film is great in many ways. Just hopefully next time there's a sex comedy with a gay lead, gay sex actually features.