Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Sex

My Perspective as a Sex Therapist on Netflix's 'Sex/Life'

Is it possible to have both stability and passion?

Key points

  • 'Sex/Life' breaks the popular narrative that it is always the male partner who feels sexually unfulfilled.
  • We see sex scenes that focus significantly more on female sexual pleasure compared to typical mainstream media.
  • The idea that stability and passion are opposing forces—the crux of the show—is not supported in the research.
  • We see a realistic depiction of male performance anxiety stemming from relationship insecurity.
Nicolas Maderna/Shutterstock
Just one more episode
Source: Nicolas Maderna/Shutterstock

Netflix’s new series Sex/Life kept me totally entertained while my husband was away traveling last weekend. It is steamy and addresses a very common dilemma that many couples face: What do you do if you’re in a loving relationship but feel sexually unfulfilled?

The show follows the life of Billie, who, despite being happily married, is sexually bored. The show bounces between her current suburban life with her "perfect-on-paper" husband, Cooper, and her former uninhibited life in lower Manhattan with bad-boy ex, Brad.

Billie begins to feel trapped. Not only has she put her Ph.D. program on hold (she was studying psychology at Colombia and writing her thesis on the advantages of monogamy), but she’s stuck at home nursing a newborn and chasing after a toddler.

She begins to channel her frustrations into her journal, which awakens an intense longing for the wild sex she had with her ex-boyfriend and the freedom she used to feel.

The show explores the million-dollar question: Can you have it all?

Can you have both stability and erotic passion?

Let me start by telling you what I liked about the show.

  1. I like that the show depicts the woman as the one who feels sexually dissatisfied. This breaks the stereotype that it’s always the man who has the higher desire. I can tell you from my years as a sex therapist that Billie’s experience is more typical than you might think.
  2. As I said, the show was entertaining, and gratuitous sex scenes were abundant. I appreciated that the sex scenes focused more heavily on female pleasure than what’s typically depicted in popular media. You see foreplay. You see Billie receiving oral sex. You see female masturbation. You also get a glimpse of full-frontal male nudity, something we don’t typically see in mainstream movies.
  3. While it was tough to watch, I appreciated that they depicted Billie’s husband Cooper struggling with performance anxiety. Again, this isn’t something we typically see. You feel his frustration mount as he succumbs to the anxiety he feels in his relationship with Billie. It’s a reminder to men that the penis does not have an on and off switch. Male sexuality, just like women’s, is strongly affected by relationship factors.
  4. I liked that the show gave us a glimpse of the pros and cons of nonmonogamy. When done right, some couples find that nonmonogamy can be a great way to add excitement to a relationship. But when done haphazardly, it can be disastrous.
  5. The series shows us the dangers of poor sexual communication. Billie, admittedly, failed to communicate to her husband, Cooper, that she was feeling sexually dissatisfied. We see Cooper as an eager-to-please, ambitious character, so we really have no reason to believe that he wouldn’t have been open to learning how to satisfy her. What does this teach us? As uncomfortable as conversations about sexual satisfaction may be, they are vital for relationship health. In the end, the feelings of awkwardness that come from these discussions pale in comparison to the pain caused by lies and sneaking around.
  6. This is a little thing, but I appreciated that we see so many scenes with Billie breastfeeding and pumping. We don’t often see this on popular TV, and I thought it was great that they normalized it.

Here’s what I didn’t like about the show.

The show reinforces the popular narrative that security and passion are opposing forces. But the research tells us otherwise. I can cite countless studies, including my own research, which find that sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction go hand-in-hand.

Sure, the sex with Brad was hot but taken in the context of the unhealthy relationship, it left Billie feeling empty. Sex, and the relationship in which it happens, should leave you feeling whole and fulfilled. What’s the take-away message? Hot sex in a bad relationship is not sustainable.

The fact is, there are people out there who are both amazing individuals and incredible lovers. I caution people on settling for someone who checks every box except the sex box. Ultimately, bad sex can break a relationship, but good sex doesn’t make a relationship.

Lessons from Sex/Life

So, without giving anything away, let me tell you what we can learn from this series.

  1. At the end of the day, it’s much easier to teach someone to be a good lover than it is to teach someone to be a good person. If you’re feeling unfulfilled, try working together with your partner before jumping ship.
  2. If you and your partner decide you want to try new things sexually, make sure you wait until the relationship is on solid footing before doing so. If you haven’t watched the show yet, you’ll see how irresponsible it is to try new things if your relationship is weak.

Would I recommend watching it?

Yes! Despite many cliches, it’s a fun show. More importantly, I think it can prompt a great conversation between you and your partner if this is something you might be struggling with.

To hear more, check out my commentary on YouTube.

advertisement
More from Emily Jamea Ph.D., LMFT, LPC
More from Psychology Today