I blame myself, really. I have made repeated pleas in these pages that British people be entirely kept away from any shows about sex or anything remotely sex-adjacent, because of our inability to face cameras or genitals without collapsing in mortal embarrassment. In doing so, I implied that Americans were better suited to the job. I apologise unreservedly. For Sex: Unzipped, billed erroneously by Netflix as a comedy special and presented by rapper Saweetie, has been inflicted upon us all to give the lie to my under-researched claim.
Saweetie is, especially for someone used to performing, fascinatingly terrible as a presenter. Uncomfortable, self-conscious and with a relentlessly flat delivery – it’s quite agonising. Perhaps she would be better off without the sex-positive puppets? Then again, perhaps we all would.
Sorry, did I mention the sex-positive puppets? This merry, felted band comprises Zeke (pronouns they/them and “pansexual as fuck”), Molly (she/her, likes men and women), Mike (“I’m a big gay bear!”, perennially swiping right on a dating app because apparently sex-positive doesn’t mean reductive at all) and married couple Barb and Doug. They give Saweetie – possibly unwisely, given the amount of cringing she barely hides when she’s with them (though they do masturbate around her incredibly frequently, so fair enough) – something to interact with and punctuate the sections of the show.
The sections are made up of comedians discussing the great questions of our age, such as: what is sex-positivity (“Loving everyone and on yourself in all shapes, sizes and shades”, which sounds more like a mandate than liberation)? What was your first time having sex like? And can you identify an anal douche? This goes about as well as asking comedians to improvise hilariously on subjects of no interest to them usually does. Some go large, trying to shock: London Hughes tells a story about her mum warning her at 25 to have as much sex as she can “because no one tells you it stops” so she has been out “catching dick for me AND my mum ever since”. Others treat the endeavour with the contempt it deserves, and in the process generally come closest to providing a laugh. In the “Setting the mood” segment, Katherine Ryan replies, “I get in the mood for sex by putting my husband’s dick in my mouth.” Aaaand scene.
If you think this sounds like a bizarre, unfocused, dissonant mess, you’d be right – especially if you add “with a perverted Sesame Street vibe that doesn’t work, either”. Perhaps at one stage in development there was a genuine intention to educate – hence the experts gathered to lob in their sexual tuppenceworth at the end of every “comic” contribution. They mainly add such peerless advice to ensure good sex as “Pick a partner you trust and communicate ahead of time”, not assuming it’s going to be like porn, and not going near anyone’s nether regions if they have to scrape the mould off first (I paraphrase, but only lightly).
Two points of note: first, one of the experts, a somatic sexologist (of the kind unleashed during Gwyneth Paltrow’s Sex, Love and Goop, and which loosely translates as “someone who actually knows what they are talking about and is prepared to explain it via an anatomically accurate vulval cushion”) Stella Anna Sonnenbaum is worth the price of admission alone. I hope she gets her own special very soon. You only need to remember to adjust for her soft German accent. She is not, in fact, talking about the “cheese spot”.
Second, a question posed to puppet Dr Ruth by the drag queen Trixie Mattel: “How do I treat sex workers ethically?” “Pay double” is the reply. Amid the nonsensical but essentially frivolous and harmless rest, it was a moment that stood out, as one of casual almost-cruelty, and certainly thoughtless ignorance on the parts of all those who let it through.
I understand, of course, that a thrown-together piece of crap like Sex: Unzipped is not the place to find nuanced takes on issues such as sexual exploitation, sex workers rights or anything else suffused with such complexity. In which case, they should be off the table completely, not presented in a way that blithely assumes consensus.
Zip it back up.