7 Gay-Ass Things Janelle Monáe Taught Me on “Sex, Explained”

The origins of leather culture? A trans doctor's innovation in childbirth? Let's get screwed with the singer's new Netflix series.

Can We Talk About…? is a weekly series that was just working at a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens when it’s boyfriend kicked it out in one of those crushing scenes.

For the record, Janelle Monáe can explain anything to me. For instance, the sweet spot between too many and not enough hats. Or when it’s inappropriate to wear a vagina pant. I suspect the answer is a resounding “Never.” Either way, La Monáe has lent her calming, dulcet, mildly flirtatious voice to the new Netflix limited series Sex, Explained.

It’s a pretty straightforward title for a pretty straightforward show discussing the birds, the bees, and the Viennese—from sexual fantasies to the rules of attraction to fertility and childbirth—with fun animation intercut with interviews from experts and everyday people. Anchoring it all is Monáe, serving you a sexy black queer lady Attenborough vibe. I never thought I’d enjoy learning about the horrors of childbirth. And I mean horrors. But I did! But more on that later.

Even though I’ve been around the block a few times, picking up my fair share of parking tickets and the occasional tow, I still got a lot out of the five episodes of Sex, Explained currently streaming on Netflix. What did I learn? Funny you should ask. Janelle, take it away!

  1. The origins of gay leather culture

    Comedian and BDSM expert Margaret Cho says her fascination with leather “comes from a very queer place,” and from there Monáe takes us back to the 1940s and the burgeoning popularity of motorcycle clubs.

    “Leather was good protective clothing for men who were into motorcycles,” Monáe says. “And rugged, all-male clubs were good settings for men who were into men. When World War II ended, some gay veterans stayed on the West Coast and joined the biker scene, embracing a gay, hyper-masculine identity and experimenting with kinky sex.”

    What else is there to say other than “thank you for your service”?

  2. A gay twin is more likely to have a twin that’s straight

    “Researchers found that when it comes to sexual orientation, environmental factors play a much more important factor than genes,” Monáe says. “But environmental factors in this case doesn’t mean culture or upbringing.”

    So basically, when geneticists talk about “environment” they mean everything that’s not genes. The gay starts in the womb, kids, and some of us are lucky to pick it up.

  3. Gay men tend to have more older brothers than straight men

    (This is just what I found when I googled “gay big brother.” Serves me right. Real right.)

    So, the womb being everyone’s first environment, the number and timing of hormones a fetus is exposed to may play a role in determining who they grow up to be attracted to. “In males,” Monáe explains, “so could maternal antibodies that target a certain brain protein made by the Y chromosome. In some women, those can build up over time with every male baby she has.”

    So the more boys a mom has, the more likely they’re gonna turn out to be gay. And we call that the fraternal birth order effect. Or, math.

  4. Lesbians are more attracted to bonobos going at it than a buff naked man walking in nature

    (I had a lot of fun googling this as well. And then googling myself afterwards. Oop!)

    Oddly specific, right? Well, sex is weird. First—surprise, surprise—men tend to be more “rigid” when it comes to the person they’re attracted to, while women are much more flexible. In a small study, gay and straight men and women had their genital sexual responses measured using a variety of videos, including heterosexual intercourse, homosexual intercourse, “a buff naked man taking a stroll” (which almost perfectly sums up my personal sexual orientation), “a toned naked lady exercising,” and… bonobos “getting it on.” You know, the monkeys.

    So, straight men were more turned on by videos with women in them, and gay men preferred vids with men, but the women were “turned on by pretty much anything.” Lesbians, it seemed, were even “slightly more aroused” by the bonobos than the strolling man in the buff.

  5. Horses wink their vulvas when they’re ready to do the nasty

    Honestly, it just seemed pertinent.

  6. In 2017, doctors changed the definition of infertility to accommodate same-sex couples and single women

    When it comes to fertility treatments, health officials have long defined infertility as an inability to get pregnant after one year of unprotected sex, which clearly does not apply to single women or most same-sex couples hoping to start families of their own.

    But in 2017, some doctors changed the definition to “an impairment of a person’s capacity to reproduce either as an individual or with his or her partner.” This will hopefully lead to more access to treatments, especially in countries that ban certain groups of people from receiving in vitro fertilization.

  7. One of the first successful C-sections was performed by a trans man

    Scanty Particulars by Rachel Holmes/Public Domain

    I didn’t really think I’d learn anything queer from the fifth and final episode on childbirth, what with being a cis gay man who never even liked kids when I was a kid. And childbirth, with all the respect to women, sounds like a fucking nightmare. For example, one woman describes giving birth as feeling like she was literally being torn in half. So if anything, I learned that if I were ever to give birth, Mom’s opting for an epidural because I don’t need to be a hero.

    But I also learned about one Dr. James Barry. An Irish military surgeon, Barry lived his life publicly and privately as a man, though his birth certificate said otherwise. His colleagues discovered this after his death, but in life he served in the British Army, eventually becoming Inspector General, the army’s second-highest medical office.

    The rank was well earned, because in 1826, while serving in South Africa, Barry completed one of the first successful C-sections in which both the mother and child survived. Usually, Caesareans were only performed as a last-ditch attempt to save the fetus when the mother looked like she wasn’t going to make it.

    That’s because childbirth has always been a particular hell for women, which is why, of course, men end up making all the legal decisions about it. Explain that, Miss Monáe!

    Oh, right, the patriarchy. As you were.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat