‘Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution’ Docu Explores Youth Coming-Of-Age In The Hookup Culture

It is a documentary that everyone, whether you are a parent of college-aged kids or a college student yourself, needs to watch. Available now on Netflix, Benjamin Nolot’s ‘Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution looks at youth who are coming of age in the “hookup” culture. While on first glance it looks like another Spring Break-type film, or a ‘Girls Gone Wild’ expose, this is so much more that what meets the eye.

The film provides shocking insight into attitudes and behaviors regarding sex, the normalization of sexual violation, and the struggle against conceptions of gender and sexuality shaped by the media. It couldn’t be more relevant or timely, as we are seeing a moment of realization about how normalized sexual violence is with the growing #MeToo movement.

Threaded throughout the stories and portrayals seen on screen is a deeper discussion about what it means to be a man or a woman within this culture. We are certainly more progressive as a society when it comes to gender roles, notions of equality, and what is seen as “acceptable” for women to be doing in the public sphere. But Benjamin and his team of filmmakers have shone a light on how past ideas of sexuality within gender roles have not necessarily been dismantled, but adapted into today’s modern world.

Do women have sexual agency? Does having agency still mean prioritizing male pleasure? Are we doing a good enough job in tackling the root of gender and sexual violence? What role has the media and entertainment played in fostering or helping these norms? And what are the links between hookup culture and rape culture?

We wanted to find out more about this film and the message Benjamin hopes to share with audiences. Having the opportunity to speak with him one-on-one was eye-opening and educational. As the founder and CEO of Exodus Cry, an organization dedicated to abolishing sex trafficking, his perspective and insight into the effect of hookup culture on today’s college-age youth was fascinating, to say the least. Take a look at the trailer, and read our interview below.

How did the idea for ‘Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution’ come about, and when did you begin filming?

I had just finished a documentary on global sex trafficking and was haunted by the images of men lining up to buy women and children for sex all around the world. I began to ponder, “What kind of society is producing so many willing to buy a woman or child for sex?”

That question catapulted me into production on a new documentary, which I initially planned as an exposé on the sexual culture in America. I started filming in 2013. We went down to Spring Break to film what I thought would be a small subsection of a larger film, but once there I discovered the rampant sexual violation of women that was taking place. This caused me to pivot and follow that story further, which led to filming at Spring Break for four straight years.

At first glance it may seem like this is a film about Spring Break, but it is far more complex, immersive and important than that. Can you explain why you chose this setting to talk about the topic of sex, violence and gender?

Initially I wanted to go to Spring Break because I thought it would be an ideal environment to capture young adult attitudes about sex. I grew up watching MTV’s Spring Break, which glorified hookup culture as a utopian young adult experience. However, once there, the glamour quickly faded and the reality of what was actually happening began to set in.

I think it was an ideal environment to open up a discussion about sex, violence, and gender, because Spring Break is an environment where the most toxic attitudes we hold about gender and sexuality are on full display. In four years of filming, I did not meet a single woman at Spring Break who had not been sexually violated in some way during her time there. One young woman was gang-raped on the beach in front of hundreds of people and no one did anything to stop it. Spring Break magnifies the attitudes and behaviors that we find throughout our culture, but are often less visible in other contexts.

How does ‘Liberated’ add to the greater conversation about sex and violence in light of the #MeToo movement and #TimesUp?

It is a really sobering moment for us as a society. I am grateful for all the survivors who have courageously stepped out and used their voice to give visibility to the problem of the epidemic of sexual violence in our culture. The severity of sexual violation has been elevated to a level commensurate with the nature of the crime. This is a key turning point for us.

It is painful to realize how widespread the epidemic is, but we really need to sit with that pain. Not dismiss it, not get past it, but sit with it. If we give way to grieve this deeply and sincerely, I believe we can begin to usher in a new era. As survivors are listened to, believed, and genuinely heard, healing can begin. This moment has been long overdue.

As for Liberated, I believe it is contributing towards exposing the underpinnings of our rape culture, and simultaneously pointing towards the possibility of change, healing, and freedom. We can end the scourge of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies and create a world full of empathy, mutuality, agency, and dignity.

We seemingly have two very polar extremes when it comes to sex in America: ultra conservative or the complete opposite, both of which have their downfalls. What would you say to those who may claim the conservative extremes such as abstinence-only or purity culture is the “better” option?

I don’t like the term “purity” in this context because it assumes that there are some people who are pure and others who are not—this is a very shame-based way of viewing sexuality and humanity. The reality is that we have all experienced brokenness to varying degrees. We are all part of a flawed but beautiful human family. When we look out upon the sexual brokenness of our culture, I think the compelling question to ask ourselves is, “where do we go from here?”

To that I would say that we must regain a value for sex. Gioconda Belli said, “We have had a sexual revolution, but the sexual revolution has only made sex more pervasive. It hasn’t granted the level of reverence and respect that it should have.”

The fact is, as we are painfully learning thanks to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, not all sex is good sex. Sex has an enormous capacity to bring about great harm. Over the past 40-50 years sex has been utterly desacralized to the point of complete meaninglessness, and I think this has played a huge role in the normalization of sexual violation.

In order to turn the tide on this, I think we must regain a reverence for this beautiful gift of sex. We must learn how to treat it with deep respect. And we must acquire a vision for sexual integrity—being responsible with our sexuality.

In their heart, I think that is what the abstinence-only and purity culture movements are about, but their methodology and application has not been effective or accessible. I think terminology that is more helpful is along the lines of “sexual health”, “sexual wholeness”, and “sexual integrity”.

How do you hope ‘Liberated’ will open up more healthy dialogue around sexuality, gender, and what we are teaching youth through media?

There is still a lot of taboo in talking about issues of gender and sexuality in our culture today. That is changing and I hope that Liberated can be a part of that change, because it is so needed.

During our coming of age years we are bombarded with messages in media about what it means to be man, a woman, and a sexual being. In the absence of a healthy and robust dialogue about these issues that are so central to our existence, our youth are inadvertently absorbing many of the toxic messages of our culture and internalizing them in the construction of their identity, values, and worldview. I hope that Liberated will inspire a conversation that results in developing more education and media literacy to help our youth navigate these perilous cultural conditions.

Since Liberated follows the thread of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies all the way to the point of gang rape, I think the severity of the crisis provokes deep self-reflection about who we are as people and who we have become as a society. There are underlying attitudes and mindsets that we have come to accept and tolerate as a society that have brought us to this point.

I hope the film will inspire viewers to engage in the difficult work of looking in the mirror and asking ourselves how we may have participated in this culture or helped fuel it, and what we can do to reverse it. A man named Walt Kelly once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” If there is a theme for the film, I think that is it. I find this empowering because it also says that we, who have created this problem, can also solve it.

Lastly, I hope that Liberated will bring into focus the disparity between two different ways of being in the world as sexual beings…On one hand, there is an object sexuality, which is fueled by lust and entitlement. Sex becomes a way of cannibalizing other people for ones own self-centered gratification—it is inherently coercive in nature. On the other hand is a relational sexuality, which is fueled by love and empathy. Sex becomes a way of giving to another person and elevating their humanity in a spirit of reverence and gratitude—it inherently promotes agency and mutuality.

What were some of the messages about masculinity and femininity you wanted to expose or discuss in your film?

The general theme that Liberated explores is the way the narrow gender scripts about masculinity and femininity in our culture pressure young men and women into conformity. Men are consistently taught that vulnerability, empathy, and displays of tenderness or emotion are signs of weakness. Men must be strong, be powerful, and use women to prove their manhood.

Women are taught that their sole value comes from their sex appeal, and that being sexy is the way to empowerment. Women must prove their worth through displays of self-objectification. I don’t think anyone is winning in this scenario and I think Liberated shows that. We are being ripped off because we are so much more than these narrow gender portrayals.

As a filmmaker interviewing the young men and women, being immersed in the Spring Break culture, what did you take away from what you saw?

There are two main things that come to mind: one is that making this film caused me to reflect on my own conceptions of masculinity that were deeply sexist. It forced me to deal with those toxic belief systems, and in that regard, making this film was transformative.

The other thing I took away from what I saw is a greater empathy for women concerning the omnipresent dangers they face living in this culture. When we talked to guys about what a fun night looked like for them they spoke about going out drinking and “scoring chicks.” When we asked young women the same question they talked about hoping to not get drugged or taken advantage of.

As a man, it was extremely difficult for me to comprehend this mindset and life experience. It took a long time of staring at the reality of women’s lives to even begin to understand just how perilous their existence is in this culture. Honestly, it broke my heart. It is something I have been in anguish over.

The film mentioned a gang rape news report that happened in the location you filmed at. How do you think culture plays a part in these types of acts happening?

What happened to that young woman is absolutely horrific, and it certainly begs the question, “how the hell could this happen!?!?”

Again, I think we have to look at the socialization of boys and men in our culture. We are socialized to believe we are entitled to women’s bodies. One of the predominant forms of sexual education today comes through pornography, where women are routinely depicted as nothing more than a collection of body parts to be penetrated and “gang banged” in every way possible. In pornography women never say no, they are literally turned into fuck objects.

With all this happening in the backdrop, it doesn’t surprise me to see these scenarios get played out in real life. We see it all the time. And often, the men in these cases don’t even realize that what they were engaging in was criminal behavior. That is how deeply the effect of socialization has taken place. We have a lot of work to do to reverse this trend. 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted during their time in college. That is a pandemic. It is inexcusable, and we must figure out a way to reverse this immediately.

Aside from filmmaking, you are also the founder of Exodus Cry, an anti-sex trafficking organization. Has your work in this area informed your perspective on wanting to tackle hookup culture at all?

My work with Exodus Cry has connected me to the reality of sexual exploitation happening in our world and given me a heavy burden to get to the root of it. Our porn culture casts men as sexual predators, casts women as sexual objects, and casts sex as a meaningless recreational act. The confluence of these things has formed the seedbed for widespread sexual violation of varying degrees. So yes, I think all these things are connected. If we want to end sex trafficking, we have to shift the pornographic culture that fuels it.

What do you hope audiences will take away after watching ‘Liberated’?

I hope that audiences will feel empowered to disavow the narrow scripts in our culture that pressure us into conformity. The lie that we have been so sold is that we can be liberated through conformity. My hope is that people will find true liberation by reclaiming an authentic identity, not one scripted for them by the culture.

We are not the two-dimensional beings that we have been cast as. We are complex, multi-dimensional creatures with an enormous capacity for goodness, beauty, and wholeness. A person’s value should be cherished and celebrated for the full range of gifts they possess, not merely looking hot or scoring with the opposite gender.

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‘Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution’ is available now on Netflix. Learn more about the film on the Magic Lantern pictures website.

 

2 Comments

  1. I watched this documentary 3 times, and each time I was struck by just how powerful the messages are that young people are receiving today about what it means to be a man or a woman. Thank you for taking the time to write what you have written and getting the word out for others to watch this film. Change will happen when we expose truth, as this film does!

  2. Ali Mason says:

    Thank you for writing such a honest real article about Liberated. It is often much more pleasant to keep one’s eyes closed however it is important that we have the courage to open them up and see what our world is really filled with. “Liberated’ is a enlightening, disturbing, painful film that reveals how the sexual culture has not only deflated human worth but robbed humanity of walking in whole healthy masculinity and femininity. Today’s normal sexual interactions demean all parties and have a life long negative effect on the heart. “Liberated” explores the culture we live in and the effect it is really having on young adults.

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