In its fourth “Hashtag” section, #letSEXplore, Zurich Film Festival will explore sexuality and desire. Through films that have already generated heated discussions (Ninja Thyberg’s “Pleasure,” Radu Jude’s Berlinale winner “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn”) as well as those that deserve to be rediscovered, starting with Alex Liu’s documentary “A Sexplanation” (pictured), set to celebrate its European premiere at the festival.

Other titles include George Peter Barbari’s “Death of a Virgin, and the Sin of Not Living,” Jacques Audiard’s Cannes title “Paris, 13th District,” Maria Finitzo’s documentary “Dilemma of Desire” and Hadas Ben Aroya’s “All Eyes Off Me.”

“When it comes to sex, people are very interested, but they are also a bit wary,” says programmer Christine Albrecht. “There is this duality, because almost everyone has done it but people have a hard time being open about it. It’s 2021! Maybe we can finally talk about sex.”

Instead of focusing on explicit scenes, the festival team decided to spotlight films that normalize sexuality.

“Healthy. Reflective. Normalized – those were the words we have been using the most when discussing the ways in which directors approach sex,” says Albrecht, mentioning the selection’s diverse approaches and characters “we don’t necessarily think about when we think about sex and desire.” Just like the protagonist of an Italian doc “Because of My Body” – a young woman suffering from spina bifida, who learns how to experience her physicality in a new way with the help of “love givers.”

“We tend to forget that people with disabilities also have desires,” notes Albrecht.

“When you are a kid, asking your parents about sex, they tell you to wait until you are older. But then it can be too late. I am just re-watching [the original] ‘Gossip Girl’ and for its female characters, their virginity is something you ‘give’ and then you just lose it. It’s such an old-fashioned way to approach it and yet it’s still valid today,” she adds.

“Cinema used to be dominated by the male gaze. Female bodies used to be so exposed and as a woman in the audience, you felt that. I think that has changed. After #MeToo, there is a place for all gazes to exist.”

The screenings will be accompanied by a workshop about intimacy on set with intimacy coordinator Chun Mei Tan, hosted by Focal, as well as a ZFF Talk “Let’s Talk About the Female Sex,” inspired by “The Dilemma of Desire.” Taking place on Sept. 27, it will feature such speakers as medical historian Sarah Scheidmantel and Annemarie Schumacher Dimech of the Women’s Brain Project.

“We were almost stunned to learn that the mission of #letSEXplore aligns perfectly with ‘A Sexplanation’: to normalize conversations around sex,” director Alex Liu tells Variety.

“We also wanted to highlight that the complexity of your sexuality just won’t fit neatly within the categories the society has constructed. Gay, straight or bi? Kinky or vanilla? This thinking is reductive – it causes us to hide, repress or fear so much of our humanity.”

With his film, in which he depicts his own journey, Liu wanted to coax audiences into feeling more comfortable discussing sex and empower them to take ownership of the joy their sexuality has to offer, he says, mentioning that a lot of progress has been made since he first started filming.

“People have become savvier, more open and increasingly accepting. Overall, they have become more sexually literate and I mean this in a literal sense: we have a better vocabulary that makes these types of conversations possible, partly due to the work of social movements around sexual health which have rippled into representation in media, politics and ultimately everyday discussions,” he says, calling humor “a powerful tool to diffuse tension.”

“When it comes to discussing sex and sexuality, people tend to get awkward and feel shame. Instead of validating these scary feelings, we wanted to grant the audience permission to laugh at the absurdity of humanity. Embrace the awkwardness and demonstrate that this type of exploration, including speaking with your own mother and father about their sex life, isn’t catastrophic,” he adds.

“By nature, to be a human being is to be a sexual being. It’s unavoidable. And that’s beautiful.”