How to Have Sex in a Pandemic

The work of sex-positive HIV/AIDS activists in the 1980s inspires Queer New Yorkers to revive and reinvent safer sex practices during the early months of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

In this first entry in a series of shorts examining how LGBTQ+ people are reimagining sex to uphold pleasure, we hear from Queer health officials, activists, glory hole manufacturers and their users about the struggle to balance desire, community, kink and risk during the dark early days of the pandemic.

  • Michael Leibenluft
    Film: Gazebo Library (2020), Let's Chat About WeChat (2020), The Student Body (2009).. Theater: I'll Never Love Again (Obie Award for Direction), June is the First Fall, Salesman之死, Flood in the Valley, The Subtle Body
  • Michael Leibenluft
  • Adam Baran
    Trade Center (2021), Circle of Books (2019), Jinx (2007)
  • Jessica Dunn Rovinelli
    Marriage Story (2020), So Pretty (2019), Empathy (2016)
  • Michael Leibenluft
  • Dane Terry
    Dreamboy podcast; works for stage include: Jupiter's Lifeless Moons (PSNY 2018) and Bird In The House (La MaMa 2015, Under The Radar Festival (2016). Dane was the 2016 recipient of the Ethyl Eichelberger Award from PSNY
  • Kenny Kusiak
    Sound Design and Mixer
    Marriage Story (2020), And She Hisses (2019), Oma (2018)
  • Dana Bingham-Guanilo
    Behind the Question (2020)
  • Richard Berkowitz
    Key Cast
  • Dr. Demtre Daskalakis
    Key Cast
  • Auntie Bob
    Key Cast
  • Hunter Poole
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    9 minutes 11 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    December 11, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    1,200 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Vimeo Staff Pick

    June 22, 2021
Director Biography - Michael Leibenluft

Michael Leibenluft (he/him) is an Obie Award-winning film and theater director. He works collaboratively to tell stories that challenge notions of culture, nationality, gender, and sexuality. Film projects include documentary shorts about the Chinese app WeChat and a mutual aid library in Brooklyn, and a full-length about the history of Yale from a Queer and feminist perspective.

Michael has extensive experience directing documentary theater, including projects about the Federal Theater Project, barbershops in Shanghai, and the Columbine school shooting.

Michael has directed other theater projects for New York Theater Workshop, National Queer Theater, Ensemble Studio Theater, 59E59, Target Margin, Yangtze Rep, NYU/Tisch, New Yiddish Rep, and others. Fluent in Mandarin, he is the Artistic Director of Gung Ho Projects, a multilingual platform for cultural exchange for artists from the US and Asia.

Honors include an Obie Award for Directing, a Fulbright Grant, and a Drama League Directing Fellowship.

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Director Statement

As a Queer artist, this project began from a deeply personal place of inquiry and curiosity. When our lives were upended and we went into lockdown in March 2020, I looked to history to be able to process the disaster unfolding around us. I immediately thought of the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and started to wonder why my generation is so removed from our Queer elders. I also noticed our collective failure to consider risk contextually, and how Queer practices of harm reduction and transparent dialogue were urgently needed in many aspects of our precarious lives.

And so I took a deep dive into exploring pleasure and risk and experimentation in our Queer present and past to create this short doc, the first in a series of shorts encompassing a range of LGBTQ+ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This journey has revealed that talking frankly about sex and desire in a moment of isolation can be radically hopeful and healing. It has also proven that Queer folks are really good at experimenting with sex and have a lot to offer others – straight and Queer – about how to thrive in this moment. The world urgently needs to hear these experiences, both past and present, so we can better take care of ourselves during this and future pandemics.