Most people are used to hearing CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interview world leaders and report from war zones. These days she’s having a very different sort of conversation. “Let’s talk about sex,” the decorated correspondent tells a group of Japanese women as they sip cocktails at a restaurant in Tokyo.
Yes, sex. That’s the subject of her new series “Christiane Amanpour: Sex and Love Around the World,” a shift from the political and conflict coverage that earned her global acclaim and the title of the network’s chief international correspondent. She says the idea for the series came to her three years ago while brushing her teeth and listening to a radio broadcast about Syrian refugees fleeing to border camps. As she listened, Amanpour’s mind wondered about more intimate questions about the refugee experience.
“How do they maintain their relationships? How do they keep their intimacy? How do they stay human? How do they have sex? Do they have sex? They clearly are still having babies,” Amanpour says. “How do you seek your physical pleasure, your sexual satisfaction, when you can’t have a shower even?”
It was these types of questions that led to her six-episode series, in which Amanpour travels the globe to explore the nuances of modern love, sex and intimacy. One episode features dating in Ghana, while another reveals what it’s like to be married and sexless in Tokyo.
Solo-ish sat down with Amanpour ahead of the series premiere, which is Saturday, March 17. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Solo-ish: What, if any, are the similarities between covering sex and intimacy and war and conflict?
Amanpour: They are the flip side of the same coin. It is the difference between the extreme survival and hardship that people go through. They can’t pay as much attention to their emotional selves, their emotional lives and their emotional health. This is the other side of what makes you human. It’s not just about getting through the day and surviving; it’s also about loving and having relationships and being intimate, whether you are with your partner or a parent.
Solo-ish: What makes sex and love just as important to cover as the conflicts in Syria?
Amanpour: I spent my career in war zones. What I’ve discovered about that, when I finish interviewing the leaders, the military and the militants’ victims … and all of that tragedy and the violation of human rights, I have slowly come to realize that is only one side of what makes people tick. People also need to have their humanity intact. They need to be able to love and to have intimacy, whether it’s with their spouse, partner or children or other family members.
Solo-ish: How did this topic push you outside your comfort zone?
Amanpour: I am very used to covering war, and those are not the most difficult things to talk about. They are difficult and dangerous to cover. But the emotional and intellectual reach [to do this series] for me was more. I’ve never asked these questions before in public, on television. Not only that, but what if people didn’t want to talk to me about it? I had dreaded the idea of having to get pushy about it. I was absolutely stunned and gratified to find how many people just wanted to talk about it.
Solo-ish: You focus a lot on the women’s perspective. What can men learn from watching your series?
Amanpour: I hope men can learn what women have on their minds, what they are saying and what they are feeling, and knowing that [women] want to have these experiences with their chosen partner. Maybe learning … what it means to be in a relationship.
Solo-ish: I noticed your show leans into the #MeToo conversation about consent and sexual empowerment.
Amanpour: That is one point of it. Then there’s the very ordinary human reaction: [Sex is] fun. It’s literally about happiness and enjoyment. There is a political dynamic, too, but the series is not overtly political. I wanted to know how far women were prepared to go and what they would do about their right to happiness, and their right to sexual fulfillment, and their right not just to satisfy men in these countries, which are countries that are not known for their equal rights.
Solo-ish: You also focused a lot on the Eastern perspective. What can the West learn from other parts of the world when it comes to sex and intimacy?
Amanpour: I think people in the West, whether they are men or women, will see a lot of what they share with people all over the world, and some differences. In the United States, we have constitutionally, legally guaranteed rights. We are protected from being forced into marriage. There is accountability, presumably, or there should be for rape and other types of abuse. That is in our laws, in our constitution, in our human relations departments at work. None of that exists in much of the rest of the world. Women don’t have those rights, and if they do, nominally, they are not enforced. So you see the courage of so many of these women and girls who seek their own safety and own freedom and happiness despite the overwhelming odds that are stacked against them. The world out there is changing … the younger generations who are exposed to the whole gamut of the Internet are seeing what is on offer and what could be theirs. A lot of them are refusing to put up with the traditional patriarchy.
Solo-ish: Why did you choose these locations — Berlin; Accra, Ghana; Beirut; Tokyo; Shaghai; and Delhi — and were there any places that were off-limits?
Amanpour: There were some places that I would have liked to have gone, but maybe they were too dangerous or too expensive … but nothing was off-limits in terms of subject matter. We decided not to do more of the West. We did Germany partly because of the refugee influx there, so we did a contrast between Germans and new visitors. There are many cultures that I would like to investigate, and I would also like to explore these topics through the eyes of men.
We are in a moment where boys are free to express their emotions — and not to live up to an old, antiquated macho ideal. I think it is a very important social factor right now, and it’s really worth exploring.
Solo-ish: What is the biggest thing you learned in working on this series?
Amanpour: There are so many feisty, powerful and empowered and want-to-be-empowered women around the world who are on the cusp of understanding that now is the historic time to seek out their own sexual and emotional fulfillment, and to dig deeper into what it means to be intimate and to love and to be loved. What does all of that mean to them, and how can they get it? That is what I learned: There is a lot of joy out there — and a lot of excitement and exploration.