CNN’s chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, is no stranger to tough coverage. She documented the bloody 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq and has reported from the aftermath of humanitarian crises including the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2011 Japanese tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. This year, Amanpour was named as Charlie Rose’s interim replacement after he was fired by CBS for multiple allegations of sexual harassment.
In her latest project, Amanpour is taking on a topic that wasn’t making the nightly news until the #MeToo movement started: love and sex. Her six-part documentary series, Sex & Love Around the World, explores the intimate lives of people around the world. She spoke to NPR’s Michel Martin about the series’ conception, its topics and its challenges.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
On the series inspiration
I was actually brushing my teeth, listening to the radio. I heard a fantastic report about all these sad refugees expelled from Syria going to Jordan. I suddenly wondered: “Well, now, OK, now they’re safe. How do they actually have sex?”
I don’t know why that leaped into my head, but it did. How in these flimsy, cheek-by-jowl tents do they maintain any kind of intimate life? How do they keep their humanity together on the most fundamental level? And in particularly, how do women manage?
On interviewing people about intimacy
There was a lot of shyness, but we were staggered by how open everybody was. And when you think that this series was produced in some of the most conservative societies in the world — I was surprised with how open everyone was, how much everyone wanted to talk, in each and every city we visited. Once the floodgates had opened up, everyone wanted to keep talking and express themselves.
On reporting in the time of #MeToo
We started this reporting before the #MeToo movement, several months before the Harvey Weinstein revelations. We were exploring consent and issues of equality — how both men and women have a right to their own sexual happiness. And that really seems to have landed in the most incredibly fortuitous time in female history. Even in some of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, we found this real wave of change, particularly powered by young women who want to have a different reality than their parents did. That, for me, was the essence of this series.
On the public’s need to talk about sex and intimacy
Every culture and every country that I know of — whether it’s the U.S. or China — sex is taboo. It just is. There’s a ton of antique literature throughout the world, like the Kama Sutra, that explain carnal pleasure for men and women. Women are taught in these books that they don’t just have a right to it — they deserve it! Now, fast-forward to the current orthodoxy around the topic of sex.
There’s a much broader conversation to be had about intimacy, emotion and how couples stay together over the years. Having that conversation in this era of porn, the Internet and #MeToo is dire.