Before discussing the last Sex+++ films, a reminder: next week, April 7th, will not be the next Sex+++ film night because we screen our documentaries every second and fourth Tuesday.
But you know what is happening next Tuesday the 7th? The very first Chicago Pleasure Salon, 6-10PM! Be there or be square. It’s going to be awesome, recurring monthly henceforth. And if you’re on Facebook, you should totally become a fan of the Pleasure Salon Facebook Page.
Last Tuesday, my sex-positive documentary film series screened two documentaries: “Doin’ It: Sex, Disability and Videotape” (courtesy of Beyondmedia Education) and “Orgasmic Women: 13 Selfloving Divas” (courtesy of filmmaker Marianna Beck).
Although I see some overlap in the issues addressed by these films, I intended this evening to be our only two-theme night at Sex+++. That is, I wanted to show both these movies, so I put them together — but I wasn’t intending to imply that the two topics (disability and sexuality, and female masturbation) are intrinsically related.
Both movies are so great! Made by the adorable Empowered Fe Fes — a peer group for young women with disabilities — “Doin’ It” does a really wonderful job of showing how disabled people can have awesome romantic relationships, as well as highlighting the stigma and stereotypes faced by disabled people when they seek to explore sexuality. My one major complaint about this film is that it didn’t address alternative sexuality among the disabled. There was nothing about disabled folks who are LGBTQ, or into BDSM, or whatever. Still, it did cover some really important topics that could easily have been missed — for instance, social prejudice against disabled people reproducing. I’m hardly an expert on the topic of disability and sexuality, but this documentary seemed like a pretty good overview to me.
I also loved “Orgasmic Women”. Made for Betty Dodson — the fabulous, famous female sexual pleasure activist — “Orgasmic Women” is all about women who masturbate to orgasm, and how they go about it. It’s great, but with this film too there was an absent topic that frustrated me: the movie gave an incredible overview of female orgasmic practices physically … but not emotionally/mentally.
There’s a wonderful array of viewpoints among the women masturbating onscreen in “Orgasmic Women”, and the viewer gets to watch how widely their approach to masturbation varies, but we heard hardly anything about what they think and feel while they masturbate. Some talked about it in a roundabout way — for instance, some described the circumstances that shape their personal masturbation time, and how they negotiate that. But none of them described what they were fantasizing about, what they imagine, what goes on in their minds when they’re approaching orgasm or coming. Considering how integral fantasies can be to sexual pleasure — and considering that certain types of sexual fantasies remain far more stigmatized that physical sexual pleasure, and would therefore benefit greatly from being brought into the light — I thought this was a huge lack. Still, the film did so much to cover aspects of female sexuality that are never ever talked about — and it covered them so thoroughly!
As I said before, I don’t see these films as intrinsically related … and yet there are important commonalities. The big one for me is that both documentaries have a huge emphasis on owning our bodies. For instance, in “Doin’ It”, the Empowered Fe Fes talk about how others will act as though they own the Fe Fes’ bodies essentially because of their disabilities. Doctors or caretakers will act as though they have the right to make physical decisions about disabled bodies they are treating, or restrict the actions those bodies are allowed to take for reasons beyond good medical ones; relatives will act as though they ought to be able to make important culture-related decisions for the disabled. One girl in the film tells a horrifying story about how her aunt tried to trick her into getting her tubes tied — that is, the girl wanted to have children someday, and her aunt felt this to be an inappropriate desire for a disabled person, so her aunt attempted to have the girl sterilized against her will. Jesus Christ.
In “Orgasmic Women”, the overarching theme is that it’s important for people to take ownership and responsibility over our sexuality. This is especially true for women, whose sexual needs are so socially subordinated to men’s; mainstream models of sexuality all focus on a certain type of male sexual pleasure, and so we women need to really motivate ourselves and think carefully in order to learn about our sexuality. (Of course, the current very limited sexual paradigm doesn’t just screw with women — it ends up disenfranchising men with alternative sexual needs, as well!) With its frankness about female sexual pleasure, “Orgasmic Women” shows how beautifully different sexuality can be among different people, and its subjects make amazing role models of women who know exactly how to take control of their own bodies.
“Doin’ It” highlights the same problem by videotaping the Empowered Fe Fes going on a trip to learn about toys and masturbation from Searah at Early to Bed sex toy store. During the visit, one girl tells the camera about how she learned the “masturbation” sign in sign language. Apparently, there are different signs for male masturbation and female masturbation … but when she was learning sign language, she was only taught the sign for male masturbation. Even though she herself is female. It’s hard to find a more obvious example of how male sexuality is considered most important in our society, and female sexuality is simply … ignored.
Of course, these questions — who owns our bodies, who owns our sexuality — go beyond effective masturbation, or female sexual pleasure, or disability rights. They’re integral to the sex-positive movement. For instance, in pro-BDSM advocacy, this problem manifests as convincing the world that we must be allowed to do whatever consensual things we like with our bodies, even if it “looks like abuse”. Like so many sex-positive conversations, we end up returning to the fact that we must promote enthusiastic consent above all else.
Again, we won’t have a film on April 7th. Come to Pleasure Salon instead! But on April 14th — the second Tuesday of April — Sex+++ will start up again with “Bi The Way”: an examination of bisexuality in America. See you there!