When Salt-N-Pepa famously sang “Let’s talk about sex baby, let’s about you and me, let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be,” in 1991 they were doing more than being cheeky and provocative to top the charts – they were revolutionary. Even in the decade of the Independent Woman, getting real about sex was still seen as a radical act. Women openly talking about sex has been taboo for far too long and the effects have been devastating. Subjectified: Nine Young Women Talk About Sex, a new film by Melissa Tapper Goldman, seeks to counteract the negative effects that our silence around sex has wrought. Through candid interviews with nine young women, Goldman provokes the viewer to answer the film’s central question: What is the cost of shame?
Let’s talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd/ It keeps coming up anyhow. Don’t decoy, avoid or make void the topic/ ‘Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it.
“There is a message in not talking. Where we cultivate silence, we cultivate shame,” said filmmaker Melissa Tapper Goldman. While it appears that our culture has no problem talking about sex given the fact that we’re bombarded with sexually-charged messages and images on a daily basis, we’re not absorbing positive messages. The media we consume is awash in negative and shaming portrayals of sex that lead us to question everything from our bodies to whether we even deserve to experience pleasure. According to Goldman, “somehow in a sea of overexposure, images of real female sexuality, explored on their own terms, are still startlingly rare.” While we cannot erase a lifetime nurtured by media and cultural messages that encourage us to view sex through a lens of shame and silence, we can add new messages that are richer and more complex. That’s what encouraged Goldman to embark on multi-year research that carried her across the country armed with a cheap camera and a desire to capture the stories of nine diverse women who would speak honestly about sex, their bodies, family, and their desires.
Let’s tell it how it is and how it could be/ How it was and of course how it should be
Subjectified made me laugh, shake my head, and reexamine my own ideas about sexuality with its provocative and insightful questions like, “Are you beautiful?” “Are you sexy?” “When did you first have sex? “When did you think you had to?” Goldman made sure to choose subjects who were diverse (Christian, gay, moms, virgins, urban, rural, white, Latina, etc.) and whose stories are often misunderstood. I felt like I was sitting in a living room of each subject, gaining insight into how they first learned about sex, whether they enjoyed the sex they’ve had or why they were putting off sex until marriage, and how they hoped their sex lives would evolve in the future. And really, how often do we get to do that in a space free of judgment and devoid of consequences? I won’t spoil the film (you can find out how to view it for yourself here) by going into detail about each of the subjects but I’ll just say that by the end of the screening I really did feel like a small dent was being made in the wall of silence that our culture has built up around sex.
Ladies, all the ladies, louder now, help me out/ Come on, all the ladies, let’s talk about sex, alright!
Goldman isn’t stopping at Subjectified. In her quest to overwrite the stereotypes and judgments held regarding why girls have sex, she’s hoping to add more voices to the chorus of women speaking up to create a more nuanced and real picture of sexuality. Throughout the month of November, you can submit your story about your sexual history, beliefs, experiences, confusions, turning points and more the interactive storytelling campaign, DO TELL! Tell a story (anonymously) that is meaningful to you, whether funny, difficult, or life-changing. Your participation will help push back against the messages that paint an unrealistic picture of our lives as women. You’ll help Goldman and others answer the question: What is the cost of shame? What would be different if we could speak openly about all aspects of our sexual lives? Your story is important. Your story can help. Do tell!
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