Hope Springs - The SSL Review

First, I feel like I've been neglecting the blog the last couple weeks. I've had a lot of ideas and things I'd like to post, but because my real life job has been running me ragged, I've been putting up some fluffier, less time consuming stuff lately. Luckily I'm starting to crawl out of the hole, so hopefully I'll be able to start posting some of the stuff I've been holding on to for a bit. That brings me to this SSL review.

I saw Hope Springs a couple weeks ago when it first came out. From the previews I could tell that it just might be eligible for the ol' SSL review, but I also love me some Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, so of course I got me a vat of popcorn and checked this movie out. I was pleasantly surprised, both at the insinuations about female sexual release, and just the movie in general. It was a simple movie, and I really think it could have been a cliche, surface kind of older people rom com, but I think Streep and Jones gave the movie a kindness and depth that was above and beyond the script. It was a sweet and relatable movie, and I would recommend it.

As for the SSL review, this movie's getting a pretty good rating; partially for the depiction of sexual release I'll describe next, but also because the overall feel of this movie, to me, struck at the heart of why talking about his kind of stuff is meaningful. I'll get to that part later, but let's begin with a favorite subject of mine - masturbation, baby. Now, it's rare to see any female character at all who admits to masturbation in a movie, much less a "normal" woman with grown children and a 30 plus year marriage. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Meryl Streep's character, when asked by the marriage councilor whether she masturbates, said she used to. (She doesn't anymore. It makes her sad because it makes her think of the non-existent sexual relationship between her and her husband, but by golly, she did at one time.) Even better for those of us who care about depictions of female sexuality, she masturbates that night, and it was done in a sensible, fairly realistic way. Obviously, it being a movie and all, we don't see too much of anything, but what we do see reflects movements that would reasonably be done by a woman masturbating in a way that ends with orgasm; and from the sound of things (and not in an overly rambunctious or porny sort of way of course), it does. Basically we just see Streep in bed with her hand moving under the covers. From her arm placement and movement, it is insinuated that her hand is moving around on her vulva, and it doesn't look as though she is moving her fingers or anything else in and out of her vagina (which unfortunately is too often used in depictions of women masturbating to orgasm). So, I truly appreciate this thoughtful and progressive nod to female masturbation in the movie.

Now to the less tangible part of the SSL review. It was the whole situation of the movie - not any particular depiction or discussion. It struck a chord for me about why ignorance and misconceptions about female sexual response is more than just fodder for feminist ramblings - the misunderstanding about how women orgasm affect some of the deepest emotional parts of people's lives.

This movie is about a man and a woman who are married and living under the same roof, but have almost completely lost their connection. It's a common tale, tangled in all the emotional, circumstantial things that can slowly pull married people apart, but there was also this glimpse into the couple's sexual history; the sexual history that led them to their current situation; which I thought was refreshingly honest.

The basics, as I felt could be gleaned from the discussion in the movie go a bit like this: She never really orgasmed from the sex the two were having, and she began to feel as though he really just wanted "it" not her. She mentioned that he would always close his eyes so tight when he was doing it (seemingly as he was about to orgasm).  For his part, he began to feel that she wasn't that into it, and frankly, having sex with someone who doesn't really want it isn't that great of a feeling. He used to be sexual, but he didn't want to have sex with a woman who didn't want to have sex with him, and he didn't want to be unfaithful, so he eventually started to avoid the whole situation to the point where he slept in a different room and hadn't had sex for years. She, in turn, missed the intimacy with him, and was hurt and confused as to why it stopped over the years." But...as Jones said in the movie (and as Charlie and I have enjoyed repeating since we saw the movie), "Sometimes when it's off it's just off."

I think the movie did a fantastic job of giving each character genuine reasons for getting where they were. She loved him and being physically close with him, but didn't have orgasms with him (this is so so common and makes so much sense when we realize the simple fact that the most normal, acceptable sexual interaction, intercourse, is great for stimulating the male organ of sexual pleasure and horrible for stimulating the female organ of sexual pleasure - the clit). He was once a lusty young man who loved and wanted his wife more than anything. He had fantasies and desires about his sex life that he didn't feel his wife would be interested in.  Eventually, as the excitement of youth and newness wore off,  she saw him as just wanting to orgasm in her, yet she still craved the parts of sex that seemed possible to her - long slow arousal, romance, and loving physical intimacy, but was too often disappointed with the act. He wanted a partner who wanted him as much as he wanted her, but he was also too often disappointed.

Yes, of course good communication could have helped this situation early on, but it would have also helped a whole hell of a lot if our culture clearly understood how women orgasm; and if what society described as "sex," and what each partner grew up understanding as "sex," was something broader than intercourse, something that included orgasmic activities for both males and females. That way, when they tried to communicate about "sex," it would be easier because they were both experiencing something similar during sex - emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, arousal, and orgasm. As it is now, sex is something that for many women does not include the orgasm part, but does for most men. It's hard to understand each other's point of view when that very large experiential difference exists.

I suspect communication breakdowns - made deeper because of our misunderstandings about the female orgasm - are happening in household all over; to husbands and wives, old and young. I think the feelings Streep and Jones were experiencing are so deeply relatable to so many. Even if it doesn't get to the point of living in separate rooms in a sexless marriage, I would guess that almost all long term male-female partnerships can relate to some aspect of this situation. Yes, there are other things that can and do strain long term sexual relationships, but the fact that women rarely orgasm during male-female sexual encounters and men usually do, is one of the biggest; and one that is least discussed in any sensible way.  As much as this movie could be played off as simply reflecting the sexual repression of an older generation, I think it speaks to something much deeper and, I would bet that many a younger couples out there will relate.

It would have been really cool if the movie had touched more specifically on these differences in male vs. female sexual experiences, but one can't expect a movie to include everything one hopes. It was a genuine, tender look at the pain these sexual challenges cause in marriage. In short, I felt like the plight of Streep and Jone's characters was the plight of all us heteros dealing with long term sexual relationships. I don't know what the scriptwriter's intentions were, but I think this movie scratched the surface of being something truly progressive, and I'll give it props for even scratching the surface of these common sexual feelings. I also love that we see some realistic lady-bation from a character who was meant to be quite "normal." I give this movie 4 out of 5 vulvas.
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P.S. This movie actually kept reminding me of The Hite Report on Male Sexuality. It's Shere Hite's next book after the groundbreaking The Hite Report on Female Sexuality. It asked over 7,000 men qualitative questions about all aspects of sex and their sexual relationships. It was done in the 70's and as much as the female version had given deep insights into the frustrations women were experiencing, this male version had given as deep and meaningful of insights into the frustrations men were experiencing.

Here's just one answer of the many in this book that I think are relevant to the feelings Jones brings up in this movie.BTW, I highly recommend this book. [Published by Alfred A. Kompf, Inc. 1981 edition. pg. 601]

"I will be married twenty-four years next month. Overall I like it, but there is a slow, deadly erosion of sex. The affection still lingers. I still love my wife in many ways. She does not like sex-she probably never really did-and I have tried just about everything, chiefly patience and gentleness and forbearance, with no real change. It is a sad thing. I wish it weren't this way. It never was that great, for us. I wish we could have kept moderately happy and gone to bed more often. We still sleep together in the same double bed. In all the years I don't think she has ever asked for sex, in any form, and invariably has seemed relieved when I didn't want to. There is still a feeling of warmth and partnership, and we love our kids, but the spark, the magic, has long departed...."

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