Masters and Johnson in St. Louis

I was walking down a street near Washington University in St. Louis, and had just eaten some bad ass macaroni and cheese at an all macaroni and cheese restaurant (seriously, it was really good http://www.cheese-ology.com/), when I noticed Hollywood stars on the side-walk. I believe they were stars for celebrities from St. Louis or with St. Louis ties. The reason I'm mentioning this on this blog is because one of the stars was for Masters and Johnson, pioneers of sex research!!!

Virginia E. Johnson was hired by William H. Masters as a research assistant at Washington University in the mid 50's, and the two began a long research career. Masters and Johnson were not perfect, but I have some mad love for what they have contributed to the understanding of sexual functioning - particularly female sexual functioning. These were the first people to actually observe and record physical sexual response in males and females. No more did people have to guess about things like where vaginal lubrication came from. They gave the scientific community actual physical data from which to begin understanding sexuality in humans. They showed us how similar the male and female pleasure cycle and orgasm actually were. In a time obsessed with the Freudian idea of a "mature" vaginal orgasm and an "immature" clitoral orgasm, they showed us that there weren't several types of female orgasms - just one - just like men. They also sparked a whole new type of therapy to deal with sexual problems.

Now, like I said, they weren't perfect though. They went about their research and therapy with the idea that women should be able to have orgasms through intercourse alone (even though their research showed that orgasms through intercourse, which few women were able to have, were actually due to indirect clitoral stimulation and were some of the weakest orgasms they recorded). They also had a program from 1968 to 1977 at the Masters and Johnson Institute to make homosexuals heterosexual. So...they could have been more progressive, but what they did do right was significant and important.


SSL Interview: Deborah Tolman (Part 2)

This is the 2nd half of my SSL interview with Deborah Tolman. Check out the first installment here. Before I go on to the interview, I thought I’d give you a quick rundown of her educational and career history.

Deborah Tolman has been interested in and working with sexuality issues her whole adult life. In fact, even before adulthood, her intellectual curiosity of Victorian pornography as a teenager followed her into college where she studied history and literature. Her senior thesis was about women’s sexual awakening in Middlemarch by George Eliot. She also became interested in social science during this time; being that she had a professor who was interested in sexuality questions, and importantly, in Tolman’s sexuality questions.

Her first job out of college was at the Guttmacher Institute, and this sparked an interest in qualitative research. “I was very taken by the fact that no one who worked there had ever been in an abortion clinic even though they were producing all the abortion statistics in the country,  which is how I got interested in qualitative research. Just the notion that nobody was talking to the people who were going through these experiences…was very troubling to me.”

She attained a Masters in Sexual Education from Pennsylvania University, and went on to work with Mary Calderone on an oral history and in various areas at SIECUS (Sex Information and Education Council of the United States). Among other accomplishments, she eventually gained an Ed.D in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University, founded and directed The Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality,  co-sponsored the SPARK Summit Movement to challenge the sexualization of girls, and is currently a professor of social welfare and psychology at the Hunter College School of Social Work and the Graduate Center of CUNY.

In the book you talk about some ways that we can begin to tackle the issues associated with girl’s sexuality that you raise in Dilemmas of Desire, but you also acknowledge how far reaching and complicated this issue is. I know you’ve been working in some activist arenas, so since this book, have your thoughts on the issue changed?

Well to be honest with you, I'm more flummoxed than ever because things have gotten much more complicated in the interim. When I first started working on this issue, the idea of sexual agency for girls was really like off the charts and new and innovative and weird and scary…but I think things have gotten much more fraught and complicated and difficult.

Kind of the minute girls’ desire became something people might acknowledge, it instantaneously became commodified…And, then there’s the notion of women having choices, which is a good thing except that if we don't question what the choices are, then that can be problematic and kind of re-instantiates the notion that we're just individuals doing our individual thing - which I think very much happened since I wrote the book. We are in a very neo-liberal moment where the idea that we're groups of people by which things happen has really fallen by the wayside, and we're all just individuals making individual choices, but no one is asking about the choices, who is putting them out there, and why are we making them, and what are the consequences. What other choices might we make if we just weren’t picking at this, what I call, this sparse buffet of choices? And so a whole discourse rose up around sexual agency as highly individualistic and at the same time was literally kind of cannibalized by things like the Girls Gone Wild franchise…(Then there is) the rising up of Raunch Culture, as Ariel Levy calls it, which has very much complicated the idea of sexual agency, because now what we have are a lot of representations of women who look like sexual agency and frankly they may even feel like sexual agency, but if you listen and look carefully at what women are doing and feeling, the sense that I get from the evidence I’ve been able to find is that what we really have more than ever is performances of sexual agency - which is a really hard nut to crack, even a hard thing to talk about.

Right, so you're performing sexual agency, but you're not really experiencing it or feeling it. So as young women are performing this way of being a sexual person, they're not embodied. It's still not about their own feelings and their own bodies. And the fact that a lot of women who are engaging in these kinds of experiences are drunk, which seems to be very pervasive, to me is very telling. Why so much drinking? Why do we have to get so drunk to do this? Once again, I think it's because it's not necessarily about what we want and what we feel.

You have interviewed girls since the interviews you did for Dilemmas of Desire. Do you feel as though things have changed significantly or not?


SSL Interview: Deborah Tolman (Part 1)

This is the second in my series of SSL interviews in which I highlight people whom I believe have contributed positively to the realistic perspective on female sexuality that Science Sex and the Ladies supports.

I have included Deborah Tolman in this series because, along with her career-long dedication to considering important and novel topics in sexuality with a keen feminist eye, she also wrote a book called Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality. This book is a qualitative study where Tolman speaks to 31 suburban and urban teen girls about their experiences of desire, and she opens our eyes to the very real and often adverse consequences of their wrestling with the heavily gendered cultural expectations surrounding teens and sex. In our movie, Science Sex and the Ladies, Dilemmas of Desire was used to illustrate how these cultural expectation force girls to shoulder an unfair amount of sexual burden, and it begin a discussion about what consequences those burdens have on our understanding of female sexuality. 

I don’t want to gush, but this is a fabulous book. For me, a by-night researcher, this book bridged important thought paths I was exploring at the time, but that’s not why it’s great. I would recommend this book to anyone, particularly anyone who may be involved in the raising of a teenager anytime in the future. Tolman takes teenage sexuality, a subject that so many people- even very thoughtful and smart people, think they have figured out to some degree, and displays for the reader the complexity and contradictions of the situation from a girl’s perspective, showing us that a developing sexuality is more than just a set of personal qualities and personal choices. And the girls…their voices, even when they are silent or confused or unsure, their voices are potent.

So read Dilemmas of Desire, but first read the rest of this interview. I can’t say enough about how excited I was to see the response email from Tolman the day after I sent out my first round of letters to authors I was interested in interviewing. I was quite unsure about what kind of responses I would get back, but I was overwhelmed by Tolman’s curiosity and willingness to engage in discussion. She introduced me to the SPARK movement (which will be profiled in the next SSL interview), and I was even treated to a sneak peak of her current work which is to become a book. Our interview was over the phone on a hot July day, and I was happy to find that Tolman is as vibrant and engaging over the phone as she is through email.


We're Having an Audition for a Final SSL Shoot!

Here's the deal... We are getting really close to having a finished cut of this movie, but we made the decision to re-envision a particular scene, and that re-envision involves us finding some actors and actresses who can pass as teens. If you or anyone you know is interested pass this on - the details are below. Thanks my loyal blog readers!

Young Men and Women Needed for 1 Day Shoot - Speaking and Non-Speaking Roles

AnC Movies needs actors and actresses to play teens in a scene for our feature length documentary, Science Sex and the Ladies. There are both speaking and non-speaking roles available. We are interested in all races and body types, but you must be able to pass for a teen. Any person under 18 must be accompanied by a guardian.

Date: Sunday, August 14th
Time: 2pm
Location: Central Cabinets, 2455 Central Ave., Indianapolis, IN
The audition will be casual. Head shots and resumes are not necessary. Actors and actresses will read excerpts from the script.

These roles are a 1 day shooting commitment in either Greenfield, Indianapolis, or Anderson depending on the part. Meals will be provided on set. No up front payment - contract/release promises payment when/if profit occurs.

Science Sex and the Ladies is in the late stages of post production. To learn more about this movie check out the links below.

Trailer: http://vimeo.com/23668237
Movie Site: http://www.sciencesexandtheladies.com/
Movie Blog: http://www.sciencesexandtheladies.blogspot.com/

Please contact Trisha with questions at Trisha@ancmovies.com