No Strings Attached - The SSL Review

So I said I would SSL review No Strings Attached, and I am  a woman of my word. I reviewed its twin movie, Friends with Benefits (FWB), here, and as one would expect, it's almost impossible not to compare the two movies once you've seen both.

Honestly, as far as the SSL reviewing goes, this movie simply doesn't have as much to go on as FWB had, and frankly what it does have to go on ain't that progressive, or to be more clear, it actually portrays just the type of inaccurate depictions of female orgasm that I'm working against. However, that said, it was still generally fun to watch. It was a formulaic RomCom, but not nearly as formulaic as FWB. Plus, it had moments of strangeness that I really enjoyed. Natalie Portman calling some women pumpkins? Yeah I enjoyed that. Kutcher making a period mix for Portman, all old school on a CD and everything with somewhat witty song choices? Liked it.

I'm not so sure that they sold the relationship in this movie though, particularly in comparison with Timberlake and Kunis in FWB. Probably Kutcher couldn't sell it. He's cute and charming on screen (at least I think so even though many people have an irrational deep hatred of him, which I won't knock because I myself carry deep irrational hatred for particular actors and actresses), but I don't think he has the range or the acting chops or something to make it work. I actually think Natalie Portman could hang, but it just didn't work that well for me.

Now as for this non progressive orgasm depiction, I have to say I'm a little sad about it. I just blogged about Ashton Kutcher giving big ups to this movie for its depiction of a female character owning her own sexual desire. He rightly pointed out that we see too little of that in Hollywood and that in general less emphasis is placed on female orgasm in our sexual culture than on male orgasm. He even stated the obvious, but oh so overlooked truth, that in school male orgasm is discussed (not really as pleasure, but as a necessary means to discuss reproduction), but women's orgasms are simply not discussed because they are removed from reproduction. After reading all this I thought, cool, this movie will have some realistic depictions of female sexual release...or not. Honestly, I think Kutcher's heart is in the right place, and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. My SSL type criticisms are not your average types of criticisms, and I'm pretty sure a lot of people have never thought about depictions of female orgasm in the ways I discuss in the these reviews. So Mr. Ashton Kutcher, if you're reading this (and if you are, I'll freak out), know that I still have love for your feminist pro-sex leanings. Take this as an invitation to engage in a friendly discussion about depictions of female orgasm in media.

So on with it. The only scene that had a depiction of female sexual release was during the couple's first sexual encounter. The two knew each other over the years, and although they hadn't spent much time together, they obviously took a liking to one another. Ends up, they're both living in the same city and have mutual friends, and after Kutcher learns his dad is sleeping with his ex girlfriend, he goes on a one night bender with some friends and wakes up buck naked at Portman's apartment. Her and her roommates fuck with him for a little and then Portman leads him back to her room where he can find the pants he drunkenly pulled off the night before.

Well, wouldn't you know, they're sitting on the bed talking when they just bust out kissin' and a touchin'. I would like to stop the story here and point out that Ashton Kutcher's character just woke from a night of drinking so hard that he ended up naked on a friends couch. His breath has got to smell like hot garbage, but I guess Portman's character is into that. Anyway, they quickly move from kissing to naked to condom to doin' it. I mean it was like less than a minute. Then,
Portman's roommate is all like, "come on we gotta leave for work," and Portman looks at Kutcher and tells him he's got less than a minute to do the damn thing (or something to that effect). He says he's way ahead of her, and I'm thinking, okay she means he's got like a minute to get his. However, what actually happens is that Portman and Kutcher both come at basically the same time, and I realize that Portman's intention was probably not to tell him he needed to finish in a minute, but that he needed to finish her in a minute.

So, here's the low down. Portman showed no signs of controlling the motion or of grinding up on him, and there was no hand action going on down near her lady parts. It looked exactly like any sex scene you would expect; missionary with him doing most of the movement. There was no sense that she was trying to work her clit the way he was trying to work his penis. Yet they had simultaneous orgasms in like 2 minutes. I'm not saying a woman couldn't orgasm that fast, and I'm not saying that a woman couldn't orgasm in that position. Women can orgasm that quickly and can orgasm in that position. However, women orgasm that quickly when they are taking part in masturbation or sex acts that mimic masturbation (rubbing vulva against something soft, manually stimulating clit), not because a penis is rubbing into the largely insensitive vagina for 50 seconds. Please note that the penis rubbing into the vagina (you might know this as sex) does mimic masturbation for a man but not a woman (less than 1% of women in the Hite Report study say they use any kind of insertion into the vagina during masturbation - the rest stimulate the vulva/clit area). A woman who was in Portman's position could orgasm if she reached down and touched herself, or if she just took control of the movement (with Kutcher cooperating of course) and grinded her clit against his pelvis, but that's not what she was doing. It was just plain ol' sex. In this scene it seems that she had expected him to give her an orgasm (and he did) and that she requires nothing more than the minimal amount of in-out sex to orgasm. Neither of these things are not good examples of how a woman could actually achieve an orgasm.

I also think there is another disturbing level to this. I think Portman's character is problematic because it looks so much like a sexually confident and assertive woman, but digging a little deeper, I see her as nothing more than a misguided attempt to depict what our society believes a sexually confident and assertive woman should be. In this movie, Portman is a confident, intelligent, interesting woman who is aware of her sexual desire, and she takes ownership over where that desire leads her. She is in many ways, ideal, and a character that women and girls may want to emulate. I think she's not so bad to emulate if we're talking about the no-nonsense hard work that we see she puts into her education and career, or the good-natured humor and sarcasm that make her a likable gal to Kutcher.

However, I think she becomes a harmful stereotype when it comes to her sexuality. She is like a slightly watered down version of the Power Slut female stereoype; like Samantha from Sex in the City or Nancy from Weeds. These women are super sexual, open to new sexual experiences, take sexual initiative, and they always seem to have great sex - in all situations. As the characters discussed once in Sex and the City, they "have sex like a man."

So, let's talk about this "having sex like a man." Taking initiative - cool. Open to new experiences - great. Being super sexual with a high sex drive, lots of desires - then acting on that - awesome. All things I can get behind for a woman. My problem is the great sex part. That's where we ladies always get duped - not because it's not possible, but because it's highly unlikely if we ladies really do "have sex like a man." That term is generally used to mean that the women are having sex without worrying about emotional attachment, or what other people will think about them, and just going on pure desire. That's fine. However, media also depicts these women as physically "having sex like a man," and that's the problem. For a woman to really "have sex like a man," she needs to have an orgasm each (or at least most of the) time, and to do that she's gonna need to have sex like a woman who is working toward orgasm. My point here is that a women who actually wants to have sex for sex sake and to have similar feelings about it as men do, will have to make the sex she is having similar to the sex these men are having. She would need to be orgasming, and the only way she is going to do that is to engage in sexual acts that we don't normally see in the media. She's gonna need to use her hand, someone else's hand or body, a tongue, a vibrator - whatever it takes to work the clit. When we see these sexual, successful, interesting women on tv and movies who seem to "have sex like a man" but also seem to orgasm through the most normal types of in-out sex, we are seeing women who either represent a tiny tiny (and might I point out yet unstudied) fraction of the population or we are seeing some bullshit idealized type of woman that doesn't really exist. Either way, we should be seeing less of it.

But instead we are getting the message that these super sexual women are just naturally better than most women - something that can't be lived up to. On the other hand, if Natalie Portman's character, when she realized there was precious little time in the scene above, positioned herself in a way she could reach her clit while he fucked her, and went to town till they both came, well, in that case we would have seen a woman being a woman with uniquely female needs during sex, and we would have seen her unabashedly going for her orgasm during the act. We would have seen a woman who does not "have sex like a man" but instead something much better and much more sexually confident; a woman who "has sex like a woman."   (I think we should start using that term.) Unfortunately though, this movie actually did show a woman "having sex like a man." I mean a man can orgasm by pushing his penis in and out of a vagina so a woman having sex like a man should be able to come that way also, right tv and movies?

In No Strings Attached we got to see all the trappings of a woman who acknowledges and follows her own desire, a woman who owns her sexuality, but to my sensibilities she was a fake media created female stereotype that doesn't depict the physical realities of a woman pursuing her orgasm during partnered sex. In fact, the only depiction of sexual release we saw was one that is highly unlikely to bring a woman to orgasm. Progressive, this movie was not.

I give it 2 vulvas - cause at least it tried.
(!) (!)

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