If Beale Street Could Talk - The SSL Review

If Beale Street Could Talk
I saw If Beale Street Could Talk at the theater last night. It's a lovely film, beautifully shot, and it is an important piece of cinema in several ways. Unfortunately, it is not a piece of cinema that is progressive when it comes to depicting the female orgasm. It's not going to get a great SSL Review. That's the thing about SSL Reviews, though, they are not always congruous with an overall review of a movie.

An SSL Review is very particular. For those that need a little refresher it's a review specifically of a discussion or depiction of female orgasm, female masturbation, or the clit. I critique the realism of the depiction/discussion and also write about what the depiction/discussion says about and/or adds to our cultural understanding of female sexuality and orgasm. Clearly some movies have no scenes like this and are ineligible for SSL review (just sex with no lady-gasm doesn't count). The ones that are eligible run the gamut. It might be an amazing movie but with a terribly backwards take on lady-gasms or a complete shit movie containing an amazingly progressive clit-focused sexual encounter and lady-gasm. Both types of movies, plus the all good and the all bad movies are out there.

Oh do feel free to see many more movie SSL Reviews HERE and TV SSL Reviews HERE. I rate from 0 to 5 vulvas. Beale Street is for sure not a 5 vulva movie, but at the same time, it could be worse.

The Scene
So, there is technically only 1 eligible SSL scene, but for some contex and some later discussion, I'd like to describe an earlier scene first. **I also want to mention that this movie is still in theaters, and I am not able to go back and get really specific details about dialogue and scene like I normally do with these. My descriptions are from memory and might be a bit off, but I think I have the right feel of everything. Feel free to call me on something though.**

First time - a precursor to the scene 
The main characters are Tish and Fonny, a young couple, and we get to see them have intercourse for the first time. It's the 70's. They are young. It's pretty bare bones sexing. They kiss just a little then start getting naked. He puts on some music, turns off the lights, lays her back, gets on top and under covers, and puts it in. Before he does actually put it in though, he expresses to her that he doesn't want her to be scared, that he would never hurt her, and that she just has to get used to him. We know when he puts it in because Tish has an abrupt intake of air. During this scene we also see Fonny ask Tish to touch him. She had put her hands on either side of her head against the mattress. She is inexperienced and nervous and maybe didn't know what to do with them. After he asks, she puts them on his back. It cuts before there are any orgasms.

When it cuts back, they are finished and laying together, him still on top of her. I'm a little more foggy on the exact details here, but he basically asks her if she likes having sex with him. She is evasive and shy and tells him that he 'just wants to hear her say it.' It's a kind, intimate scene, but she continues to be evasive and never does say that she likes it.

The Scene
Later Tish tells us in voice over that she remembers the exact day their baby was conceived. We go through the day, and at one point we see them making love. Before we cut to it, we hear their breath increasing as if approaching climax. It's a shot from above, showing them from about mid-back up. She is laying flat on her back, and he is on top of her missionary style. He is moving in gentle pumps and she seems largely motionless except for her hands on his back. We see her fingers begin to dig into his back and they both seem to breath out a climax just before they stop and relax into each other.

My SSL Review
So it appears they have simultaneous orgasms. It is a scene about their closeness and their love and the creation of the child she is carrying. It is just the kind idealic, cherished scenario that would house the often desired and ever-elusive simultaneous orgasm, but physically it makes little sense that anyone would be orgasming except Fonny...because he is the one with his organ of sexual pleasure (the penis) fully encompassed and stimulated by a thing (her vagina). He is also controlling his movements and thus controlling how his penis gets stimulated inside her. He has every thing going for him to orgasm.

Tish's organ of sexual pleasure (her clitoral glans), on the other hand, is not necessarily even being touched while Fonny's penis is moving inside her, and if it does happen to be touched from time to time by his pelvic area due to the angle as he's going in and out of her, it's probably only intermittent stimulation. Plus, Tish's body was not moving in a way that showed her controlling how her clit area was being stimulated by his body. She was not grinding against him or anything like that. She, as with all us women who get banged in the vagina with no thought to the clitoral glans stimulation, has very little going for her possibility of orgasm. (Seriously, there is no physical evidence in all of scientific literature that shows an orgasm caused by stimulation inside the vagina alone)

Yet we the audience see her orgasm anyway. We don't see anything physically happening to her that would would realistically cause an orgasm. Yet, she orgasms.

Let that sink in a bit.

Also, let it sink in how very normal of a scene this is.

Then let it further sink in how normal of a scene their first time was too. Although we didn't see the orgasm portion of that sex, one can assume from common sense and their talk afterward that he orgasmsed (because it would seem weird if a man did not during intercourse, right?) and that maybe she did not. At least we can say that she was unsure enough about if she liked it or not to be elusive when he asked about it, and I venture to say if she orgasmed, I doubt she'd be so unsure.

There wasn't really any physical difference between what was happening the first time when she did not seem to orgasm and what was happening that time when she seemed to. Both times he was just pushing his penis in and out of her as her body stayed largely still. Yet, it probably doesn't seem weird her body reacted differently to those 2 sex acts. Women don't orgasm their first time, right? Women's orgasms are finicky. Women have to be in the right mood and mental state to orgasm, correct?

Not correct. Well, I mean, yes, all people have to be in the right mental state to orgasm, but the truth is we use a made up idea that women's orgasms are naturally more finicky as a way to explain away the nonsensical way women's orgasm are depicted. Women orgasm as quickly, easily, and reliably as men do during masturbation. Our bodies are capable of orgasm in the same way male bodies are. Problem is, one of the most common sex acts we do is to ram things into our vaginas.

Female bodies don't orgasm from things ramming into our vaginas, but we all think they are supposed to, and sometimes we pretend consciously or unconsciously that these types of orgasms happen.

That leads to all kinds of confusion about how, why, and when women's orgasms happen. It leads to things like assuming a woman banged the first time won't orgasm but later if she gets banged, and she's used to it, and she loves dude banging her, of course she would orgasm - which is exactly what we see from Tish.

What I'm saying here is that p-in-v sex does not lady-gasms make. The first time sex depicts that reality, but probably only because we as a society have this idea that orgasms don't happen for nervous inexperienced women, and not because it just literally would never realistically cause orgasm for a female. The next depiction of intercourse where she and he seems to orgasm at the same doesn't depict that physical reality and it's unrealistic. It acts to reinforce to audiences an already entrenched, but very wrong assumption that penile-vaginal intercourse is as orgasmic for females as it is for males.

That said, this type of scene is incredibly common. It is the norm. Fucking, with just in-out of the penis into the vagina and no additional clitoral stimulation until both parties come, is how sex is depicted. So, it's not unexpected or negligent. It's just another sad reminder of how incredibly ignorant we are, as a society, about how women actually orgasm, and also how deeply ingrained in us is the feeling that intercourse is as orgasmic for women as it is for men. It's an incredibly problematic cultural feeling that creates expectations our bodies can't deliver on.

This scene sets alongside all the other hundreds of thousands of scenes in TV, movies, and porn that show women acting out orgasms in situations that realistically are orgasmic for men but not for women. They reinforce physically incorrect ideas about what should happen during the ol' in-out, and reinforce the necessity of faking and of doing the mental contorting we women, largely unconsciously, do to make the expectations of how our orgasm should exist in our sexual experiences match with how our bodies actually react to our real-life sexual experiences. We are worse for these lies and contortions -  we women, our partners, and our relationships.

Vulva Rating
So, although this scene is just reflecting the status quo of our sexual culture, it is still true that the sexual status quo is toxic when it comes to the female orgasm, and that this scene contributes to that toxicity. I am going to give this movie a 2 vulva rating because it is overall negative for the future of orgasm equality, but it is not intentionally hurtful or particularly negligent. It's greatest sin is that it did not overachieve in progressiveness and realism related to the female orgasm, and that is really no great sin - only a reminder of how far we have still to go. Also, I'm giving some leniency because, even though the intent was probably off-base, I kind of like that their first time sex scene more accurately depicts from Tish the type ambivalence she might feel about a sex act that wouldn't realistically include an orgasm for her. The


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