Feminists with FSD does Orgasm, Inc.

10/12/2011 at 10:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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It’s the post you’ve all been waiting for and the one I’ve procrastinated on for far too long.

Gather ’round readers and gender studies students (because I know that you’re going to watch this sooner or later for class,) and behold an opposing view of the sexual dysfunction documentary from someone who actually has female sexual dysfunction.

I’m not doing a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what happens during the film; you can find that elsewhere. Today we’re going to look at problems and places for improvement in the film. Some problematic elements with the fim are intrinsic to the philosophy the director embraced, others are problems of omission: Viewpoints left out, intersectionality not explored, things that should be investigated further.

- Orgasm, Inc.’s alternate title could be,Sex is not a Natural Act, abridged version. If you’re short on time and want to learn about the feminist social construction perspective of sexual dysfunction, then the film will be a time-efficient crash course. To most uninitiated viewers, the film will entertain and present new information. I’ve already heard Orgasm, Inc’s. arguments regarding the history and validity of sexual dysfunction elsewhere, so I spent most of the 80-minute film bored to tears.

What’s the social construction perspective of sexual dysfunction? Basically, everyone’s sexuality is shaped by culture, and sexuality is varied with a wide range of normal. But the deck is stacked against the ladies, due to gender roles, restrictions on reproductive rights and misogyny. Under social construction, what might be called sexual dysfunctions are better identified as sexual problems – understandable, if annoying, responses to crappy circumstances. Most women’s sexual problems are social in origin, (stress) and can be addressed with broad changes – and some individual lifestyle changes. This is all well & good for most women.
Contrast this with the medical model of sex, which sees sexuality as a natural phenomenon, acted out in a fairly rigid series of steps (arousal, plateau, orgasm, resolution.) Problems expressing sex (performance) are viewed as dysfunctions from the norm, stemming from organic imbalances that can be addressed at the individual level – using medicine. But even under the medical model, most people are generally healthy and can perform sex.
No matter how you slice it, most women don’t have sexual dysfunction.

- Who is Orgasm, Inc. for? Who did Canner choose to interview? What audience did Canner have in mind? Whose care is prioritized?

Prominent interviewees include sex educators Kim Airs and Carol Queen, and neuroendocrinology professor Kim Wallen. Most of the interviewees included in the film represented members of the medical industry. On the flip side, Canner spoke with journalist Roy Moynihan and representatives of the New View Campaign, an activist organization which takes a social construction perspective of sexual dysfunction.

Orgasm, Inc. is for most women; the ones without sexual dysfunction. Liz Canner is deeply worried about the well-being of normal, healthy TAB women. Unfortunately the film left me feeling isolated, as one who actually does have and sought treatment for sexual dysfunction. Interviewee Moynihan states, “There’s a lot of money to be made telling healthy people they’re sick,” as recently recognized (if still contentious) diagnoses such as restless leg syndrome and social anxiety disorder scroll across the screen. The concern is that if Big Pharma can create the perception of a disease (that must be addressed,) and develop treatments, then there’s potentially billions of dollars worth of sales to be made. This quote prioritizes protecting the majority from Big Pharma, rather than prioritizing care for the largest minority, especially if we pause to recognize that many medicalized conditions are real – just invisible, and poorly understood.

# of interviews with someone who identifies as having female sexual dysfunction: Unknown. Liz Canner interviewed four non-professional women about their experiences with sexual problems. Of these, only one, Charletta, identified as having “A disease,” referring to FSD. Upon learning that most women require clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm during intercourse, she changed her mind and decided she was normal after all.
The film juxtaposes Charletta’s interviews with commentary about how most women reach orgasm, with the implication that Charletta never had FSD to begin with. Canner comments, “Charletta was enrolled in a study for women with FSD, despite the fact that she was healthy.” Yet clearly, Charletta identified as having FSD at one point and was upset about it – after all, no one wants to be considered diseased, right? Disease and mental illness and disability are bad things to have!
And then, she dropped it from her identity.
I won’t speculate as to her status. Rather, it is my firm belief that a valid alternative way to address the stigma & distress Charletta felt from identifying as having sexual dysfunction, is to recognize that it’s okay to have sexual dysfunction. Stigma need not be intrinsic to sexual dysfunction, it comes from outside sources. From where? Well, I’m not the only one who notices that there’s quite a lot of limp and small dick jokes in the media – a social force rather than medical.

It may be worth noting that during an interview with the founder of the pharmaceutical company Vivus, Virgil Place said he created the company after developing erectile dysfunction after undergoing a radical prostatectomy for cancer. This may be the only other person included in the film who openly identified as having sexual dysfunction – of the male variety.

So, why choose Charletta? Critically, she was one of 11 patients in a test of Dr. Stuart Meloy’s sensationally-(and un-originally)-named Orgasmatron. It’s surgically installed hardware that sends sends electricity through the body, with the goal of inducing orgasm. It reminds me of a TENS machine for pain management, though more invasive. This makes sense, because the device was originally designed for chronic pain patients and sexual stimulation was a side effect. Furthermore, the risks associated with surgical implantation of the Orgasmatron are derived from the Safety Information sheet about using Neurostimulation Systems for pain management. (The director makes no comment as to what decisions chronic pain patients should make when considering electronic stimulation for pain management.) Since installing the Orgasmatron involves surgery and potentially serious side effects, it’s an extreme measure. Nonetheless I can still see a potential application for some interested patients.

It took surgeons twice as long to install the Orgasmatron into Charletta’s spine as it did with other patients, and then it did not work as intended. She had to have it removed.

So what happened to the other 10 patients?
According to Dr. Meloy, the device stimulated 8 of 9 patients, or 10 of 11 patients (I don’t know why two figures are cited.) 6 of the women in the study kept the electrodes in. And “It worked” (Meaning it induced orgasm?) in 4 of those 6 patients.
So why don’t we get to hear the first-person accounts of these women? What’s going on with them? Unfortunately we’re not likely to find out any time soon, as I have yet to find Meloy’s peer-reviewed primary source journal study.

- # of times we learn about dyspareunia/sexual pain/chronic pelvic pain: 0.
Even though Dr. Leonore Tiefer has stated that dyspareunia is the only valid & important female sexual dysfunction, (a problematic statement with which I disagree,) Orgasm, Inc. doesn’t talk about it. How painful sex fits in with the critique of sexual dysfunction and pharmacological treatments (often off-label) broadly remains unknown. The film addresses pleasure, orgasm and arousal, but not pain, and certainly not other overlooked sexual problems. It’s another cop-out.

- Orgasm, Inc. criticizes the famous and questionable statistic that 43% of US (cis, I presume) women have some form of female sexual dysfunction. Even I agree that number is overestimated. But there was a subsequent 2009 study that included “Personal distress” as a criteria for sexual dysfunction, and using this modifier, the statistic revised downward, to some 12% of the US female population having a form of sexual dysfunction. And that’s only if we completely exclude dyspareunia from the definition of FSD! I still wonder whether the raw numbers really matter – if only 12% of the population experiences FSD, is that small enough to make it real?
In fairness, Canner did most of her filming prior to 2009. The new study came out too late for the filming, but could have been included with the DVD extras, which include documents through 2010.

The film’s coverage of genital surgeries is brief, but that 5-10 minutes encapsulates serious feminist critique. I never know how to address this topic, because I went through vulvovaginal surgery. And although I’m ambivalent about cosmetic surgeries, I hate the way almost all discussions about it go – including Orgasm Inc’s. 
The film makes no commentary on genital surgeries done for health reasons (cancer, vulvodynia, burns & injuries, etc.) or for bottom surgery for trans* people. Feminist discussions of genital surgeries usually exempt from critique genital surgery done for “Medical reasons,” whatever that means — medical needs are rarely defined. What scares me is there’s this binary, where surgery for medical reasons is “Okay,” and for asthetic reasons is “Not okay.” So what happens if someone undergoes genital surgery for reasons of both looks (or insecurity) and physical well-being – that person is likely to have to prove to an outsider’s satisfaction, that their procedure was in fact medically mandated. Canner focuses exclusively on non-medical surgeries, as a husky voice whispers, “Sex surgeries.”

“Sex surgeries,” eh? Maybe it’s not as medical and acceptable as I thought it was after all. This phrasing presents me with a unique problem, because the vulvar vestibulectomy allows me to have sex – theoretically, anyway; in practice, it’s a bit more complicated. Since I experienced pain, we can probably consider this a “Medical” surgery, but my life was never in any direct danger. VVS was not going to kill me, though it did depress me and send me into a dark place Idon’treallywanttotalkaboutrightnow. Theoretically, if I never attempted vaginal insertion of objects ever again until the day I die, then I might have been able to go my whole life with minimal discomfort. So since I could have made some lifestyle modifications instead, were my reasons for surgery still medical enough? Or is what I had just another sensational “Sex surgery,” yet another form of FGC?

Canner cites an editorial in the BMJ comparing cosmetic genital surgeries to female genital mutilation, and like many peer-reviewed articles & editorials, it generated critical responses. Responses brought up the difference between genital cutting forced upon young girls without their consent, whereas plastic surgeries are actively sought out by consenting clients. Other responses raised concerns that the comparison draws attention away from FGC globally.

That’s all I’ll say about the film’s coverage of genital surgeries for now. Although I’d like to talk more about surgery, I don’t even feel comfortable getting into my own experience on this blog.

- The critiques of sexual medicine apply to the medical industry broadly. Of course a movie about medicine and sexual dysfunction focused only on sexual medicine. However, most of the critiques about Big Pharma’s involvement in shaping medicine apply to the field broadly.
Canner et al address problems inherent in the growth of modern medicine, including a for-profit motivation, direct-to-consumer marketing, defining what it means to be sick and well, and financial conflicts of interest between doctors/researchers & pharmaceutical companies. I noticed that Vivus staff talked about the influence of stock market speculation as a driving force behind drug development, which in light of the current US recession & Occupy Wall Street protests and who is most likely to actually have stock in the first place, makes me go “Hmmm.” These are systemic problems, inherent in Big Medicine itself. As such, it’s going to take systemic changes to the healthcare industry in order to rein in corporate greed and improve patient health.
It becomes a delicate balancing act though, when we recognize that these systemic changes have to occur in such a way as to minimize harm to current and future patients who need and benefit from medical interventions. We can’t outright kill Big Pharma without there being casualties at the individual level. Canner’s DVD extras link to a few organizations that viewers can get involved with in order to critique Big Pharma, however, I myself am not comfortable with the tactics employed by one of the most vocal activist groups.

- Orgasm, Inc. does not address the stigmatization of sexual dysfunction, a stigmatization which regrettably the film contributes to.
I am constantly dismayed when I see arguments against the validity of sexual dysfunction broadly get used at the individual level to invalidate women’s experiences with sexual problems – to jeer, to crack jokes, to partner-blame. I fear that a woman who identifies as having sexual dysfunction won’t be able to talk about it, because someone more enlightened will refuse to believe her – and will instead ‘splain why she is so deluded and gullible and brainwashed. I have this fear, because that’s exactly how I feel when I try to talk about FSD on any blog other than my own. This already happens.

If you seek medical treatment for sexual or other health problems, then you are doing something bad and wrong. This is made abundantly clear with Orgasm, Inc’s. theme song lyrics, “Sex Pill! I need those poisons baby!” and when interviewee Kim Airs explicitly states, “The whole thing with taking drugs, for this or that, my belief is, living for [or 'we live in?' Didn't quite catch that - K] a drug-free America. I mean, don’t take drugs!”

Is this really the ideal America to strive for? The US war on illegal drugs reveals that enforcement disproportionately targets people of color. It also holds back potential treatments for some disabilities, leading a few states to legalize marjiuana. Patients with prescription drugs can get legally and medically busted, too. Legal use of prescription drugs for this (depression?) or for that (chronic pain?) is already sneered at by many (including some folks in my own family) with dangerous consequences to those who need the meds. (She didn’t say what this or that is.) So now we have people with chronic pain conditons who have to jump through hoops & present themselves “Correctly,” in order to not appear as a junkie. So some folks have to live in a drug-free America whether that’s what they need or not.

Some interesting areas for discussion were not explored; perhaps a budding documentarian is reading this and will run with it. The film does not talk about sexual dysfunction treatments + insurance. In the United States, there is an ongoing healthcare financial crisis. Millions of Americans – the figures range between 44 million to almost 60 million – are without health insurance, or spent at least part of the last year doing without. Recent news tells us that those who do have health insurance face increased out-of-pocket costs. Meanwhile, government safety nets for the poor are seeing their budgets cut. So there’s no word on folks who may consider themselves to have sexual dysfunction, but who cannot afford to seek treatment. This is something I’m facing right now, as I need to go get physical therapy again and can’t afford to pay for the deductible.

So if you can’t afford medical treatment, then that’s good, right? Now you must focus on non-medical interventions, which have fewer side effects. Hold that thought – remember that it is possible to seek non-medical intervention for sexual dysfunctions, such as talk therapy with a licensed sex therapist or psychologist, and to have such costs be partly covered by insurance. The blogger Minority Report has written about taking this route, and she’s done some math. Talk therapy can become pricey, and even sex therapists themselves express disappointment with the outcomes. I have no doubt that there’s a connection between deregulation and the privatization of healthcare (insurance,) but I do doubt that I can explain it here. (That hasn’t stopped me from trying, though.)

Orgasm, Inc. final thoughts:

- Do you still want me to do a play-by-play review?
- Do any regular readers here want to write a review as well? Maybe you saw it and just <3 it idk
- So basically, we have a movie here about FSD, with either minimal or zero representation of folks who actually have FSD (depending on how we look at Charletta.) We have an old guy with ED and one lady who decided she’s totally fine in the end.
- I’m hearing people talk for me, but not using an accurate reflection of my own voice.
- How much unchecked privilege do you have, that you can protest the very existence of a health problem, with no room for any exceptions, when there are people going, “Hey, I think something is going on over here I need medical help with”???
- I am still not convinced that FSD is an invention created by Big Pharma, nor that there is no place for pharmacological options for sexual problems.
- I am still wary of the social construction model of sexual problems.
- I am still wary, because it’s supposed to address weaknesses in the medical model, but it has its own fucked up weaknesses and all it does is fuck up in new ways. Like it tries to address blanket statements in the medical model, but then it just creates new blanket statements.
- I am certain that viewers will approach this blog to ‘splain to me how the film opened their eyes and how I still don’t know what I’m talking about, because I’m not looking at this ~objectively or something.

It wasn’t all bad. It’s definitely a movie. And I agree with some points in the film, and there’s parts that I appreciate Canner including, like the part where we hear an anonymous woman talk about negative side effects she experienced after her genital surgery. (What, am I supposed to say it’s totally risk-free and problems never happen and la-de-dah? If anything I know full well complicatons can result.) I know sex education matters, I know an equitable division of labor matters in couples (though where that leaves the single ladies who just miss masturbating remains unclear to me,) I know Big Pharma is motivated by profits. I know most women never have to deal with this shit, I know drugs cost money and have side effects, etc. etc. etc., Reganomics. I am fully aware of all this. But a lot of people love this film unconditionally – so why I am I still seeing some flaws. Was it overrated? Yes, at least I thought so. It still wasn’t enough to convince me to go over to the other side.

Tangent Tuesday: Animation

03/02/2010 at 8:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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That’s one fluffy off-topic post, coming right up, as promised because I need a bit of a break. Well some people post YouTube music videos, some people post pictures of landscapes… Let’s try this and see how it goes over. We shall return to our regularly scheduled vagina blogging shortly after these messages:

I have never outgrown my love of animation.

I grew up watching Saturday morning & weekday afternoon cartoons in the late 80′s all the way up through the 90′s. I fully expected to lose interest in or to become embarrassed by my love of animation as I grew older, but it just never stopped. And much to my own surprise, animation grew up with me. As I matured, so too did many cartoons. Animated shows aimed at adults required  a more sophisticated level of writing (if not art) and dealt with contemporary topics.

That’s not to say that all animation is inherently good – or sophisticated. A lot of it is neither. Anyone with a few reams of paper & a pencil can put together a rudimentary flip-book, in which anything can happen – including acts of extreme violence and prejudice. Mainstream cartoons including (but certainly not limited to) Family Guy and Bugs Bunny have had reprehensible moments. And nowadays, with computers becoming more accessible, almost anyone with the right hardware & a little patience can learn how to throw together a Flash animation using little more than cut-and-paste pictures and some background music.

But for the most part, creating animation that makes it to television and the big screen is still out of reach to laypersons such as myself. It’s put out by a few well-recognized names & producers, who still have armies of animators scribbling furiously in studios (or not, as advances in technology have the potential to reduce team sizes.) Depending on the style of the show, it can take anywhere from a few hours to several years to crank out animation that lasts more than a few minutes.

Yet, despite the increasing accessibility of animation tools & software for laypeople, and perhaps partly due to the oligarchy of mainstream animation, it is still, like Hollywood, very much a boy’s club.

Who do you think of when you think of notable figures in the field of animation? Not necessarily individual animators, although you do get bonus points for being able to memorize the names of numerous staff members of animation studios.
But when it comes to producing animated content, just off the top of my head, I can name:

  • Matt Groening
  • Matt Stone & Trey Parker
  • Mike Judge
  • John K.
  • Don Bluth
  • Brad Bird
  • Seth MacFarlane
  • Hayao Miyazaki
  • Genndy Tartokovsky
  • Seth Green
  • Terry Gilliam
  • Peter Chung
  • Aaron McGurder
  • Walt Disney
  • Chuck Jones

The list grows if I include web animators and comic artists. So many different styles, so many different golden ages, different themes, different tools and technologies used to produce their work. Some of them no longer do the drawing themselves but are still involved in directing or producing currently running progams.

If you take a look at the list of notable animatiors on Wikipedia, you will find that the majority listed there consists mostly of men. Maybe this is a bias by the writers of Wikipedia.
Or maybe not. Maybe, much like the realm of political cartoons and business upper management, there are still very few women in the field.

Even I, for all my love of cartoons, have to dig deep to name women involved with animation. I can do it but I’m ashamed to admit that even I have to beat my brain to remember them, and even then my list comes up short… and that breaks my heart. Why don’t I know more women in animation?

  • Rumiko Takahashi – Not necessarily an animator herself, she has been behind many Manga series, some of which have been adapted to anime; her work includes Sailor Moon, Ranma 1/2, and InuYasha, among others.
  • Naoko Takeuchi – Creator of the manga Sailor Moon, adapted into anime. [edit 3/8 - my bad.]
  • Suzie Templeton – won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Short Animation for her take on Peter & the Wolf. It”s a pretty good film, a little scary, little weird, but good. Short… only about a half hour. No dialog either, theoretically so you can listen to it in any language.
  • Marjane Satrapi – illustrator of the graphic novel & director for Persopolis.

There are other ones out there, listed on the Wikipedia page, and others I had to actively search out.

Unapologetically Female also provides a list of some individual women who were involved with animation studios in the ’40s. Unfortunately this list is tempered by a rejection letter from Disney Studios which claimed that women were not involved in the creative process.  PBS provides a short blurb. There’s a blog for Women in Animation.

I have some concerns that the relative lack of women in animation could be related to often questionable content produced and the relative lack of women characters in animation. Or perhaps relative lack of women involved in animation historically has simply repeated itself over and over. This phenomenon isn’t isolated to animation; there are very few women writers on several mainstream comedy shows, even though there are some female late-night comedians, such as Chelsea Handler. It’s probably no coincidence that these shows with little diversity behind the scenes often produce content which plays on sexist (and more…) stereotypes.

Likewise, there are ~relatively few women main characters in animated shows. (For the purposes of this post, I’ll be focusing on “Good” characters rather than Villains, as an in-depth analysis of antagonists would merit its own post.) They exist, definitely, and I know that there are children’s television shows designed for young girls (which also merit a feminist critique.) But so many lead characters in mainstream animation shows are boys and men. The first examples of women in animation that come to my mind are the wives & mothers of the main male characters. They stay home and support their families, which is great, but not an option for many women in real life. Don Bluth produced the Secret of NIMH, in which a female character, Mrs. Brisby is the lead and she has many adventures in her efforts to protect her family – aided through the actions of her late (and supernaturally intelligent) husband.
One exception I can think of however, is Peggy Hill, Hank Hill’s wife, who works outside the home. The family seems none the worse for her activity.

The damsel in distress is another recurring motif in classic animation. This is a popular and long-lived theme in Disney films especially, such as Snow White and repeated ad infineum. On shows influenced by Sentai (think of Power Rangers, etc.) there may be mixed sex teams but on the teams I can think of women were usually outnumbered.

I am less familiar with children’s animated programs currently running. As an example, I haven’t had much exposure to shows like Misadventures of Flapjack beyond the title and maybe a few minutes of program snatched here and there.

However I can think of female characters in animated roles besides wives and mothers. Detective Eliza Maza from Gargoyles and her predecessor, the reporter April O’Neil from Ninja Turtles are links to the surface world. Coraline of the eponymous book and film was unfortunately somewhat de-powered in the movie with the addition of Wybie. Kim Possible, Sandy Squirrel, the PowerPuff Girls. Leela from Futurama (and Amy) are both critical to the progression of the long-lived series. (I believe that Futurama needs an in-depth feminist analysis. It’s begging for one, especially after Wild Green Yonder.) Faye Wong and Radical Edward form half (or 2/5, if you count Ein,) of the crew of Cowboy Bebop.

I might be able to name more women characters if I watched more cartoons, I suppose. They are not the only thing I watch, and they must now compete with a subscription from Netflix. I am glad that there are many exceptions to my first impressions. I’d like to see more..

I’m sure there’s more… I fall well outside the target demographic for many of the cartoons children watch now. Most of the current programs on television came well after my time, and other activities compete for my attention, so I cannot watch all shows at once. Still, I’m anxious to see who will be producing animated casts of characters in future programming, and what the show content will consist of. I have a feeling it will be more of the same – a very mixed bag with a few rare gems.

Movie review – Ginger Snaps

12/15/2009 at 9:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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A couple of months ago, I had my first taste of so-called feminist horror cinematography, in the form of Teeth.

That first taste of feminist horror tasted bad. Bad enough so that I was almost totally turned off by the notion that such a thing as “Feminist horror” could exist. Teeth has gotten mixed reviews and reactions around the internet; I thought that having vulvar pain myself I’d somehow be able to sympathize with the main character, or at least get a kick out of the revenge aspect. But it turned out to be too violent, nonsensical & over-the-top campy for me. Teeth didn’t work out; I didn’t like it, I don’t recommend it.

While I was checking out what other people were saying about Teeth, I learned about another feminist horror film that was supposed to be very good – Ginger Snaps, a werewolf movie with feminist themes. Werewolves? What, like from Teen Wolf & Twilight? I filed Ginger Snaps in the back of my mind and figured I’d get around to it eventually… That time is now.

It’s not Halloween season anymore, which is a shame, since part of the film takes place on Halloween. It would fit right in with a monster mash-up movie fest. But on the other hand, we do have Ginger Snaps‘ anthesis playing in US theaters right now – Twilight: New Moon. Vampires vs. Werewolves… a movie & book series criticized for the way it depicts the main female character, vs. a movie which merits a feminist critique for different reasons. I can’t say I’m particularly fond of either vampires or werewolves, actually. I could either go see the Vampire movie right now which has a few shirtless werewolves and themes of abstinence in it (or at least in the book series it’s based off of,) or I could see a werewolf movie that centers the female characters as one of them goes through menarche & puberty.

Welp New Moon isn’t available on Netflix yet, so we’ll go with Ginger Snaps. Werewolves win this round…
And, it turns out, werewolves win my approval too. This… is a surprisngly good movie. I… liked this.

****SPOILERS****

Ginger Snaps takes place in the town of Bailey Downs during early Fall. Some weird shit has been going down in town – pets & strays have been getting mangled and killed by an unknown beast. This is the setting in which we meet 16-year old red-haired Ginger Fitzgerald and her 15-year old sister Brigitte. Ginger is clearly the dominant sister, with a protective streak when it comes to Brigitte. They’re very close – they share a bedroom and have taken a vow to be together forever: “Out by sixteen or dead on the scene, but together forever.” They rely on each other, and I suppose they have to – their parents, Pamela & Henry are very laissez faire. I actually like the girls’ mother, Pamela – she seems mellow & respectful of her daughter’s boundaries, and is willing to answer their questions without shaming them for asking in the first place. But Pam & her husband seem distracted by marital problems (Pam mentions counseling at one point in the film,) and high school is a very rough time to live through. The girls’ don’t have many other friends to talk to, so they turn inward. Their interests include all things goth, trash-talking their peers and taking staged death photos of each other. (For this reason, the movie may be triggering to people with a history of self-injury.)

Neither Ginger nor Brigitte has started menstruation as of the beginning of the film, although Ginger has been experiencing some recent cramps & discomfort. She has also started developing secondary sex charactersitics, including larger breasts relative to Brigitte. Several boys at the girls’ school have been eyeing the sisters and harassing them. During gym class one fine day, Brigitte and Ginger dis another rival student, Trina, who then targets Brigitte during a field hockey game. This time, Ginger fails to protect her younger sister. Trina pushes Brigitte onto the ground and into a dog corpse, another victim of the Beast of Bailey Downs.
How no one else noticed a dog corpse lying in the middle of a gym field before that, is beyond me.
The girls decide to exact revenge that night by sneaking out and hurting or killing Trina’s pet, a big burly dog, then staging the scene to make it look like the Beast of Bailey Downs killed it.

While the girls are making their way to Trina’s house, they encountered yet another pet corpse. This seems like it will work out well, as they can use it to scare Trina into thinking her dog has been killed. While trying to move the body, Brigitte notices blood on Ginger’s leg. Ginger hadn’t been feeling well all day, and the blood comes from her first period. It comes as a surprise to both girls; Brigitte even lets out an “Ew.”

Ginger’s menarche just happens to fall on the night of a full moon.

Unfortunately, upon noticing the menstrual blood, Ginger is immediately attacked by the Beast of Bailey Downs, perhaps attracted by the blood. The monster drags her into a wooded area. Brigitte and Ginger eventually escape and make it back to their house, but their parents aren’t there, and Ginger is unwilling to go to the hospital to treat her injuries. Meanwhile, during their escape, the Beast is struck by a passing van and dies. (Werewolves in this universe are not so strong that only silver bullets can kill them.)
Back at the house, Ginger’s wounds have already begun to heal remarkably fast. She’s clearly distraught, and still dealing with menstrual pain, but trudges on to school the next day anyway.

It soon becomes clear that since the night of menarche and the animal attack, Ginger has been going through some changes. Brigitte worries for her elder sister, who starts acting much more aggressive – in every respect. Ginger becomes more confrontational in general and develops an interest in the boys at school. She is attracted to one in particular, Jason, and spends less time with Brigitte. In an effort to relieve her heavy menstrual cramps and bleeding, she even tries drugs for the first time (In this case, marijuana.)
It just so happens that Ginger’s first drug use takes place in the same van that killed the real Beast of Bailey Downs. The van’s owner, Sam, and Brigitte know something is happening in town with all the animal killings and then the Beast’s death. Since Sam is the only other person Brigitte is able to connect with, and because he does not reject her fears as absurd, (after all, he saw the Beast with his own eyes the night he struck with his van while driving,) she begins bonding with him while they research werewolves. Brigitte tells Sam that she is the one who was bitten by the Beast, in order to cover for her sister. Sam & Brigitte eventually decide that the best way to cure werewolfism is to use a dose of Monk’s Hood plant, which grows only in spring, and so isn’t available even in Sam’s greenhouse.

It was somewhat ambiguous at first, whether Ginger’s personality and physical changes were due to normal hormonal shifts associated with going through puberty, stress, or whether the changes were due to the beast attack. Ginger and Brigitte get some feedback from a school nurse, who schools them on what to expect when you’re going through puberty, and Ginger seems assured that what she’s going through is within the realm of normal. (Appearantly the girls’ public school did not include comprehensive sex education.) The nurse also offers condoms, since Ginger can now become pregnant if she has sex. (This would have been an interesting sub-plot! Pregnant she-werewolf transformation! But the directors didn’t take it in that direction.)

But then Ginger’s body begins to change. We see Ginger’s razor is covered not just with ordinary body hair, but with tufts of fur. In fact, she’s growing quite a bit more body hair where none was before – particularly around the animal wounds she endured. As the days go by, Brigitte finds that Ginger is even growing a tail. Of course, that’s not a change usually associated with menstruation. Additionally, over the course of the film, (it spans about a month,) Ginger’s hair goes from red to white.

Against Brigitte’s advice and the school nurse’s warning, Ginger and Jason have unprotected sex, which winds up infecting Jason with the same werewolfism she is infected with. (He does not realize anything is wrong until he urinates blood and subsequently becomes more aggressive.) Ginger returns from her first sexual encounter visibly distraught, and Brigitte finds out the real reason why – Ginger killed a neighbor’s little pet dog on the way home. The sex wasn’t great, but it wasn’t upsetting in and of itself either. What was more upsetting was the uncontrollable urge to tear living things to pieces.

Although Ginger has held it together up until then, she reveals the fear she’s going through while these strange changes are happening to her body. The only thing that satisfies her is killing, as in the case of the little neighbor dog. As the film progresses, Ginger’s bloodlust only grows, until at one point she compares the pleasure of killing to the pleasure of masturbation: “It feels so… good, Brigitte. It’s like touching yourself. You know every move… right on the fucking dot. And after, see fucking fireworks. Supernovas. I’m a goddamn force of nature. I feel like I could do just about anything.”

Brigitte tries to help her sister, piercing her with a silver ring – a gift from Sam. It’s not meant to be a purity ring in the sense of abstinence, but rather in the hopes of purifying Ginger’s body of the infection.
It’s not a bad idea, but because this isn’t a typical Hollywood variety werewolf, the ring has no effect.

Brigitte also helps Ginger tape down her tail in the morning before going to school. Brigitte is growing up, and is becoming a protector of her elder sister.

But Brigitte is not fully grown yet, and she is still the target of other girls at school. The girls’ rival, Trina, continues to bully Brigitte. Ginger reacts with rage, attacking Trina and geting in trouble at school. Later, Trina shows up at the girls’ house, claiming that her dog has been stolen by Ginger. (The viewer never finds out if this is true.) Trina and Ginger get into a major fight at the house, and Trina dies.
She did not die by Ginger’s hand directly on camera – she tripped and hit her head on a countertop.
The girls quickly act to hide the body, leaving only two fingers out in the yard by accident. While burying the body, Ginger bitterly reflects on the kinds of woman one can be - “Slut, bitch, tease, or the virgin next door.”

Things are getting serious now, with a human death involved and Ginger’s increasingly aggressive behavior. The girls make plans to flee, but their plans are quickly derailed. Luckily, Pamela has brought home a boquet of Monk’s Hood plants from a local craft shop. At the first opportunity, which happens to be the morning of Halloween, Brigitte locks Ginger into the bathroom, partly to protect the public, and to protect Ginger from herself. Brigitte brings the plants to Sam’s greenhouse and they make a dose of anti-werewolf serum. Sam reveals that he knew all along that Ginger was really the bitten girl, not Brigitte.

On the way home, Brigitte runs into Jason again. He, too, is becoming more aggressive, and his looks are changing as well – he looks like a mess. Brigitte tests the anti-werewolf serum on him, which works. As soon as he is injected, his aggressive behavior stops and he wanders off. Monk’s Hood is safe to use Ginger.

Meanwhile, the girls’ mother has discovered Trina’s disembodied two fingers left out in the yard from earlier. At first, she dismisses the fingers as props used by the girls during thier photoshoots. But just in case, she seals them in tupperware… she’s clearing getting suspicoius. Her suspicions are confirmed when she unburies Trina’s body in the shed. She goes looking for her daughters.

But where is Ginger? She escaped from the house and went to school, where she killed a teacher. This is the first human death at Ginger’s hands that we know of; it is not the last. Brigitte finds her sister at school and offers to help her by volunteering to help clean the body up. But before Brigitte can get started, Ginger kills another victim, the school janitor. At this point, Ginger is all but lost. She is enjoying killing so much that she wouldn’t even want to be cured anymore. And she knows that if she was returned to a normal human state, she would have to face the consequences of her actions – she’d surely go to jail.
The girls get into a major verbal fight. The viewer is starting to learn that Ginger hasn’t just been over protective of her sister while they were growing up – she’s been manipulative, too. I’m wondering if Ginger’s alpha personality is the reason Brigitte is so introverted. For if the girls had no one else to turn to but themselves, and Brigitte was always expected to follow her sister’s orders, then she would have been stifled for her whole life.
Ginger leaves the scene, intent on killing Sam. Brigitte takes off after her.

Pam, who has been out looking for the girls, catches up with Brigitte. Pamela knows that Ginger is the dominant sister, and that Trina’s body was probably her doing. Still, Pamela loves her daughters & is willing to sacrifice everything to protect them both, even if it means leaving her husband & burning down their house. But first, they need to find Ginger, and go to Sam’s greenhouse to find her. Brigitte leaves her mother behind.

By now Ginger’s face is almost completely unrecognizeable and has clear animal features. Her hair is totally white, and when she reveals her body to Sam in an attempt to seduce him, she is covered in scar tissue. It’s like her body is just wasting away. Her body was changing gradually, but, perhaps because it’s been about a month since she was first bit, the transformation is accelerating. (I didn’t catch if Halloween takes place during a full moon for this film. That would have been cool if it did.)

Brigitte catches her sister before Ginger is able to kill Sam (but he is seriously injured.) Brigitte even sacrifices herself to save Sam, and hopefully, her sister. She cuts her hand and applies it to Ginger’s, passing on the werewolf infection to herself. Brigitte tells Ginger, “You wrecked everything for me that isn’t about you.” Now both of them will need the Monk’s Hood cure, which is available back at the girls’ house. Sam knocks Ginger unconscious and loads her up into the back of his van. By now her transformation is almost complete & we see glimpses of her changing body. This part looks like it was done good ol’ fashioned costumes & puppet work, not CGIs. The effect is mixed – it looks like the transformation is tangible, but the monster costume looks fake & rubbery. The wolf mask isn’t able to express emotion, it’s frozen in a snarl.

Sam & Brigitte arrive safely at the house, but Ginger, now fully transformed into a werewolf, escapes into the house. Naturally, Sam & Brigitte follow, hoping to get the Monk’s Hood medicine prepared.
For some reson, although the house clearly has electricity available, no one thinks to turn the lights on to make finding Ginger easier.
Brigitte and Sam agree to lure Ginger out then inject her with the medicine, but Sam is attacked and dragged away by Ginger.
The next scenes are the climax of the movie. Brigitte follows the blood trail to Sam, still alive but not for much longer, and Ginger. Ginger does not attack her sister. Instead, she just watches to see what Brigitte does… Brigitte tastes Sam’s blood, but rejects it. She is unwilling to meet the same fate as her elder sister, and unwilling to die. This enrages Ginger, so she kills Sam. Brigitte escapes to their old bedroom and pulls a knife out of their dresser drawer to defend herself with. She has a syrine full of the Monk’s Hood medication, but before she has a chance to use it on her sister, Ginger attacks.
And impales herself on Brigitte’s knife.
As Ginger lays dying on the ground, Brigitte looks around their room at all the photos & knicknacks they’ve collected over the years. She approaches Ginger’s body and stays with it until Ginger finally stops breathing. It’s a sad sequence… they were very close sisters for their whole lives, but in the span of about a month, everything fell apart.

And that’s the way the movie ends.

We do not know what happens to Brigitte or her family after this. I hope that Brigitte would have used the medication on herself, to cure the werewolfism before it got severe. (There is a sequel, and a prequel to this film, so I suppose I could find out if I wanted. I heard the other movies in the series aren’t as good though.)

The film was made in 2000, and it shows – it looks great on DVD, good sound quality, decent music. There aren’t any shoddy early-generation CGI effects. CGI, on the one hand allows for more detail, but often sacrifices a feeling of realism. Everything looked like it was done with costumes & puppets where needed, but at times the costumes are stiff.

The dialog is believable. It’s got a lot of cursing, but I recall my own teenage years and the number of f-bombs sounds about right. There is a lot of dark humor.

All of the characters have personalities that are consistent from scene to scene, which is an improvement over Teeth. Because the characters all have clear personalities, it’s easy to emphasize with what they’re going through – particularly Brigitte’s anguish over her sister drifting away.
But Ginger is scared too – her body is changing, and not in the expected way. While she tries to keep her fears under control, at times they bubble up to the surface and she breaks down trying to maintain a brave face. Even as she starts exercising autonomy, she is losing control of herself to the infection. Yet she retains some memory of who she truly is up to the very end. Ginger, in wolf form, attacks Brigitte, but only after Brigitte finally broke free from her elder shadow’s sister – Brigitte rejected her.

Although I have a sister myself, I found I could not personally relate to these sisters’ relationship. My elder sister has always been significantly my elder, and we struggle to have any connection at all. There was no race to menarche or lording her sexual maturity over my childishness. I was a child. She was a teenager. End of story. She was older, she had decision-making authority – or at least, she would have, if she had ever babysat me. I never needed to clean up any messes she may or may not have been making, because if she was making any at all, she kept them hidden.
It’s always been that way. I have never had any sisterly relationship to lose.
Yet because I am on the outside of that relationship – I paid more attention to the movie and enjoyed the challenging dynamic between the two.

It’s not clear whether Ginger would have still drifted apart from her sister so much had she not been attacked by a werewolf. It’s possible – Ginger holds menarche over Brigitte’s head several times, lording it over her younger sister as a sign of greater maturity and authority. Some of my own girlfriends did this within our own circle of friends once we started entering puberty. But if the attack had never occured, Ginger would probably have not acted so aggressive & dangerous. As it happened in the film, Brigitte had to clean up Ginger’s murderous messes. Perhaps, in the absence of the werewolf attack, Brigitte would have had to clean up different kinds of messes for her sister.

The girls are understandably frustrated, living in a suburb with few outlets for creativity and activity – and what few outlets there are, are regulated either by their own peers & rivals, or by adults. The girls’ most private & creative outlet is their simulated self-injury and death photography, but when they present their work to a classroom, their teacher takes offense.

I was very impressed with this film. It’s enjoyable because it’s well done overall. It’s not always scary – there’s plenty of blood & gore, but it’s more of a drama than a spooky film. You don’t have to watch it around Halloween to enjoy it. It’s probably worth a rent from the local video store or Netflix next time you have a craving for a good drama, or something with a hint of feminism.

Hey, IPSA e-mailed me back!

10/22/2009 at 6:05 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I should really check my e-mail more often. Check it out; remember that post I did about the movie, Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate? I said I’d e-mail the organization mentioned in the film, IPSA, with some questions, and someone answered me!

I asked:

So far the questions I have gotten are, how would surrogacy work if a female client is a sexual pain patient, and in a heterosexual relationship – what sort of things would a surrogate do for the couple? Would the surrogate act as a stand-in for the female patient, or (this is what I was thinking) would the surrogate demonstrate pleasurable sexual techniques on both partners?

The other question was, what is the percentage of male surrogates (presumably the asker means within the USA)?

My own would question would be, how would one go about finding a surrogate who is equipped to handle pelvic pain patients?

And a representative, Shai Rotem,  e-mailed me back (Name and response is being used with permission:)

1. The basic structure of surrogate partner therapy consists: Client-Sex therapist-Surrogate partner. In cases of female with sexual pain disorders, there is one more professional the client should work in conjunction with: physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor muscles. From our experience in this way work (client + surrogate partner + sex therapist + physical therapist) most of the cases get 100% of success.

2. Surrogate therapy was designed for people without partners. So, in case of couple, they both, together have to see a sex therapist. They have each other to practice with, most sex therapists will give them some homework – experiential exercises they have to do at home. It could be some techniques of touch, some sexual behaviors, readings, watch videos etc.

3. There are more female surrogate partners than male surrogate partners and that because there is a lot more demand. There are a lot more men seeking surrogate partner therapy.

4. The best way to find a certified surrogate partner is contacting IPSA by e-mail. Our associate will help with referral and locate a surrogate partner in the clients’ location. they can use this e-mail address: referrals@SurrogateTherapy.org

How about that! Ask and ye shall receive.

Movie review: Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate

09/28/2009 at 6:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments
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“I’ll tell you what I do. I work with men who have sexual dysfunctions as their partner and I practice sex with them and I practice social skills & I practice communicating & I practice teaching them how to love people.” ~Maureen Sullivan in Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate.

I finished watching a documentary on sexual surrogacy. Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate, directed by Kirby Dick – the same man who directed (among other things,) This Film Is Not Yet Rated. It was filmed during the early 1980s – right at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, and long before Viagra and mainstream access to the internet.

Sexual surrogacy is an interesting topic to me, in large part due to its rarity as a therapeutic tool. How many people have even heard of it?

The first exposure I had to the idea of sexual surrogacy came from (of all places,) an erotic novel. As the setting in that novel was the late 1700s, and the book was fraught with grammatical & factual errors & stretchings of the truth, I didn’t think much of it.
Then, Anne Sprinkle touched upon it in her book, Spectacular Sex, in describing how a physically disabled person was able to have a sexual experience with the aid of a surrogate. Huh, maybe that erotic novel author was onto something.
Then there came a Feminist Review of Private Practices.

Wait, there’s a movie about this?

I’ve heard of sex therapy before, in terms of talk therapy & couples’ therapy. You go in, talk to a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist, and work through your thoughts, emotions & physical problems as they relate to sex. It shouldn’t matter if you have a partner or not; the therapist should be equipped to handle you (your mileage may vary.) You might be given homework assignments to finish before your next session. And I’m personally familiar with dilators and physical therapy as hands-on healing tools for vulvovaginal pain. (Dilators & PT are surprisingly unsexy treatments. Effective for me, but clinical almost to the point of sterility.)

Sex surrogacy is something a little different.
So what is it?

This is a real thing. The same organization that Maureen Sullivan was president of at the time of filming, is still around – the International Professional Surrogates Association. If you watch the film with the director’s commentary on, you’ll hear Kirby Dick and his interviewer talking about how surrogacy was gaining popularity as a treatment for sexual dysfunction, until the AIDS crisis hit and derailed it due to safety concerns.

As described on the IPSA’s own website, sex surrogate therapy consists of,

In this therapy a client, a therapist and a surrogate partner form a three-person therapeutic team. The surrogate participates with the client in structured and unstructured experiences that are designed to build client self-awareness and skills in the areas of physical and emotional intimacy. These therapeutic experiences include partnerwork in relaxation, effective communication, sensual and sexual touching, and social skills training. Each program is designed to increase the client’s knowledge, skills, and comfort.

The website goes on to list some problems that sex surrogacy can address and Wikipedia includes painful intercourse as one area. Although sex surrogacy is described as appropriate in some cases for both men & women, the impression I got from Private Practices, Wikipedia, and IPSA is that it puts a stronger focus on men than women. I get this impression because all three resources explicitly point out conditions that men experience – notably erectile dysfunction & premature ejaculation.

One of the big questions I’m still left with is, whether or not this counts as a form of sex work. There can be exchange of sex for money, and intensive therapy can be expensive. You don’t need to have any special qualifications or degrees to be a surrogate, although you should go through training with IPSA. The legality of surrogacy is dubious. And indeed, a text block at the beginning of Private Practices notes that the film would likely raise moral & ethical questions – questions that the IPSA attempts to address with its Code of Ethics.
However, According to R.J. Noonan, PhD., sex work and surrogacy should not be mixed up. Much of a surrogate’s time is going to be spent doing non-sexual activities & coaching. But then, is this distinction being made because sex work is so stigmatized? Would there be a distinction if sex workers were more respected?

The movie asks that rather than fixating on these questions, the viewer should focus on the lives of the subjects being filmed.

So how is the film, anyway? Is it worth a rent from Netflix? Does it answer any questions? Who might be interested in the movie? Well,

The first thing that struck me before the content was the quality of the film itself. The DVD is of a good quality, not a lot of extra features, but it runs smoothly. However the cinematography itself is definitely showing its age – it’s old.
It’s old, and it’s a documentary, so the director didn’t have millions of dollars to work with. The quality of the film (regardless of the content) reminds me of an old home movie or a soap opera. If you watch the movie with the director’s commentary on, Kirby and his interviewer, Tonner Barclow (might not be spelling that right,) say that this film could be an “80s time capsule” in and of itself. Everyone is wearing clothes that you would have definitely seen in the 1980s (The commentary includes a line like, Maureen’s blouse looks like it came from a set of the Golden Girls.) Home decor (Maureen works from home) is circa late 1970s & early 80s. Big hair abounds.
The sound quality is mixed – you can definitely hear everyone speak clearly, but you can also hear airplanes flying overhead outside of the houses.
The worst quality anything though, is the music. The music used in this film is awful. It’s described as ‘Avant garde,’ but it sounds like 1980s Synthesized Stock Music you could have bought in bulk and used to produce mass quantities of After School Specials (although in the director’s commentary, Dick says he knew the music arranger personally.) It hurts my ears. Luckily there’s only a music overlay for like 3 or 4 parts.

The second thing that stood out to me first was how the film conflates sex with love. You can have both at the same time, and perhaps more often than not that is the case. But, sex and love can exist exclusively of each other. You do not require an emotional connection to have sex; the film made it sound like sex = love.
However the director’s commentary notes that the surrogacy movement grew out of the Free Love movement, so “Love” may mean something different from what I’m used to in that context.

The film follows Maureen Sullivan and two men over the course of their months-long therapy, set in Los Angeles, California. Both patients are referred to Maureen through their therapists. We do not see how the patients & their regular therapist came to the conclusion that sex surrogacy was an option. We do not see what probing questions must have been asked. The director paid for Kipper & John’s therapy in exchange for allowing it to be filmed. (Did either one of them expect to see a revival of the film after 25+ years? Are they even still alive? We do not know.)

The first client we meet is Kipper, a 25-year old student & virgin who is so shy around women that he cannot form meaningful relationships with them. No, really; you may think that he’s just saying that so he can come across as a stealth-creepy Nice Guy, but I genuinely believe that he was afraid of women. He shows discomfort around Maureen even as she tries to lower his barriers through talk & touch therapy.

In the director’s commentary, Kirby & his interviewer question if Kipper was  gay, and trying to “Cure” himself through surrogacy. The directors note here that that’s not really an appropriate use of surrogacy (and it probably wouldn’t work.) Kipper, as it turns out, has an older brother who strikes me as a real “Bro” type, while Kipper is much more introverted. We don’t learn much else about Kipper’s life and why he is so shy around women. He did not spend much time with his mother, and, it seems that he did not receive much affection from her as a youth. Indeed, when Maureen and Kipper finally embrace on her couch, her touch is more Maternal than sexual, or even friendly.

We do not see Maureen’s first session with Kipper (so says the director’s commentary,) so what you see when we first meet Kipper really cuts to the chase. It starts off right away with touch therapy. (We do not see any questions of consent discussed; hopefully surrogate & patient have an understanding of consensual vs. non consensual touching & respecting other people’s boundaries in a non-therapeutic setting.)

The second patient is 45-year old John, a newly divorced teacher after 20 years of marriage. John’s primary complaints are feelings of sexual inadequacy (exacerbated by mean comments made by his sex partners,) erectile dysfunction & premature ejaculation – although as the film goes on we learn that his problems likely go deeper than that.

John may be overestimating the importance of sex & sexual performance, to the detriment of every other area in his life. Going into the patient/surrogate relationship, he automatically assumed that he would fall in love with Maureen, and she with him (Entitlement much?) While he thought poor sexual performance was the primary reason for his divorce, his ex-wife appears on film to state that no, that wasn’t one of her real concerns.

It seems that nobody likes John. His ex-wife doesn’t like him and calls him a “Slob.” In the commentary the director says he engaged in pathological hoarding at home, and even Maureen calls him a “Cheapskate.” Maureen is somewhat open about her discomfort with John – when he says things that make her uneasy, she says so, framed in the larger context of therapeutic benefit. Yet he has two happy daughters at home – who nonetheless chide him for seeking out younger partners instead of women his own age.

The director filmed some of Kipper & John’s individual therapies. Both clients spend time nude with Maureen in front of mirrors, talking about their bodies. Both clients undergo touch therapy; Kipper’s looks more like sensual massage & sensate focus to me, while John’s consists of Maureen training him how to avoid premature ejaculation by masturbating him (out of frame.)
This is probably the most explicit and uncomfortable scene in the whole movie.
But, this was also back in the day before Viagra, so it’s not like John could have just popped a pill and problem solved.

Maureen also lets both patients explore her body and genitals sexually, trying to show them some techniques (with mixed results.) What’s really odd to me here is that, Maureen spends a lot of time talking about her vagina, but no time talking about her clitoris. Why is that? If you are trying to teach pleasurable technique on a female bodied person, shouldn’t you at least speak the word, “Clitoris?” Or “G-spot?” Or something like that?
On the other hand, I must also acknowledge the wide variety of what gives women pleasure. Perhaps Maureen enjoyed vaginal stimulation more than clitoral?

No intercourse was caught on film, and, if I’m understanding the director’s commentary correctly, there wasn’t any with either of these clients anyway.

One of the most revealing scenes does not involve patient and client at all. Kirby brought Maureen, her brother and father together for the climax of the film. Maureen and her brother confront their father about what Maureen’s career is (The quote at the beginning of this entry is taken from that scene,) and about how witnessing thier father’s abuse impacted their lives. Maureen and her brother both witnessed (if not experienced) physical abuse by their father. He reacts to their confrontation with a blank stare. I don’t think he was ready to admit that what he did was wrong and how long-lasting the effects of witnessing this abuse was. Maureen candidly admits that part of her motivation in becoming a surrogate, was to seek out what love is supposed to be like. For Maureen, surrogacy is a learning experience too.

The film leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but I suppose that is the nature of the work. After completing any therapy, I’m sure some patients stay in contact while others lose touch. In this case, Kipper & John eventually lost touch. We learn at the end of the film that two years on, Kipper has had some dates, John is in a relationship and Maureen has a boyfriend. After that we don’t know what happened to John or Kipper. They may still be out there, posting on FaceBook or eating a snack even as we speak. The director’s commentary reveals a little more about Maureen, as he stayed in contact with her.

Other questions unanswered though, include the practical application of surrogacy for – pretty much any other case. For what kinds of dysfunction would this be most appropriate? How have Viagra and other medications, the mainstreaming of sex toys, the internet, internet pornography, and laws impacted business? How would a surrogate address female sexual dysfunction, including sexual pain? What steps do surrogates take to minimize the spread of sexually transmitted infections? How does this compare to mainstream sex therapy? How would you find a therapist who is prepared to refer you to a surrogate, or do you seek one out without a referral? What makes a good surrogate? Do surrogates face the same dangers as sex workers? If you have a sex partner, how do you communicate a desire to seek out a surrogate? Is it like starting an open relationship? Is this therapy covered by insurance?
I’m sure there’s more questions even I haven’t thought of.

I think a lot of the therapies Maureen used could have been executed within a mainstream sex therapy setting, without a surrogate. Kipper may have been able to benefit from getting a professional massage at a spa before letting Maureen (or any other partner) give him one. That could have been a homework assignment to address social anxiety around new people, anxiousness about being touched, and relaxation. Professional massage with a licensed therapist isn’t the same as sensual or sexual massage like Maureen was engaged in, and therefore may have been easier to start with. Likewise, if Maureen had had access to the internet, she may have been able to direct John to helpful websites to help address his social skills and premature ejaculation. And self-reflection exercises – like standing in front of the mirror and talking about how you feel about your appearance – that can be done at home alone, with paper & pencil.

As for the movie itself, it’s definitely one of the more… unique movies I’ve seen, even for a documentary. It would be worth watching if you have an interest in sexuality, sexual dysfunction (especially male sexual dysfunction… strong emphasis on male sexual dysfunction,) or possibly sex work.
For everybody else, it’s definitely catering to a niche market. If you have a nosy family, you might even have to hide the DVD from prying eyes. And, because of the sexual content, it may be triggering to those with a history of sexual abuse.

One final note: I would not consider this to be porn. If you rent this expecting it to be porn, you’re probably going to be disappointed. There’s sexually charged scenes, but … it’s… rarely sexy. The final line in the director’s commentary sums it up best: if you’re looking for porn, this is more like “Emotional porn.”

So if you’re looking for a good comedy, thriller, romance, or anything else, look elsewhere.
Basically, only watch it if it sounds remotely interesting. All others, save your time & money.

Wtf did I just watch? – “Teeth”

07/22/2009 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Trigger warning re: sexual assault. Also, spoilers.

So I finally got around to watching a certain film… a film about Vagina Dentata… I’ve heard of it before and was morbidly curious to watch it, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t like it. But once that curiosity sets in, it’s hard to dislodge. Finally, I said “Fuckitall,” and watched it, partly at the suggestion of another vulvar pain blogger.

I wanted to like this movie, I really did. I was ready to like it.
I should like it, because imagine having vagina dentata, only in reverse – where the teeth are turned inwards, and bite the vagina owner! That is one way to describe what having vulvodynia can feel like.
Then Teeth comes along. Oh but now the tables are turned, aren’t they. Things are going to be different now, aren’t they.

But I don’t like Teeth.
Nope, did not like it. Could not get on board with it.
It’s pretty much as bad as I expected.
Wtf did I just watch?
Why did I watch this?

Teeth is categorized as a horror film. A feminist horror film. Seriously that’s what it says on the Netflix sleeve it came in. I still have not figured out what makes the movie inherently feminist. Is it because it deals with sexual assault? Is it feminist because it deals with lack of comprehensive sex education? Or is it purely because of the penis biting? Please tell me that is not what makes it feminist.

I have mixed feelings towards horror movies in general. They’re pretty hit & miss with me. I’m still a fan of the Scream series, since I grew up with it. I love anything with Zombies in it. The Ring was not scary. But Silence of the Lambs scares the everloving shit out of me.

I decided to give it a try, and I did… A sure swing and a miss.

I didn’t like it. This is a bad movie. It’s not so much a “Horror” film so much as it is a horrible film. Everything is exaggerated to the point of being completely unbelievable. This includes everything from the pushy Purity group ad-libbing biblical quotes in unison, the high school jerks that actively go out of their way to torment other students, the sub-par sex education that includes covering female anatomy diagrams with gold stickers, to the “Special effects,” if you can even call them that. It’s as though a bunch of juvenile-minded folks got ahold of some very expensive camera equipment and decided to make a sex revenge film with all the worst stereotypes of sexuality. An anti-American Pie.

The acting is terrible. I’ve seen some reviews that looked at Jess Weixler’s acting favorably, and there were some believable moments from her. But Weixler’s character scrunches her face up quite a bit, which looks strange – I found myself scrunching up my own face while I was trying to figure out why she was doing that. What emotion(s) are you trying to convey? Towards the end of the film, she has very few lines too. I don’t think she said much for the last 10 or 15 minutes.
Lots of screaming, mutilation and shock going on.
Perhaps with the exception of the asshole step-brother (who, despite his image of toughness, open misogyny, and violence, still lives at home in the suburbs with his parents,) the character’s behaviors aren’t consistent from scene to scene. One minute someone will be shy and charming, the next they’re completely out of control.

Dawn, the main character, is sexually assaulted several times, usually ending in disaster for both herself and the male characters when her toothed vagina clamps down & bites off penis and fingers alike (How could teeth have bitten through bones?) The fingers belonged to the most unprofessional gynecologist I have ever seen. When she turns to modern medicine for help & support, her gynecologist molests her, causing obvious pain – and the loss of his hand (and hopefully his career.)

Both the rapes and the results are terrifying to her. That’s not supposed to happen – either part! After the first time, Dawn is so distressed that she drops part of her identity, symbolized by the red purity ring she valued so much. She is unable to continue forward with the sexual purity movement.

As the protagonist, Dawn should be the heroine, but throughout the film she is compared to villains in old stories, especially Medusa. Dawn reads up on vagina dentata (as well as general female anatomy, having been denied access to this knowledge by her school,) and decides to address her condition by taming it old school – allowing a male to sexually conquer her during intercourse. That is how you “Treat” vagina dentata, according to the internet. (In my experience, I wouldn’t recommend that approach to other vulvar pain patients. Maybe if you want to roleplay after you get the pain under control first.)

At first, it appears that Dawn’s chosen treatment may have worked – she sought out a sex partner and was able to have intercourse without biting off his penis. (Where did he get all those candles to decorate the room with anyway?) However, I have questions as to her ability to consent to sex at the time, as she was clearly disoriented from an anti-anxiety medication. (Valium?)
Later on, they Dawn & her partner have intercourse again. During the second sex act, she refers to her partner as “My hero,” only to consciously bite off his penis with her vagina when he displeases her a few minutes later.
The reason for Dawn’s displeasure is that her partner admits to having made a bet that he would be able to have sex with her. I’ve seen this unoriginal idea in other TV shows and teen sex movies. But who would want to injure or kill the hero of a story? Only the bad guy, or bad girl in this case.

Notably absent from the film were other female characters. Dawn’s mother is dying. Dawn does not seek out the company of other female friends, although I believe she had at least one who appears in the movie. I wish the director had taken more time to flesh out the nature of Dawn’s relationships with other women.

I needed help understanding wtf I just watched. Am I the only one who hated this movie? Am I the only one who questions whether Teeth is inherently feminist? Is there any redeeming qualities about it that I missed? There’s some who do and will find Teeth empowering, but I am not among them.

I’m struggling to figure out the message Teeth is trying to convey. Is it about the danger of rape, which can happen to anyone? It doesn’t matter how chaste or attractive you are, even the most pure & virginal nuns can be sexually assaulted. Is it trying to warn viewers that rape is bad and you shouldn’t do it? A deterrent in the form of fear of punishment. Dawn may have a built-in defense mechanism, but she still has to live in a society that condones & perpetuates rape culture. And even then, her vagina dentata may not protect her from harm. It’s not shown in this movie, but a risk of fighting back during a rape is that an attacker will become more violent. I’m surprised that Dawn’s brother did not fight back in the end.

Is the movie about placing too much pressure on youth to remain virgins until marriage, and the backlash it can lead to? Backlash, including misunderstanding of healthy sexuality & sexual health? How would you know what “Normal & healthy” is if no one ever taught you? What if you were instead taught that that whole ~*~area~*~ is a no-man’s land and merely looking at it is defiling?

Is it an environmental movie? In the background over and over again two cooling towers from a nearby nuclear power plant appear. The introduction hints that the nearby power plant is responsible for some animal mutations locally – the animation shows fishes devouring what I can only guess are tadpole eggs floating around in the water… until one dark egg turns around and eats the fish, which is unexpected. Later on in the film, Dawn walks in on a biology class during the middle of a discussion on evolution. The bio teacher just happens to be talking about mutations & adaptations. Coincidence?
Is Dawn the first in a new line of humans with unique abilities & adaptations?

Or is Teeth supposed to be some kind of big joke?
If so, I don’t get it.
I didn’t laugh even once.

In the end, Dawn leaves town, hitching a ride when her bicycle breaks.
Of course, I must ask, “HOW was she even able to ride a bike comfortably? I can’t ride a bike with a normal saddle anymore; wouldn’t applying pressure to toothy bones in her vaginal canal have felt really uncomfortable?”
It is implied in the end that, whatever path Dawn will take (Did she even finish school? Is she going to be okay?) she will not hesitate to use her vagina dentata to get what she wants or needs to survive.

I could not relate to Teeth. I feel like, I should be able to relate to it… vagina dentata, vulvodynia… but I can’t. It’s easier for me to relate to the fumbled handling of vulvodynia that happened on Private Practice & Sex & the City than it was to relate to this! That’s how bad it was!

There was maybe one worthwhile moment in the film. It happens a couple of times. The only thing worthwhile is hearing people scream “VAGINA DENTATA” on tv.
Alas, it was not enough to redeem the rest of the hour & a half.

I think I’ll try my luck with Ginger Snaps next, that’s supposed to be a decent feminist horror film. Let’s hope. I have been renting nothin’ but bad movies lately.

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