Science, Sex & The Ladies isn't a typical "adult film," though it is intended for mature audiences. Made by the Indianapolis-based AnC Films and now ready for the film festival circuit or living room screenings, the feature depicts how women physically experience orgasms using charts, graphs, illustrations, actors portraying sex experts and couples, anatomical models and real lady parts. It's not, nor is it meant to be, pornographic. The only use of porn in the movie is an example of what isn't real.
The film began life an an extensive essay by college senior Trisha Borowicz on myths and facts that surround how and why women have orgasms. Trisha, along with her AnC Films cohorts Charles Borowicz and Barnaby Aaron, helped turn her essay into a script. The "visual essay" — as opposed to a documentary — was shot in Greenfield, Anderson and Indianapolis in 2009.
Since then, the filmmakers, who self-financed most of this film, raised $20,000 on Kickstarter in late 2011 to cover final sound and music production expenses. The end result is a unique, entertaining, informative, funny and even touching look at the myths and realities of how and why women experience pleasure.
The filmmakers say they are so passionate about this idea because there is no dearth of bad information. For generations, women and men have relied on unreliable sources like women's magazines, men's magazines, porn, popular culture, each other and even misinterpreted scientific research to make assumptions.
As one part of the movie explains, after World War II, sex was discussed more openly and there were higher expectations than before for both men and women in the boudoir. One negative consequence was that women were thought to be "frigid" if they didn't or couldn't have a vaginal orgasm — something the film depicts as incredibly rare based on existing scientific and social studies.
As a result of these misconceptions, there was an increase in "frigidity" following World War II. To help, a narrator explains, there were "tastefully vague" "marriage manuals" that introduced the idea of foreplay.
One delightfully absurd scene in the film shows a couple in bed together. Both are wearing tasteful pajamas and are under the sheets. As the husband moves up and down while on top, the wife has her hands behind her husband's back. She then starts filling her nails out of boredom. A scene or two later, she shows her husband a few pages from the marriage manual. The husband then goes down on the wife. But, at the book's suggestion, he stops just before she climaxes. He then gets on top of her — and she eventually goes back to filing her nails.
While none of the filmmakers are recognized experts in the field, at least one expert, Kathleen Baldwin, commends the filmmakers for wanting to share this information with the public and the tone they have chosen to do it. While Baldwin, a certified sexuality educator since 1995, had a few concerns about how others in her field would regard some of the research used for the film, she says that no one else in her field has done a film quite like this before, and she applauded the filmmakers' accessible approach to female pleasure.
As for the style of the film, the directors say they were inspired by Peter Greenaway's formalistic 1989 film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. Each scene was filmed to look more like scenes in a play than a film. For instance, in one scene, Trisha and Aaron act as parents talking to teenage girls about "the G spot." The characters are positioned on and around a couch, as if right out of an '80s sitcom. Aaron is wearing a Cosby sweater and a laugh track punctuates their commentary.
Much of the film was shot using a green screen to save time and money. This was a challenge for Charles because he added and edited most of the backgrounds long after the actors had been filmed. Because the movie was shot in a warehouse, they had plenty of space, but also needed to be creative about technical aspects of the film, like sound. They used hanging strips of insulation and tested various microphones to make sure they were getting exactly what they needed.
The filmmakers were upfront with their actors about the nature of the film. One couple who acted together in the film when they were engaged and are now married with a 2-year-old son, Jeremy Grimmer and Christa Shoot Grimmer, shared a few thoughts about the experience via email. Both have experience in local theater, including with EclecticPond Theatre Company.
One of Jeremy's characters was a magician who explains how sex works and a participant in a fictional porn summit. Christa played a 1940s teenager welcoming back a World War II soldier and a confused 1950s housewife.
As for having any reservations about being in a film with sex in the title, says Jeremy, "If we did, we got over it very quickly. I knew it would make some people that I would tell about it uncomfortable, but we had to tell them about it. When we read the script, before we even started shooting, we were blown away at how relevant and important this movie was going to be. We were glad to be asked to be involved with a movie that we felt should be a vital part of the conversation about sexuality."
Christa agrees. "I didn't know much [about the subject matter]. I asked Trisha to assign me roles that I felt I could be genuine about, and she and the other filmmakers treated me with respect and dignity. I would trust them implicitly."
The filmmakers have fended off criticism for their focus on straight women.
"Not going into LGBT or intersex issues was a conscious decision. I actually wrote a post explaining why after I had a particularly large amount of criticism on one reddit thread," says Trisha.
Her main reasons were to keep the movie focused, and that "the problem with our understanding of female orgasm is rooted deeply in our cultural obsession with male-focused, hetero intercourse as the end all be all. That, above all, needs to have holes shot through it before anything else can be done in a large cultural scale. ... I want to appeal to/change the perspective for non-feminists, non-sex activists, people who don't think about LGBT activism, people who don't think of themselves as sex-positive or particularly progressive — those are the majority of people, and those are the people who have to change to get any amount of large cultural change."
Although there won't be a large premiere of the film any time soon, the filmmakers want to make the film available.
"The movie needs to sit with you for a minute," says Trisha. "I'm interested to hear what people say about the film in a small group, in a safe environment."
To schedule a screening of Science, Sex & The Ladies, email the filmmakers directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A sex educator's perspective
Kathleen Baldwin, MSW, is the owner of Tell Kathleen Anything LLC, a certified life coach with more than 25 years of experience providing sexuality education to students of all ages, and was an educator with Planned Parenthood of Indiana for 20 years.
NUVO: Is this movie like anything else like you've seen?
Kathleen Baldwin: In its entirety, it isn't like anything I've seen before. Nor have I seen a full-length film that addresses these super important topics that are super alive for woman and couples. I think they take a nice, irreverent, curious pushback on sex research in general. I think they rightly position it next to media and cultural images that become the filters.
NUVO: What did you think about the content? Do you agree or disagree with what they were portraying?
Baldwin: As far as the film's depiction of a lack of pleasure for women from vaginal-penile intercourse, the research shows us that the first third of the vaginal opening can be stimulated by a penis or toy with a large girth.
But overall, I think that this film raises and addresses a couple of the most important topics in sexuality and women's ability to enjoy their sexual experience. It addresses really really basic info that women don't know. I've seen women who are 20 or 50 years old who've been calling their own body parts the wrong thing their whole lives. I also hear from girls and women who feel more guilt and shame around masturbation than men.
NUVO: Why is that the case?
Baldwin: Part of the problem is the approach to sex ed in schools and churches and synagogues is fear-based, and the only other alternative is porn that's titillating and exploitive. There is nothing in between. And there is nothing about pleasure in sex ed or that it is OK to say yes, OK to say no, or OK to get your groove on on your own.
NUVO: What about how this film portrays the information?
Baldwin: One of the things I appreciate most about this film is the very nice matter-of-fact tone. It isn't titillating except in ways that work as hooks. I did like the positive music throughout. The message is that sex is good, sex is fine, pleasure is good. This worldview about sex, that's the problem. How we chip away at all of this is what's interesting. We're certainly seeing much more acceptance of diversity and gender expression and variations in attraction. I do think it's a matter of women owning their own sexual pleasure in a way that pushes back on this worldview that's — surprise — misogynistic.
Source: Trisha Borowicz, AnC Films
Info on how to orgasm more:
• For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality (1975) by Lonnie Garfield Barbach. "Reassures women that it's OK to fantasize."
• 5 minutes to Orgasm Every Time You Make Love (2000) by D. Claire Hutchins. "It's exactly what I've been scouring the sex advice section of bookstores over the past 14 years for."
Accounts about what is expected of women from their perspectives:
• The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality (1976) by Shere Hite. "Readable, first-person accounts of women's sexual experiences."
• Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005) by Ariel Levy. "Explains what happens when women think they are taking back their power by being sexy, but are still sexual objects in the minds of the men who look at them."
• American Sexual Character: Gender, Sex, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports (2005) by Miriam G. Reumann. "How Kinsey's work changed how Americans think about sex."
• Dilemma of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality (2002) by Deborah Tolman. "Explains that young women need to turn off their own desires to have a safe space."
A good science-y informative book:
• Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000) by Anne Fausto-Sterling. "Explains that sexuality isn't binary, but that there is a gradient, even at a basic biological level."
An honest and crazy wild ride by the foremost masturbation activist and female orgasm advocate:
• My Romantic Love Wars: A Sexual Memoir by Betty Dodson. Available on Dodson's website: dodsonandross.com
The book that brought the G spot to the scene:
• The G Spot and other Recent Discoveries about Human Sexuality (1982) by Beverly Whipple, Alice Kahn Ladas and John D. Perry. "Still about as good of info one could find about female ejaculation, but terribly overreaching on it's aim to connect the g spot to a second vaginal/uterine/inner orgasm."