How "The Sex Myth: A Devised Play" Is Challenging Sexual Stigma

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle
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Based upon Rachel Hills' critically acclaimed book of the same name, The Sex Myth theatrical production unmasks the mechanisms that drive sexual stigma and shape our sexual beliefs. The show is billed as an "inclusive new-generation take on the Vagina Monologues," and through engaging and emotionally honest vignettes, The Sex Myth: A Devised Play delves into slut-shaming, LGBTQ+ identity, sexual assault, monogamy, and how race, class, age, gender, and ethnicity impact our sex lives.

Whereas Hills' non-fiction book mines philosophy, social theory, and first person accounts to explore how collective and individual sexual narratives are produced, the show is an intimate portrait of eight performers and their true life stories. "This play makes public the kinds of conversations about sex most people are afraid to have with anyone but their closest friends," Hills tells Bustle. "Instead of reading about someone's thoughts and experiences on a page, you are right there in the room with them, forcing you to recognize people you might otherwise stereotype or dismiss as fully human."

After attending the New York City premiere at the historic HERE Theater, it is exceedingly evident that The Sex Myth production reflects how sex is being redefined and re-envisioned not only for theatre, but for an entire generation. Here are five ways The Sex Myth: A Devised Play is challenging sexual stigma:

1Making Intersectionality A Central Theme

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Instead of representing sex as a distinct and separate subject, The Sex Myth actors make issues of race, class, sexual orientation, and ethnicity central to their sexual stories. Sergio Castillo voices concerns over the hegemonic European standards of masculinity he is constantly confronted with. Non Kuramoto explains how she has both played into and subverted Japanese sexual stereotypes, and Sach Dev speaks of enjoying queer sex in a Muslim country where it is strictly outlawed.

Throughout the show, the actors affirm that their sexualities don't exist in a vacuum separate from the other parts of their identities, which is something everyone should take into account when talking about sex — or teaching about it.

2Telling Authentic Stories

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How many sexual and romantic storylines in film and on TV are written by women, let along folks of color or queer people? Not nearly enough. With a cast that embodies a breadth of lived experiences, The Sex Myth is able to explore issues that are most authentically told by those who can talk the talk because they walk the walk.  

3Having The Actors Drive The Narrative

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One thing that makes feminist and queer porn so unique is that what we see is often driven by the IRL desires of the actors — and the same goes for The Sex Myth production. Although Rachel Hills wrote the book and director Hanne Larson created the blueprint for the show, it is the actors who drive the narratives we hear about sex, love, pleasure, and selfhood. Thus, a production like The Sex Myth is far more accessible and relatable to a wider audience than a work merely reflecting one individual's vision and experience.

4Grappling With Relatable Issues

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It's a guarantee that every audience member will leave the show relating to at least one experience an actor has shared. "I've always felt rather alone, isolated, and illegitimate as a person who is neither gay nor straight," says cast member Claire Beaudreault. "The majority of the people in the cast are not straight...I'm grateful to have found kinship with other people whose sexuality is flexible and who might be exploring their evolving identities." This palpable sense of community is something felt not only amongst the performers, but amongst the audience as well — as evidenced by the comments and questions voiced during the post-show talkback session.

5Remaking The Show Repeatedly

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Like sexuality itself, The Sex Myth: A Devised Play is ever changing. According to Hills and Larson, they are working to spread the show to 20 communities around the U.S. by mid-2018.

No two Sex Myth productions will be alike, as each will be transformed by new performers digging deep into their own intimate sexual histories and psyches to remind audiences again and again why the pleasurable is indeed political.