This project began as a simple question and a simple frustration. I thought I understood the motivations and pressures regarding young women’s sexuality within the community where I grew up, but I had no clue what sexuality meant for other women around the country. I thought I understood what might make a teenage mother decide to raise a baby, or for a religious person to practice abstinence, but the models in my mind for why girls have sex just didn’t add up to a believable picture.
Why do girls have sex? Or why don’t they have sex? Pressure? Libido? Emotional dependence? I realized that I drew many assumptions from examples in media rather than from real life, since few of us ever hear such intimate details from anyone but our closest friends. And even my own experiences come filtered through expectations shaped by stories drawn from external sources including television, movies and magazines. From all ends of the political spectrum, American men and women have strong opinions about the sex lives of girls, arriving at facile conclusions about how girls should manage the complexity of coming of age. When I first talked with people about my project, I often got the same response. “Oh, I know why girls have sex. It’s because …” followed by a variety of personally motivated theories projected onto all girls everywhere. Media does not create human sexuality, and it does not dictate our actions directly. But the stereotypes that we all rely on to make sense of the world are the same ideas that encourage us to reduce other people to two-dimensions, and allow easy judgment about an experience that has rarely been easy for the person actually going through it. I would like to replace some of those stereotypes, to overwrite some of these associations, with something more real, more nuanced, deeper and more heartfelt.
The answers that I received to my questions in these interviews defied all of my expectations and the research that I did in preparation for the nine intense conversations. The stories were both more sophisticated and more powerful than what I had anticipated. The film also follows my own process of testing my tolerance and empathy. For each of these women, getting honest in front of a camera was a true challenge. Who wants to talk about her sex life on film? And if she does, why? In an age of reality television, we hear a continuous stream of intimate personal narratives. But what “reality” television offers in exhibitionism, it lacks in dimensionality. Somehow in a sea of overexposure, images of real female sexuality, explored on their own terms, are still startlingly rare. For a woman to ask herself these intimate questions of motivation and sexuality, with a camera and a person as her witnesses, takes immense courage and conviction. I have grown to admire each of these women for her honesty and candor.
I invite you to open your heart to these women, and to see your own experience in a new light. Beyond questions of politics, contraception and sex ed, there are the human questions. What would the world look like if we exercised this empathy, if we brought an open heart to the people around us? How would that experience change us and how we treat others? How could our behavior change the way others treat themselves? As a society, are we finally ready for the answer to the question: why do girls have sex?
Melissa Tapper Goldman