Let’s talk about sex – this feminist is proving that pleasure is also political

Let’s talk about sex. Not the sex you see in movies, not the one you’re told you should be talking about. It’s time to start conversations and break the sex myth — and feminist journalist, activist and author Rachel Hills is here to help you do just that.

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Speaking on university campuses and raising awareness through activism more broadly, Rachel is currently working on the production of the Sex Myth, a devised play based on her book of the same name. The Sex Myth was published in five countries in 2015 and is now looking to spread the word worldwide.

“What I try to do in my work is create a space for people to be a little bit more honest, a little bit more vulnerable, and a little bit more critical.

Rather than taking the ideas we have of sex for granted, I’m setting up the foundations for people to create their own art and tell their own stories around sexuality. The idea is to have a space where we can be real, where we can be vulnerable and where we can ask those questions.”

Honesty trumps insecurity

A lot of Rachel’s work stems from a necessity in starting a conversation around sex, and began in order to get her own answers, she tells Konbini. “I felt like sexuality was certainly something that I needed to have framed in a new light for me personally, because I was carrying around a lot of negative feelings and assumptions about myself, based on my experiences”, she says.

In unraveling her own experiences and questions, Rachel manages to get to the core of universal issues that affect society in a wider way. “So much of our status and identity is wrapped up in how we engage with sex”, she says. Coming out, standing out, being desirable, being successful, performing ‘well’ enough — these are all problems that affect our relationship with sex and our own self-image.

The Sex Myth tackles these matters in a personal but also in a historical context and looks at how they are being communicated in current culture. By contextualizing common assumptions and acknowledging their weight, Rachel hopes that these conversations may help readers “relieve some of that psychological pain”.

The Sex Myth as a devised play was born from the activist movement that spread across college campuses. Hanne Larsen from Northeastern University in Boston had the idea to use the Sex Myth as part of her senior thesis and then developed the idea of turning it into a play with Rachel.

This jump came from Larsen’s desire to explore how the devices set up in the book could be used as a vehicle to tell her own stories. The first production of the play was staged in 2016, and is currently looking at international exposure.

According to Rachel, the main thing that bringing the book to the stage gives is a heightened creative power. With the play, the viewer is able to engage more deeply with ideas and share stories from personal communities everywhere.

Every performance is new, as the play is created around a set of modules and a structure, redfined by every new director and set of performers — which makes the stories so much more real.

Destigmatizing the term ‘feminist’ and starting necessary conversations

In her work, Rachel is introduced as a feminist journalist — a label that isn’t exempt of prejudice. “It’s something that doesn’t occur to me, because in most of the world where I exist, to be a feminist is just to be a decent human being”, she says.

“It’s not a combative term, it’s just a term that expresses awareness for the inequalities that exist in our world and particularly the inequalities that exist around gender.”

In recent years feminism has seen stronger and more powerful mediatization, but it’s also seen greater backlash than ever. But that doesn’t stop Rachel: “I’m not working to make people love feminism, I just want to make them think about gender.”

Rachel’s work finds the balance in sharing personal history and reaching out with a universal message. “I felt like I wasn’t having a normal sex life for a normal 20 something woman and I wondered what is wrong with me.”, she says.

The actual process of writing The Sex Myth over six or seven years allowed a gradual process of opening up and confessing these concerns — which turned out to resonate with a wider audience experiencing the same things.

“You can reveal a lot and still not reveal everything. “

What does the future hold for feminism and sexuality in society?

The Sex Myth is one of many movements triggering social change. The fight for feminism isn’t something new, but in a media-fuelled industry it’s becoming somewhat more encouraging, and easier to spread awareness.

Rachel hopes that the exposure of her work will allow greater security and reassurance for her readers to feel less alone. “I hope that reading the book removes this burden of feeling different, abnormal or inadequate”, she says.

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In terms of our wider attitude towards feminism and its implications, there is still a long way to go. “We’re living in a moment of what feels like really fraught misogyny,” Rachel says. “I would like people who speak about feminism or social justice to not be abused, not have their lives or psychological health put at risk, online and in person.”

Through conversations started by The Sex Myth, leading to social activism, group discussions and even performances of the play, Rachel hopes that her work can show audiences that sex in popular culture doesn’t just have to be about what we shouldn’t be doing, or even what we should be doing, but it can and should celebrate endless possibilities.

The Sex Myth encourages us to be a bit braver. In talking about sex in an open and honest way in our own communities, we truly have the power to break the stigma and create a better experience for everyone. “It doesn’t just happen through magazines, through pornography – it happens through what we say to each other”, Rachel says.

You can join the movement and help break the sex myth by purchasing Rachel’s book and supporting the project’s campaign here — and by starting your own conversations wherever you are, right now.

Originally published on Konbini

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