Lately, I’ve primarily been writing essays for my friends’ online culture magazines,”The Thought Erotic” and “Vannevar.” Below is an excerpt from my latest piece, “Escaping Hell: Sexual horror in Titanic, The Shining & Scream,” which was part of a joint issue on the lessons films taught us about sex in our youth.
When I was a little kid, I didn’t understand the role periods played in reproduction. I didn’t know sex had anything to do with penetration. My understanding was only that it involved two people rolling around together, kissing and moaning, and that it was a cardinal sin unless it occurred between a husband and a wife in the privacy of their bedroom.
Knowing little about the subject aside from it displeasing God, sex scared me. At slumber parties, my prude hands wanted to cover my prude ears as friends exchanged stories about boyfriends and girlfriends undressing each other or stories with a punch line: A little boy points at his mom’s breasts and asks what they are. “Those are my headlights, honey.” He asks what her mound of pubic hair is and she responds, “That’s my bush.” Dad’s penis? “That’s my snake, son.” That night he asks to sleep in his parents’ bed and they say yes, as long as he doesn’t look under the covers. But he peeks anyway and shouts, “Mom, quick! Turn on your headlights! Daddy’s snake is slithering into your bush!” Hearing these stories felt tantamount to performing the vile acts they described. I feared eternal damnation was imminent.
The fear was compounded when I saw sex visually manifested in movies and on television. I saw Titanic for the first time when I was nine in a crowded theater with my mother. As Rose dropped her robe to pose for Jack, I was horrified to see her swelling breasts and even more horrified to be sitting next to my mother, as though I was doing something wrong; never mind she was the one who took me to this movie. Was everyone in the theater as uncomfortable as I was as Rose glided to the chaise and laid back? Did everyone else feel the urge to break free of their skin and burrow into a hole? Was everyone else’s laughter tainted with nervous anxiety when Rose made a pouty face and mocked Jack, “So serious”? Even Jack trembled in her presence, her naked body evoking power, instilling fear.
It was worse when I saw The Shining. A bathroom. Sea foam green with bright yellow trim. It appears empty but then a wet, naked woman pushes back the shower curtain. She stands slowly to reveal a slim body and firm breasts. Just as slowly, she walks toward Mr. Jack Torrance. Her wet, slicked back hair is unflattering but still, Jack welcomes her lips.
Image: Epifanio d’ Alfiano, “Hell,” Courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program