Sophie Walker: Thoughts on Conversations about Sex

Jane Fonda in Barbarella

Last year I created an audio piece for the Gallatin Arts Festival called Relative Sex, comprised of a series of interviews with various family members about the history of their sexuality (from masturbation, to sexual imagery from childhood, to the communication that occurred, or often did not, between family members about these topics). It was a family tree of sorts, an attempt to see how our narratives overlapped or connected. Conceptual Spectrums (a working title) is an expansion and continuation of that project, an effort to collect stories from people of all ages, exploring family life and conceptions of dating, gender, and sexuality.

In the course of the past month I’ve interviewed twelve people, mostly friends and friends of friends, generally individuals who are open and happy to discuss sex and dating. When thinking about my series of questions, I knew that I did not want to jump into an immediate discussion of someone’s sex life, but rather try to gather a more holistic narrative by asking first about family history and childhood. This format has been interesting because there is an extreme range of how much an individual wants to share. Interviews can last only 15 minutes, or upwards of an hour. I’ve interviewed people in my house over a meal, in the park, and an office cafeteria, a wide variety of settings that surely influences our conversation. Though it is an interview, I am trying to create space where we both want to share and connect, be vulnerable and find mutuality and dissonance in our experiences. I hesitate to call this “research” because of the connoted formality, and each time I’ve interviewed someone it has been different, negating the consistency that also comes with research. This is a tangent, but something I have been thinking about.

An amusing finding was that both my dad, a Queens native in his 50s, and another man in his 30s from Saint Lucia, had the same answer to the following question: What was the first image that involved sex in some way that you remember, and where did you see it?

They both said Jane Fonda in Barbarella, the 1968 science fiction movie. My dad saw the movie in theaters with his babysitter, while the other man saw clips on late night television. I wonder how many people have lasting images from childhood of Jane Fonda in a sexy space suit.

Jane Fonda in Barbarella
One of my questions is about sexy music, and D’Angelo has come up numerous time
A woman in her 50s said she assumed the bulge in mens shorts was a wallet or another utilitarian object, and she was horrified to discover the male anatomy at 12