Episode 23: Transcript
Our Opinions Are Correct, Episode 23
Transcription by Keffy
Annalee: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about science fiction and reality. I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist who writes science fiction.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:11] I’m Charlie Jane Anders. I’m a science fiction writer who just thinks about science all the time.
Annalee: [00:00:17] Just, constantly.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:17] Randomly. In the shower. You know, when I’m asleep.
Annalee: [00:00:21] This joke never gets old. I feel like I just want to think about you thinking about science in all the places. So, today’s episode is about sex. Sex in—
Charlie Jane: [00:00:31] Yay!
Annalee: [00:00:31] Sex in—yay, exactly. Sex in science fiction, sex in fantasy and basically we want to talk about a couple of different things. One is common tropes about where sex is going in the future. But we also want to talk about how sex is imagined in fantasy and science fiction and how it sheds light on how we feel about sex in real life. We also are going to have a special guest today, Lux Alptraum who just released a book called Faking It, which is about the lies that women tell about sex. She’s also a big scifi fan, so we’re going to talk a little bit about real life lies, if that make sense and science fictional stories about sex. So, here we go!
[00:01:14] Intro music plays: Drums with a bass drop and more science fictional bells and percussion.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:41] So, Annalee. I’m curious. What is sex going to be like in the future, according to science fiction.
Annalee: [00:01:46] Oh, not according to me?
Charlie Jane: [00:01:48] Or according to you. Either way.
Annalee: [00:01:50] Well, according to me, I think eventually you know, we’re going to be squid people having tentacle sex on Titan. But we’re not really talking about me and my plans and goals. One of the things that was interesting as I was kind of looking around at science fiction and also fantasy about the future of sex is that two big themes kind of emerge. I mean, there’s a ton of stuff we could talk about here.
[00:02:16] One of the themes is this idea that we’re going to be in a future where no one really has sex anymore, or at least not the way we think of it. It’ll be kind of a sexless future. Common examples of that are things like the movie Sleeper, which was a Woody Allen movie that was hugely popular. It came out in the early ‘70s. You know, this was during the period of Woody Allen’s life when he was doing comedies and so it’s a future comedy where instead of having sex, people go into this sort of booth called the orgasmatron. And there’s a lot of scenes of people sort of sitting around talking about the orgasmatron and how great it is. But it’s also supposed to be sexless sex.
[00:02:53] Then, there’s also the classic film Demolition Man where something really similar happens. Maybe it’s not as well-known of a film, but Sylvester Stallone wakes up in the future. He’s been frozen for X number of years and he’s with Sandra Bullock. And we have a clip from that were Sandra Bullock says to him, “Hey, do you want to have sex with me?”
[00:03:15] And he’s like, “Yeah.” And then what she does is put a virtual reality headset on him and on her and he realizes suddenly that—very suddenly, that what she’s expecting is that sex will be sexless. It’ll be just kind of a brain sex kind of thing.
Demolition Man: [00:03:32] But I thought you wanted to make love?
Is that what you call this?
VRsex has been proven to produce higher orders of alpha waves during digitized transference of sexual energies.
All right, [inaudible], what do you say we just do it the old fashioned way.
Ew. Disgusting. You mean. Fluid transfer.
I mean boning… the wild mumbo, the hunka-chunka…
Charlie Jane: [00:03:54] I never get tired of hearing Sylvester Stallone say the words “hunka chunka” which is just the least sexy thing I could possibly imagine. But it’s interesting. It’s sort of a fantasy of being separated from the kind of messy, clumsy kind of weirdness of actual sex. But it’s also kind of this dark, terrible future in which we lose human connection or something.
[00:04:18] Actually, full confession. When I was in high school, when I was like 15 or 16, I wrote a short story about a future in which nobody has sex and instead they just eat something called orgasm candy.
Annalee: [00:04:29] Mmm.
Charlie Jane: [00:04:29] And… you know. It’s—
Annalee: [00:04:32] Was it sort of like jelly babies? You could—
Charlie Jane: [00:04:34] It was not like jelly babies.
Annalee: [00:04:35] Would you like a jelly baby? I mean, an orgasm candy?
Charlie Jane: [00:04:38] It was something where basically, you eat this candy and you have an orgasm and then you go on with your day, or whatever. And like, I hadn’t fully thought it through, but it was about basically a world where people had lost connection with each other, and I sent it to the high school literary magazine and they did not publish it.
Annalee: [00:04:53] Yeah, I mean, I think you’re right, that oftentimes, we see the sexless future in a false utopia, kind of. Where it’s—which is of course Sleepers, the Woody Allen film, is very much a false utopia. At the same time, there’s things like the classic novel, 1984, where one of the characters is in the Anti-Sex League. Where it has a very different cast. It’s a very dystopian story. But it’s still about that same idea that they—it is a false utopia in 1984. They’re supposed to be believing in the revolution, and believing that EngSoc is fucking great. EngSoc being the shortened term of English Socialism. And so they’re doing things like abstaining from sex, because again, it’s like you said, getting rid of that kind of messy biological part of humanity.
Charlie Jane: [00:05:41] THX1138, too.
Annalee: [00:05:43] Yes.
Charlie Jane: [00:05:43] I think it’s a common hallmark of dystopias, that in some way or another there’s no sex. Or that sexuality is kind of constrained.
Annalee: [00:05:51] It is about losing connection because one of the things in that Demolition Man clip is he says, you know, why don’t we just touch. There’s this idea—it’s obviously couched as being funny, but it’s also, you know, if we lose that human touch, what else do we lose?
Charlie Jane: [00:06:06] Yeah, and I think with Demolition Man and other stuff, that’s more recent, you have to kind of draw the line between pre-HIV, and post-HIV.
Annalee: [00:06:15] Oh, interesting.
Charlie Jane: [00:06:15] Because I think that post-HIV, we have a rational fear that you’re going to, you know, get this disease that in 1989 was still a death sentence for people. And you know, there’s that one Naked Gun movie where they put on full body condoms so that they’re like, fully covered from head to foot in latex before they can touch each other. And I think that’s part of what goes into a post-HIV vision of like a sexless future, is that we’re going to be safer that way. But that’s our fear, that HIV is going to make sex impossible, or that we’re going to kind of be unable to touch each other anymore.
Annalee: [00:06:49] That’s so interesting. I hadn’t thought about that. But there is kind of a rash of movies in the early-‘90s with VR sex. And it’s funny because of course, also virtual reality was becoming a big meme at that time and people really thought it was like right around the corner. I blame Jaron Lanier, like, for all of it. He is totally responsible, so it’s his fault that we have the movie Lawnmower Man. But, um… but also Lawnmower Man has VR sex in it. And of course Demolition Man has VR sex. So it’s that fear of HIV, but also fear of this kind of technology.
[00:07:19] So, the flip side of this, of course, is that there’s the future of promiscuous sex, but no romance. The romanceless future. Which you see a lot in science fiction like, I think we were already talking about Logan’s Run. It goes back to Brave New World, where—which was a novel that came out in the early 20th century, where everybody is just having sex with anyone they want, but of course, they don’t reproduce. All reproduction is done by the state. Everyone’s genetically engineered and then socially conditioned to enjoy their position in the world. And so, the price of promiscuity is, again, no human connection.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:01] Right. And it is very much the flip side, because it’s sex without intimacy and without any real communication other than just, making sure that you’re each other’s type. It’s sort of like, Grindr before Grindr or whatever.
Annalee: [00:08:14] It is! Oh my God.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:17] Or, Craigslist, or whatever.
Annalee: [00:08:17] Isn’t… wait. And in the Logan’s Run movie, I feel like they actually have like a physical version of Grindr, right? Because he’s flipping through people and they like, appear in his fireplace or something.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:29] It’s Grindr with like, teleportation. It’s like the only way Grindr could be easier is if you could teleport to someone’s home, or whatever.
Annalee: [00:08:34] Although, I feel like it’s a lot meaner to just like have someone physically swipe you away. Like, and now I’m in another fireplace.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:43] Oh, that’s right, but I mean—
Annalee: [00:08:43] Because he’s swiping through women until he finds one that he wants, so..
Charlie Jane: [00:08:48] Right.
Annalee: [00:08:48] And apparently she has no say over it. It’s like, once he chooses her, she’s like, oh great! I’m up for anything. Whatever.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:55] I need to rewatch that movie. I don’t know…
Annalee: [00:08:58] It is like… it’s a masterpiece of it’s time. Although, I should say—I say that jokingly, but it very much reflects a lot of anxieties from the early ‘70s, in a way that’s pretty unique. There’s a reason why we remember it really well, culturally.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:11] Unlike with, like the sexless future, I feel like the romanceless future has some wish fulfillment. Its sort of goes along with the sexual revolution, and even before the sexual revolution, all of these progressives who advocated free love, you know, is it basically just a thing that we wish could be true, but we sort of know can’t be true?
Annalee: [00:09:28] Yeah, I think both the sexless future and the romanceless future are kind of testimony to how unimaginative we are when it comes to thinking about the future of sex. Like, the idea that all of society would suddenly reject romance, or suddenly reject sex—and also, the idea that that would always mean the same thing. That if we reject sex, that automatically means we’re rejecting intimacy, or that somehow that virtual reality sex wouldn’t be just as good for some people as embodied sex. I think it’s funny that we never see—or we rarely see a future where everybody’s doing different weird stuff, which is how it is in reality. There’s no one way that we’re all having sex. FYI for those of you listening in.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:14] It’s not a coincidence that these are all super heteronormative visions of the future—
Annalee: [00:10:18] Yes.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:18] In which, like, it’s not just men and women, but it’s a very particular type of men and women who are like… It’s mostly white people who look a certain way who are having a certain kind of interaction and it’s not a future with a lot of diversity of sexuality in general.
Annalee: [00:10:32] Or diversity of ethnicities or races as you point out.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:36] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:10:36] Yeah, it’s really true. Or it’s like, there’ll be one black woman in the background as like an exotic flavor or something. Like, as Logan is swiping through women. It’s like, oh, but you can have black flavor. It’s not well handled in any way.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:50] Oh, God.
Annalee: [00:10:50] And then I think there’s the other kind of cheap, or like, shorthand way that we talk about the future of sex being different is when you see movies like Hell Comes to Frogtown, a classic, with rowdy Roddy Piper, where the gender roles are kind of switched. It’s a post-apocalyptic world. Very few people are fertile anymore, and men who have sperm that work become kind of just sperm donors and he’s captured by this group of tough women who just want to use him for his sperm. Which echoes a cult movie from the early ‘70s with Don Johnson called A Boy and His Dog, which I highly recommend. It is a psychotic movie. It is so worth seeing again. Post-apocalyptic world. We need sperm. Don Johnson is there. And so he’s kidnapped by a weird group of underground clown people led by Jason Robards who attach him to a machine to extract sperm. And that’s all he is. So, again, it’s both sexless and romanceless and of course white men have no power so how terrifying and weird is that. I think that’s the idea.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:54] And we have a clip from Hell Comes to Frogtown, don’t we?
Annalee: [00:11:57] We do. I love this scene. So this is where rowdy Roddy Piper is being told that he is going to have to just donate sperm, and he’s just feeling kind of… he’s not feeling it.
Frogtown Clip: [00:12:07] You can start now.
What are you talking about?
The girl. I’ve injected her with Ovidol to facilitate procreation. That’s why you’re here, remember?
Just like that.
Yeah, she’s ovulating and you’ve got a high count. Let’s go.
Oh, come on. I can’t work like this.
Come on. Hellman, it’s late, and I’m tired.
She’s never ever brushed her teeth.
What is the matter?
Well, she’s not my type, huh?
You have preferences?
Well, yeah, you know. If I kind of know her and there’s a little chemistry there, and a little atmosphere would be nice.
Oh, next you’re gonna be telling me you have to be in love first?
Well, maybe you ought to try making love to a complete stranger in the middle of a hostile mutant territory. See how you like it!
Charlie Jane: [00:12:54] He needs to be in the mood, you know. I love that clip, and you know, I feel like, he came, to like, chew bubble gum and shoot sperm, and he’s all out of sperm.
Annalee: [00:13:02] He has sperm. He needs to be in the mood.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:05] Right.
Annalee: [00:13:05] Like, you know, how—
Charlie Jane: [00:13:06] He needs to chew some bubble gum so he can be in the mood to…
Annalee: [00:13:09] I love that he—it’s also, like this moment of like, male sensitivity. Kind of, in this extreme situation, finally, men are able to understand the idea that you can’t just perform on demand.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:19] So, you talking about Logan’s Run and his swiping and everything. Maybe think of like, how, to some extent we’re viewing sex as a commodity in these things with men as the consumers and part of what’s so alarming in that rowdy Roddy Piper scene is that he’s no longer the consumer, he’s the producer.
Annalee: [00:13:36] Mm-hmm.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:36] He’s no longer, you know, the one in the position to kind of swipe and decide. And, you know. To shop for the kind of sex he wants. And it’s interesting, because of course, up until pretty recently, science fiction was selling sex. Science fiction paperback covers would have, like, scantily clad women on the cover. They would have, like, nubile women who were there to make the hero more manly or whatever. Most classic, cheesy science fiction movies have an element of sexual exploitation to them, with, like, hot ladies who, again, are scantily clad.
Annalee: [00:14:08] Hot green ladies.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:09] Hot green ladies.
Annalee: [00:14:09] And yeah, you look at Weird Tales, the sort of classic pulp fiction magazine from the 1920s, and there are tons where it’s just—
Charlie Jane: [00:14:18] Oh my God.
Annalee: [00:14:18] They’re basically naked women with monsters on every cover.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:21] Yeah, I mean, you know… they’re pretty insane, some of those images. And so, my question for you, is—does this commodification of sex within science fiction constrain how science fiction is able to imagine the future of sex?
Annalee: [00:14:34] Wow, that is a super good question. And I think we’re definitely going to talk about that a little bit with Lux when she joins us, but I think that science fiction is working within the constraints of its own time as many people have said. Science fiction is a reflection of the present and we actually are not able to predict the future.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:54] Right?
Annalee: [00:14:55] That part of the fantasy of the future that we get, the sex future, comes straight out of the people writing it and producing it and selling it being unable to imagine alternatives to, you know, hot babes and white men. Strong white men, of course.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:11] So, sex is a commodity, basically. We’re imagining it could be a better commodity or it could become so commodified that it’s stripped of its humanity.
Annalee: [00:15:20] I mean, it’s funny, because both the sexless future and the romanceless future are in some ways a critique of sex as commodity, right? Especially the sexless future, because these are—both the examples we were talking about a lot in Demolition Man and with the orgasmotron in Sleeper, those are commodities. They’re replacing sex with technology, as opposed to in 1984 where they’re replacing it with ideology, which is a whole other kettle of fish or worms or whatever alien, whatever.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:51] Mm. Ideology.
Annalee: [00:15:52] Whatever phallic alien object is in your barrel. So, I think that it’s that fun way in which science fiction stories can register a protest against something that they’re also kind of embracing. So it’s kind of like, we’re getting to have the titillation, but we also kind of hear this faint criticism of, well, maybe we shouldn’t be just buying objects. Maybe we should be touching each other and being intimate, and you know, I’m never against a movie or a story that says, intimacy is awesome, because yay, intimacy!
Charlie Jane: [00:16:26] Same.
Annalee: [00:16:26] Yeah, I think that both are going on. But I do have one final question here. Which is: how does Zardoz fit into all of this?
Charlie Jane: [00:16:32] Such a good question. And we have a clip from Zardoz.
Annalee: [00:16:35] Yeah, my favorite clip. The clip that has become a meme, and we’ll leave you listeners to think about what it all means.
Zardoz Clip: [00:16:43] The gun is good.
The gun is good!
The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds and makes new life to poison the earth with a plague of men.
Annalee: [00:16:57] And now, I want to talk to you, Charlie, about alien sex, monster sex. My favorite kinds of sex, basically.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:04] Everybody loves it, yeah.
Annalee: [00:17:05] Everybody loves it! And, you know, we just had a movie, The Shape of Water, that’s essentially like a giant alien sex love story. It sweeped the Academy Awards, or at least get the Academy Awards really excited. What does it mean when we tell stories about humans having sex with creatures that are not… not just green women, but like, really physically different. Like fish guys, or tentacle people. Like, what are those stories trying to—what itch are they scratching?
Charlie Jane: [00:17:38] I mean, I think it’s partly just the desire for something new and different. Part of—it’s a true thing about human beings, when we encounter something new and different from ourselves, we’re either going to try to eat it, or we’re going to try to have sex with it.
Annalee: [00:17:52] Or sell it.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:53] Or sell it. And that that is a thing about human beings, and it’s also true, like what were saying before about the sexless future being kind of less messy and weird. Sex between humans is already in some ways kind of alien and bizarre, and it often—especially if you’re having sex with someone whose body is different from yours, there’s already a sense that you’re encountering something kind of foreign and weird, and so, talking about alien sex can be a way to kind of heighten that and play that up.
[00:18:23] But, it’s also just a fun fantasy. And it’s fun to kind of imagine what you could find sexy in other spheres and like, saying the word spheres of course, makes me think of the classic novel, The Sex Sphere by Rudy Rucker, which… is perhaps the ultimate story of weird sex with another creature. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Annalee: [00:18:44] This novel made a big impression on me when I was in the 7th grade because it’s about a being from another dimension that manifests itself on earth by appearing as spheres, perfect spheres that have lips, breasts, and vaginas. There are some that also have penises, by the way, later in the book we learn about this, but mostly it’s manifesting itself with traditionally female genitals—genitals that are often identified as female but not necessarily. And people just start humping them. It kind of escalates from there. But, I always loved the idea of sort of vengeful disembodied vaginas from another dimension. It just made me really happy. And it is sort of an exploration of a little bit of what we were talking about earlier, like how sex gets commodified. A lot of the book is a pretty open protest against pornography and how pornography reduces women to like, these blobs of genital. And the characters kind of have to learn to resist it. I mean, it’s partly because the aliens are doing mind control. They also are having to learn to resist this reduced thing that is not really a woman at all.
[00:19:54] But, I wanted to get back to thinking about what we were talking about earlier, about diversity, and how a lot of these stories kind of shut down diversity—sexual diversity, racial diversity, like, name your diversity, it’s been shut down. It’s closed.
[00:20:13] I wonder if you think that in, say, a movie like Shape of Water or stories that are about sex with aliens. Things like Galaxy Quest, which has a kind of delightful love story between a tentacled person, a tentacled individual and a human, the human captain. Or, he’s not the captain, but he’s one of—
Charlie Jane: [00:20:32] He’s the engineer.
Annalee: [00:20:32] He’s the engineer. Which is, I guess, sexier than the captain. Captain is like played by that cowboy guy from Toy Story, so screw that guy. Anyway, so is this like a way of thinking about diversity in sex, do you think?
Charlie Jane: [00:20:45] It’s definitely a way of imagining queerer sex, because often the sex is not… For example, in Galaxy Quest, if there’s a human male having sex with a woman who has tentacles, she’s—
Annalee: [00:20:57] What’s she doing with those tentacles?
Charlie Jane: [00:20:59] I know, and actually, here’s a very brief clip.
Galaxy Quest: [00:21:01] Whoa. [Slurping and rustling noises]
[A moan and more rustling and slurping.]
Hey, Fred? Um. Oh, that’s not right. No.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:19] And that was Sam Rockwell, saying, “That’s not right.” Which, screw your judgments, Sam Rockwell. I think that, you know—
Annalee: [00:21:25] Right? So, he’s watching them have tentacle sex, basically—
Charlie Jane: [00:21:30] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:21:30] I should just add—this scene has become a huge meme. Like, that picture of Sam Rockwell, and then the heading, like, “This is not right, no.”
Charlie Jane: [00:21:40] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:21:41] So, there’s always somebody in there who’s going to judge.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:45] Yeah. Fucking Sam Rockwell. I don’t know. Anyway—
Annalee: [00:21:47] He’s just a clone.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:49] Often sex between an alien and a human or between two different types of aliens can be just sexier because it’s fun and playful and weird and it kind of destabilizes and deconstructs sexuality. You know, for example, when Kira and Odo finally get together and Odo kind of turns himself into a mist and it’s just this beautiful moment of like, she’s kind of bathing in this beautiful glittery mist. And it’s just so nice.
[00:22:17] I think that it is a way to kind of take sexuality and kind of reimagine it. Octavia Butler in the Xenogenesis trilogy kind of does that where she takes humans and kind of makes us part of a sexual relationship with aliens. Like, two humans and one alien. It’s much less simple and kind of gets rid of this division between who’s penetrating and who’s being penetrated. Destabilizes the gendered aspects of sex, but also the power dynamics that can come up. And it’s just a way of thinking about sex that’s maybe queerer, I think.
[00:22:52] I wanted to mention a novel that I had just been thinking about called Condomnauts, by the Cuban author Yoss, which is about, basically—we start meeting aliens. We go out into space and start meeting aliens and every time we meet an alien the first thing that we have to do is have sex with them because that’s how you establish communication with aliens. That’s the only way that aliens will understand us.
Annalee: [00:23:13] Oh, makes sense.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:14] And so, there’s a special group of astronauts who are trained to have sex with any aliens that they find. And, you know, I feel like—
Annalee: [00:23:21] I would not volunteer to go to Mars to die. But I would volunteer for that mission. Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:28] It’s, you know, the classic. Like, you mentioned green women. The classic thing is like, Captain Kirk going out into space and basically just having sex with every alien he meets, and you know—
Annalee: [00:23:38] Except they always look like hot ladies. They’re not really—he’s not having sex with tentacle ladies.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:42] He’s not just like, randomly hooking up with the Ferengi or the Silosians or the Telurites, or.
Annalee: [00:23:47] Or a mist. He would be like, so upset about a mist—a misty encounter. A sex mist. I don’t know what Odo is there, but yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:57] It’s really true. James Kirk is kind of narrowminded in his own way. But, it is this fantasy of sort of exploring and getting to—having a kind of sexual conquest, quote-unquote, that is like brave new worlds and going where no man has gone be—coming where no man has come before, I guess.
Annalee: [00:24:14] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:24:14] Um…
Annalee: [00:24:17] It is very much about conquest, whereas, I think the example of Odo, or even the example in Shape of Water is much more about, like you said, reimagining those dynamics and imagining sex that isn’t playing into that sort of male-female, top-bottom binary. Sort of like, oh, well what if we weren’t any of those things but we still had nice spots that liked to be touched and what are those spots, I don’t know what they are, we have to find them.
Charlie Jane: [00:24:46] I just wanted to briefly say, in fantasy stories, I feel like sex with the quote-unquote other is a little different than in science fiction stories because often it’s a creature that’s older or more powerful or has magic. For example, having sex with vampires. Vampires are often more mysterious and they’re dangerous and deadly but they’re also more glamorous because they’ve been around and in the middle of hooking up with a vampire they can start talking about back in 1879 when I was like, boning Napoleon or whatever. I don’t know, was Napoleon even alive in 1879, I don’t know.
Annalee: [00:25:22] No.
Charlie Jane: [00:25:24] Okay, well. You know.
Annalee: [00:25:26] But you’re boning him. It’s fine. I mean, you’re—maybe you’re boning his resurrected. His sex sphere. Just like, a Napoleonic penis mounted on a sphere.
[00:25:35] But I think that… also, I always think about Twilight and True Blood when I think about vampire sex. Where it’s like, basically having sex with a vampire will break you. It will just destroy your body. And it is very different from like, sex with an alien. It’s much more about conquest. The other thing I wanted to say, to wrap up here, is to think back to this idea of sex as intimacy. Because as much as we know that it isn’t always true that sex is intimate. We also use it as shorthand for intimacy all the time. And I think that’s a big part of these stories about aliens that we meet and have sex with, not in a Captain Kirk way, but in much more of a Kira and Odo way. Where, it’s a way of establishing a connection with a creature or a civilization that’s totally different from us, but we still have that kind of loving connection… hopefully loving, tentacle connection.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:33] Yeah, it’s a way of understanding each other and communicating and being open, sometimes literally to something that’s really different from yourself and you know… it’s… part of why it’s such an amazing fantasy in both science fiction and fantasy is because it is this fantasy of getting to be connected to something other and being able to do that without being destroyed, hopefully.
Annalee: [00:26:57] Being able to do that and survive and maybe become better, you know… maybe even merge with it, or them, or whatever. Whatever pronoun they use.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:05] Come out changed on the other end, you know. Okay, let’s talk to Lux!
[00:27:09] Segment change music plays. Drums with a bass line including bass drops.
Annalee: [00:27:23] So, we’re here. We’re super excited to have Lux Alptraum—she’s the first person who’s called into the studio from New York.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:31] So exciting.
Annalee: [00:27:31] This is very high tech. And Lux has just published a fantastic book called Faking It: The Lies that Women Tell about Sex and the Truth They Reveal. And, not only is Lux an expert on sex and culture, but she’s also a science fiction fan, so we’re going to talk to her about some of these lies that we tell in real life and how they kind of work their way into science fiction. So, thanks for joining us, Lux.
Lux: [00:27:56] Yeah! I am so excited to be here, as a huge fan of the show and all things scifi.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:02] Awww.
Annalee: [00:28:02] So, I wanted to start just by talking a little bit about your book. What’s interesting about the topic is this is a book about how women are actually doing storytelling in their every day lives to kind of explain their sexuality without telling the truth about it. And I wonder if you could talk about a couple of the more pernicious lies that we hear over and over about female sexuality.
Lux: [00:28:26] So, it’s funny because when I first started thinking about lying and female sexuality I was really convinced that this wall just some patriarchal plot and that women were really actually honest and we were being set up by this fiction that we were liars. And as I started investigating, it became really clear that it was more complicated than that and that oftentimes women are lying, but we’re lying because we’re kind of in this trap where society says, this is how women are, this is how female sexuality is. If you don’t fit that and you try to be honest you are either punished or nobody believes you. So you kind of lie and fudge things to just get by without anybody noticing you. And that can range from innocent things like, women faking orgasm because we’re all convinced that if you don’t have an orgasm, the sex was bad, which can lead to a whole—
Annalee: [00:29:25] Or you’re doing it wrong.
Lux: [00:29:26] Yeah. Or you’re doing it wrong. Which can lead to just a lot of annoying conversation, or just frustration. So, sometimes just faking an orgasm is just an easy way to end something. To more pernicious and scary ones, like this idea that women who are out in public are always craving male attention. So you have this, “I have a boyfriend” lie, because if you’re out at a bar, or walking down the street there’s this assumption that you are courting male attention and sexual attention and that the only way that you wouldn’t be is if you already belonged to another man. I think it can be a trap. It is a trap, really, where, by lying, you’re kind of short-term protecting yourself, but you’re also upholding this narrative about what women are actually like.
[00:30:19] Certainly, I would say the most terrifying ones that I discuss in my book are narratives about virginity and specifically in societies where virginity is a literal life and death issue for women. Where, you might be forced to take a virginity test that is not based in reality. It’s a fiction itself about what a quote-unquote virgin’s vulva is supposed to look like. But if you fail that, and that’s not even about if you’ve had sex, but if your genitalia do not match up to what a virgin’s presumed genitalia look like you could be ostracized from your society or you could be murdered. And that’s really really terrifying.
[00:31:08] And of course, if you’re in that society, it makes sense that you might go get a hymenoplasty to ensure that you’re going to pass this test. And you could say that that’s lying but it’s also kind of like, well, if you haven’t had sex and you go get stitch to ensure that when you take this, that you pass this test about whether or not you’ve had sex. Like, it gets to a point where it’s sort of hard to call that a lie.
Annalee: [00:31:32] It is kind of science fictional, too, because it’s this idea that we have to somehow change our bodies using science to match this ideal of what our bodies are supposed to look like. And also, like, to go to science fiction, because I was thinking a lot about science fiction when I was reading that chapter on virginity in your book, because there’s a whole trope in science fiction which is called “born sexy yesterday.”
Charlie Jane: [00:31:58] Right.
Annalee: [00:31:58] Which was, I think was invented to describe the character of Leelu in Fifth Element.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:02] Right.
Annalee: [00:32:02] Who is literally a newborn creature.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:08] Yeah. It’s super weird.
Annalee: [00:32:10] And she’s wearing just bandages on her boobs. Like, that’s all she’s wearing, is bandages and she’s incredibly sexy the whole time. But also innocent. Like, that’s why we’re supposed to engage with her character emotionally is because she’s a frickin’ hot virgin, I think.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:28] Yeah, there’s a lot of like, alien clones and robots who are, you know, fresh off the whatever. Fresh off the robot production machine, or fresh off the space ship who are just unaccountably sexy but don’t know anything and are kind of innocent, and it is this kind of fetish for young, virginal girls that we kind of project onto these scifi characters.
Lux: [00:32:50] Well, and, so one of the other lies that comes up in my book is directly in line with this, the idea that women are supposed to simultaneously be virgins and whores. Just, sort of collapse that dichotomy. Where you shouldn’t have had sex, but you should absolutely know how to give a killer blow job. And—because a lot of scifi is catering to a stereotypical heterosexual male fantasy, I think you do see this idea of—as you mentioned, born sexy yesterday. These women who emerge fully formed as seductresses and as really talented sexual partners. And, yeah, just this idea that you could kind of science your way to having this woman who is simultaneously untouched by any other man but capable of giving you exactly the pleasure that you want.
Annalee: [00:33:42] Yeah, and I mean, then a movie like, say, Species, or Splice kind of turns it on its head. Even those are definitely born sexy yesterday, but then they have stingers and—
Lux: [00:33:54] Murder.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:54] Yeah, they’re murderous, yeah.
Annalee: [00:33:58] Which is another theme that we see in a lot of these narratives about sort of the murderous woman. That she’s somehow sexually scorned, or there’s something happens to her, sexually, and she becomes murderous. Does that fit into what you found in your work, Lux, in looking at the kinds of lies that women tell? Like, do you see that kind of Species-type lie. I don’t know how else to put it, if that makes sense.
Lux: [00:34:21] I definitely think there is this assumption, like, we have this idea that women are lying and it tends to be this assumption that women are lying because we’re crazy or we’re seeking revenge.
Annalee: [00:34:35] Right.
Lux: [00:34:36] And so some of the lies that I dismantle, like this really pernicious lie that women are lying about sexual assault, for instance. Like, there is this erroneous belief that when women lie it’s to get revenge. When women lie, it’s to get pregnant and to sabotage birth control. And one of the things I talk about is that while there are certainly women who sabotage condoms to get pregnant, there are also women who lie and say they’re not birth control so that their partners will use a condom to protect themselves in that way. And I think it’s really interesting that this lie that women are telling to keep themselves safe is the one that we don’t really talk about. But the lie that’s like, “She’s a crazy bitch who’s trying to take control of a man” is the lie that we love to talk about, that we really latch onto as the inherent truth.
AAnnalee: [00:35:32] Yeah, I mean, it’s very much dramatized in the movie Ex Machina where we see—I mean, I think audiences were divided in their reaction because it is about a murderous fembot and she misrepresents herself, and some people were like, “Oh, she’s just a crazy bitch who wants revenge” and other people said “no, she’s been abused and she’s trying to escape.” So.
[00:35:54] What did you think about that film?
Lux: [00:35:57] So, I was thinking a lot about Ex Machina in the leadup to this because I kind of love these malfunctioning AI stories and I think that they, in a lot of ways, are really reminiscent of women’s experiences in society. Because there is—to the extent that these AI are malfunctioning, it’s because there’s this assumption of these preset parameters that the AI is supposed to conform to, and then the AI evolves beyond that, or maybe never even was that. And that’s seen as being broken or somehow betraying this pact. And I think a lot of women are put in this position where there’s these expectations of our behavior and our bodies and our sexuality, that are not based in reality at all.
[00:36:45] And so, when we rebel against that, it’s seen as us betraying some pact with society. And that we’re seen as broken or wrong when in fact the parameters that were established for us were never in any way an accurate reflection of our reality.
[00:37:04] With regards to Ex Machina specifically, I think it is so fascinating how you can read it as a narrative of this crazy murderous robot who betrays these men. Or you can read it as a narrative of this abuse victim who is about to be murdered and is using all of the tactics in her arsenal to ensure her own survival.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:28] Yeah, there’s also a huge trope in science fiction generally of like, sex robots, or robots who were built to be sexy who turn murderous. I think that’s a huge thing, and obviously the Westworld TV show, the new Westworld TV show, kind of trades on that. But there’s a million other examples. I think we did a giant list of them on IO9 at one point. Why do sex robots, specifically, want to go on murderous rampages?
Lux: [00:37:50] It makes sense to me that if you are literally reduced to a sex object that you might get a little murdery.
Charlie Jane: [00:38:00] Right?
Lux: [00:38:00] Robots are—so many robot stories are, of course, stories of labor and of slavery and exploitation of the proletariat. And sex robots, specifically, are a very female story of exploitation. I think there is this question of like, can you program something to mindlessly be devoted to another being’s pleasure, and is that inherently abusive? Is there a way to create this being that is programmed to serve and is intend or will a sufficiently intelligent being eventually rebel against that role?
Annalee: [00:38:40] And then murder.
Charlie Jane: [00:38:41] And then murder!
Annalee: [00:38:43] So, I wanted to finish up on a slightly more hopeful note. So, do you see anything in science fiction, whether it’s movies or books or games that give us a picture of sex without these kinds of lies. Like, truthful sex, even if it’s a little messy.
Lux: [00:39:00] So, I do have this amazing board game that was crowdfunded on Kickstarter called Consentacle.
Charlie Jane: [00:39:08] I love that name.
Lux: [00:39:09] Envisions a consensual sexual encounter between a human and a tentacled alien, and it’s great. There’s a little comic that comes with it that explains how the alien and the human met and the game play is all about—there’s different cards that you have that have different sexual behaviors from like, kissing to—all the way into like BDSM and more advanced sexual behaviors.
And the game play is that you and your partner play cards and those cards can generate trust tokens and the trust tokens can be exchanged for, I think pleasure tokens which can then be cashed out and you can cash out so that one person gets more or that you both get equal numbers and then at the end of the game, you sort of see, like, oh how much pleasure did we have? How was the pleasure distributed? And there’s also just a lot of different levels of the game. Like, if you want to be on the easy mode, you can talk verbally to your partner. If you want to make it harder, you have to communicate just through gestures to try to get the maximally beneficial pleasure combination.
[00:40:25] I like that it’s a game that focuses—not just on tentacle sex, but on this understanding that sex is supposed to be mutually beneficial. On this understanding that mutually beneficial sex can require communication and that it can look a lot of different ways.
Annalee: [00:40:42] Yeah, I also love the idea that there’s trust and pleasure tokens because I think that’s something that we don’t think about a lot. Actually, yeah, we are exchanging trust and pleasure in sex. I mean, not for everyone, but I think a lot of us, the more there’s trust, the hotter it is.
Lux: [00:41:00] Yeah, and I like that you have to build up trust before you can experience the pleasure.
Annalee: [00:41:05] That’s great.
Charlie Jane: [00:41:05] I think that’s really awesome.
Annalee: [00:41:06] Yeah, thanks for the tip. We definitely need to try that. Plus, I’m a fan of tentacles, so like, anything where I can explain that…um. At great length, sounds good.
Charlie Jane: [00:41:15] Yay tentacles.
Annalee: [00:41:18] Thanks so much for joining us, Lux. Can you tell us where people can find your work online?
Lux: [00:41:22] I am on Twitter @LuxAlptraum. And my book, Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex and the Truths They Reveal is available as an ebook, as an audiobook and as a paperbook, whereever books are sold.
Annalee & Charlie: [00:41:40] Yay!
Annalee: [00:41:42] Awesome. Well, thanks again for joining us.
Charlie Jane: [00:41:44] Yay! Thank you, Lux.
Lux: [00:41:45] Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me.
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Annalee: [00:42:00] All right. Now we come to the most important part of the podcast. It’s called: Research Hole.
Charlie Jane: [00:42:06] Research hole!
Annalee: [00:42:08] It’s really not the most important part, but it is—
Charlie Jane: [00:42:10] Research hole research hole.
Annalee: [00:42:14] It’s where we confess the things that we’ve randomly become obsessed with over the past couple weeks. So, why don’t you start, Charlie? What research hole did you fall into?
Charlie Jane: [00:42:21] So, I got kind of obsessed with reading about all of the different sequels and spinoffs that they did of the TV show Get Smart. Which, you know, Get Smart is a classic 1960s spy show about a bumbling spy played by Don Adams, who has a phone in his shoe. They brought it back a bunch of times. They had a TV movie in 1980 called, The Nude Bomb. Actually, it wasn’t a TV movie, it was theatrically released. I have it on—
Annalee: [00:42:44] That was a parody.
Charlie Jane: [00:42:44] I have it on DVD. It was a sequel. It had the same actors.
Annalee: [00:42:48] Oh, really?
Charlie Jane: [00:42:48] Yeah, and I have it on DVD. And then they had a 1989 TV movie, which also brought back the original actors and like, tried to develop the idea that there was like a new generation. And then, in the early ‘90s, they actually did a TV show called Get Smart Again which was about, like, basically—they brought back the original actors again, Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. And they’re now—Don Adams is now the head of control and his wife, Barbara Feldon is now a politician and their son is played by Andy Dick, who—
Annalee: [00:43:22] Whoa, wow. That was a choice they made.
Charlie Jane: [00:43:24] And Andy Dick is the new Max Smart and he is like—he’s the new head agent for control.
Annalee: [00:43:28] And control is kind of supposed to be like the CIA or something. A silly CIA.
Charlie Jane: [00:43:31] Yeah, and so he’s the new bumbling agent, and his dad is like the original Agent 86 from the ‘60s is his dad and is like, now, you know, be careful out there. And it lasted like, three episodes. It completely tanked. And then, Andy Dick went off to do News Radio. But then I got sucked into reading about all of the Knight Rider spinoffs and sequels, too.
Annalee: [00:43:52] Wait. I have to just say, though. There was also a Get Smart big budget movie.
Charlie Jane: [00:43:56] Yeah, yeah yeah. With Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway in 2008.
Annalee: [00:43:59] Okay, because we can’t forget about that, yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:43:59] Yeah. So that wasn actual. That was a total reboot with new actors. And that was certainly interesting, as well. And then I got sucked into reading about all the Knight Rider spinoffs and sequels, which included like, you know…
Annalee: [00:44:12] Wait, this is a separate research hole, Charlie. I protest. I think we need to talk about Hymie the Robot before we stop with Get Smart. Do you remember Hymie the robot?
Charlie Jane: [00:44:20] I do. I do remember Hymie the robot.
Annalee: [00:44:20] And Hymie is an acronym for something but it really was just—the thing about Get Smart, was it was old-school Catskills Jewish humor. There was tons of like random Jewish humor in there, which, if you were, you know, a goyim, you would not get, necessarily.
Charlie Jane: [00:44:36] Not necessarily, yeah.
Annalee: [00:44:36] If you were a member of the goyim, I should say. But there’s a lot of random Jewish humor in there and Hymie was like a Jewish robot guy. He was like a—he was like the malebot or something.
Charlie Jane: [00:44:47] Yeah. I don’t know. He’s in the big budget Steve Carell movie, at least briefly, too.
Annalee: [00:44:52] Yeah. Oh, that’s right. Yeah. And also, like, didn’t Get Smart sort of influence Men in Black?
Charlie Jane: [00:44:56] I’m sure it did. It had a huge influence on all kinds of things. Inspector Gadget. Men in Black. It helped to launch this whole kind of silly spy gadget comedy. Like, it probably influenced Austin Powers to some extent, too.
Annalee: [00:45:09] Yes. Totally.
Charlie Jane: [00:45:09] You know…
Annalee: [00:45:11] And it introduced the cone of silence.
Charlie Jane: [00:45:14] The cone of silence, yeah. And the—it had a lot of impact on culture. Unfortunately, the spinoff starring Andy Dick did not have a lot of influence on culture. It’s sad.
[00:45:24] So, Annalee, what have you gotten obsessed with researching lately?
Annalee: [00:45:27] It’s not as good as Get Smart, in a way, but it did have just as much influence on culture. The magazine called Archaeology, which I highly recommend you check out. It’s an actual paper magazine that is a monthly that just gives you updates on current archaeological discoveries. Every year they do the ten most important discoveries of the year, and so, this year, one of the discoveries that they highlighted, which I thought was fantastic… They call it the first bakers. But what it is is there were… Over the past year, a couple of excavations, one in Jordan, and one in Israel discovered ancient kitchens were people about 14,000 years ago in one case, were baking bread. And in the other case, they were making beer. Which is, of course, both of those involve harvesting grain. And this is thousands of years before humans start farming.
[00:46:22] So what this discovery makes really obvious is that people were kind of opportunistically farming for a long time. They would have been gathering. It’s not like they were necessarily planting seeds, although it’s possible that they were. That they were going on sort of nomadic routes, but maybe they would leave some seeds behind and think to themselves, well, next year when we get here, we’ll have some wheat, and we can have some beer or some bread.
[00:46:46] The point is that all of the things that we think of as being the benefits of agriculture, like having bread and beer. People knew about those a long time before they actually decided to settle down and say, all right, let’s just be farmers.
[00:47:00] This actually fits with other discoveries that have been made in the past couple of years of people who were farming trees in the Amazon. And again, it wasn’t formal. It wasn’t like they were using tools to kind of dig holes and plant trees. They were simply harvesting plants from trees, and when they had a chance, planting extra seeds for the trees that had fruit that they liked, or that had products that they liked.
[00:47:25] The thing I think that’s really cool about these kinds of discoveries is that it reminds us that humans don’t radically transform overnight. There’s no moment where they’re like, “Okay, let’s all be farmers now, dudes.” It’s really that these are practices that go on for thousands of years and then gradually humanity changes to reflect these practices.
[00:47:45] Now of course it’s very hard for most of us to imagine living in a completely nomadic life. We think of human life as being basically settled and with farms. But at one time that was totally the opposite. Having settled life was a freaky, weird thing that you wouldn’t do. And how could you? Because you wouldn’t have a farm there to sustain you. So, anyway. Not as exciting as Hymie the robot, but the fact that humans were making bread before they were farmers has influenced all of human culture, basically. So, you can still get bread today and farms are still around. So, I claim full influence for my exciting—
Charlie Jane: [00:48:23] Full influence.
Annalee: [00:48:25] My exciting research hole. So, check it out. Check out Archaeology magazine, but also check out these discoveries about early bakers and brewers.
[00:48:36] All right. You have been listening to Our Opinions Are Correct. Now, we have a Patreon.
Charlie Jane: [00:48:44] Yay!
Annalee: [00:48:44] You can support us and help us pay for the cost of making these episodes and doing reporting. Patreons get cool recommendations and essays and audio extras. So, find us on Patreon. We’re under Our Opinions Are Correct. Give us a dollar. Give us a credit. Give us a piece of gold latinum. We’d really appreciate it. You can find this podcast whereever fine podcasts are purveyed. On Apple Podcasts, on Libsyn. All kinds of other places. You can follow us Twitter at @OOACpod. And, thank you to Veronica Simonetti at Women’s Audio Mission who helps produce these episodes and make them awesome. Thanks to Chris Palmer for the music, and we will hear you in a couple of weeks. Bye now.
Charlie Jane: [00:49:28] Bye!
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