Every Wednesday The CSPH highlights a Sexuality Professional you should keep your eye on. Their backgrounds are very diverse in order to bring attention to the wide variety of amazing people working in the field. This week we bring you Therese Shechter!
1. What do you do in the field of sexuality?
I’m a documentary filmmaker, writer and over the last few years I’ve become a big ‘virginity geek.’ I’m interested in the origins and consequences of cultural and religious ideas about virginity, and how it affects real-life women and men today.
2. Where are you based out of?
Trixie Films is based in beautiful Brooklyn.
3. What is your focus? What do you do?
I like to take gigantic issues and explore them through very personal stories, my own included. My secret weapon is humor. I figure if you can get people laughing you’ll get their attention.
I’m working on a documentary called “How to Lose Your Virginity” that asks why virginity is still so valued in our sexualized culture. I also write a companion blog of the same name where we cover issues around virginity in pop culture, religion, education and politics. The centerpiece of the blog is “First Person” which is a crowd-sourced collection of ‘sexual debuts and deferrals” sent in by readers. The film focuses primarily on female sexuality in the US, and the blog allows us cover male virginity and more international issues as well.
I’ve always been interested in the intersection of women, sex and power. The first sexuality-themed documentary I made was the short film “How I Learned to Speak Turkish” in 2006. It started off as a travel diary of my first trip to Turkey where I became quite obsessed with Turkish men I met, and turned into a film about the ‘exotic other’ and reversing the male gaze back onto the gazers. It’s also quite funny, although I mostly laugh at myself, especially in the montage of Turkish sites that all start looking like penises to me.
What are your particular goals and passions in the field?
We live in a culture of shame and secrecy around our sexuality, constantly bombarded by shallow representations of it in the media and other institutions. I think Virginity Culture is so wide-ranging and pervasive, we don’t even realize how our behaviors and beliefs are affected by it.
My goal is to undo centuries of myths and contradictions around virginity, and to encourage an honest conversation with people navigating the confusing process of deciding when and why to become sexual. The documentary features a rock violinist, an Ivy League blogger and an Ohio engineer, among others, who are all subverting the virginity narrative.
5. Why did you choose to work in this field?
It kind of chose me. My first film “I Was A Teenage Feminist” was about 21st century feminism and in the course of working on that project I became interested in how sexist many of the underlying messages about sexuality are. With the rise of abstinence-until-marriage programs and purity-pledging pop stars, the time seemed right to focus on how our virginity culture dictated how we viewed female sexuality. Once I started exploring the history of virginity in our culture, I was totally hooked.
6. Where did you go for school/training?
I went to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto right after high school and worked as a graphic designer for many years. Then I went back to school to study film at Columbia College in Chicago where I was living at the time. Any training or expertise in sexuality has come from lots of research, learning from the experts I’ve interviewed and worked with, and listening very carefully to what young people tell me through the blog and the film.
7. Do you have any literature out (websites, articles)?
You can watch clips from “How to Lose Your Virginity” at http://www.virginitymovie.com/clips/ and the film’s main website is at www.virginitymovie.com.
Other films and writing I’ve done can be linked to from http://www.virginitymovie.com/other-films/
8. What would you recommend to future professionals attempting to get into the field?
The first time someone referred to me as a sex blogger, I did a metaphorical look over my shoulder to see who they were talking to. I think of myself as a filmmaker and writer, and it took me a while to understand that I had actually become part of this world through my own work. I guess the lesson is that you can come to this field through different disciplines as long as you’re willing to learn from others who have been doing this a while. The sexuality community is very generous and I’m quite amazed and honored to be embraced by this group of people.
What is the most challenging aspect for you working in this career?
There are several things.
The first is funding, which is almost non-existent when you’re talking about non-exploitative media on the sexual lives of young women. Also, a lot of media outlets won’t even show anything that’s both sexual and political. I’m not really interested in making Reality TV or porn, so it’s been a very long road to get “How to Lose Your Virginity” finished. We’re doing a Kickstarter fundraiser right now to raise $35K to finish the film. We’ve raised over $14K already, but if we don’t meet our goal by May 9th, we don’t get anything. So it’s a bit intense around here right now.
The second is that it’s very hard to get people to talk candidly about their sexual lives on camera, so it requires a lot of time to build trust with subjects. Everything I create reflects on my ability to tell a story with honesty and compassion, so maintaining that good reputation is key.
And the third: I tend to avoid discussing the details of what I do with my family because so much of my work is personal and it feels super TMI. They watch the videos and follow interviews people have done with me and are super supportive. But I come from a family that really doesn’t talk about sex, so…awkward.
10. One must read-what would you recommend? Why?
For me it’s Hanne Blank’s Virgin: The Untouched History. In telling the history of this idea called virginity, she really illuminates so many aspects of how female sexuality is understood, controlled and exploited. She’s both funny and informative, which is my favorite combination.