Female sexual dysfunction is a topic rarely spoken about, and according to Fran Bushe’s show Ad Libido, it’s also something that is light years away in terms of medical research when compared with male sexual dysfunction. Hello patriarchy! This show presents us with projected images of what “solutions” she has come across to dealing with pain during sex, all of which are both hilarious and hideous at once. It is clear that this is not the same for male sexual issues, where there are actual solutions which are often available to buy over the counter.
Pain is the opposite of what sex is all about: pleasure. Through the show we learn that dolphins are the only other mammal that has sex purely for pleasure, but this is where the personal is very much also the political (which also appears to be one of my favourite comments to make, but it’s true). A large part of the psychology behind this kind of sexual problem is the patriarchal centring on men’s pleasure, to the degree where most heterosexual cis-women are arguably willing to put aside their own enjoyment of sex – at least partly – for those they have sex with. This is illustrated perfectly when she visits the doctor and says that she wanted the doctor “to enjoy doctoring her”.
The problem with pain during sex is itself both psychological and physiological. Whilst we are on the topic, I might as well share that my authority on this comes from my own experience of vaginismus – the technical term for pain during sex, largely due to an associated fear or anxiety causing muscles to involuntarily cramp. Funnily enough, it was through the Channel 4 show ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ (briefly mentioned in the show) where I learnt why it was impossible for me to even insert tampons. In my very late teens, I had an operation to cut my hymen as it was too thick (according to the NHS though, very few cases require surgery). My boyfriend at the time looked after me on the day, then broke up with me soon after. Just at the time when I could have had sex – I’m sure Bushe and others will relate to how sexually frustrating that was (though he did end up being my first having remained “friends”.)
Still, after the operation was difficult, presented with various phallic dilators to insert. Without going on too much about my own experiences, one thing I’ve learnt is to never be ashamed of getting the lubricant out. Though as Bushe points out, this can have potential to be awkward, especially when you’ve only just met, but the only way we can overcome that is to normalise the use of lube, which Bushe does by gifting each audience member with some sachets of the stuff from YES. Although the right lubricant alone (water based, in my opinion) won’t “fix sex” – as Fran is on a mission to do throughout the show, it’s still a good start.
Her journey takes her to some extreme places as she narrates her present explorations, interspersing extracts from her teenage diary, recounting the struggles of her first sexual relationship. One such place is referred to as a “sex camp”, which she seems to enjoy so much that she even pitches up a tent once her booked stay is over. This tent later morphs into her vagina, whom she has a conversation with – despite the serious topic, there are laughs from beginning to end. The humour is also achieved through plenty of puns and sexual innuendos, as well as skilfully assembled songs. Covering the broad spectrum of Female Sexual Dysfunction, it includes a openness about problems with sexual response, desire, orgasm and pain during sex, which broadly speaking affects at least 43% of women; you could tell by the laughter in the room that many women related to her plight.
Taken to the Edinburgh Fringe, VAULT Festival, and now Soho Theatre, keep your eyes peeled for any future shows. For now, there’s nothing better than talking honestly about sex and breaking away from the taboos of discussing the reality of female sexual pleasure.
featured image source: Soho Theatre
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