Don't be shy . . . It's time to talk sex toys! And Hysteria director Tanya Wexler is writing us a prescription for pleasure. Tanya's film — what she calls "the vibrator movie you can bring your mom to" — is in limited release and stars Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Rupert Everett. When working on a romantic comedy that centers around the invention of the vibrator, you end up with some entertaining and embarrassing situations along the way, and lucky for us, Tanya spilled all the hilariously dirty details. From teaming up with the film's partner Jimmyjane for a drive-by vibrator drop-off to a certain female Oscar-winner to trying unsuccessfully to get ducks to shag on command, Tanya was bursting with great stories from working on this very unconventional film. And while Tanya isn't ashamed to discuss the sexy subject matter of her latest film with us, the mother of four and her partner of 21 years did have a tricky challenge telling her preteen kids what her movie was about. (She eventually gave them the script and let them figure it out themselves!) Check out our interview with the fun-loving director now, and we dare you not to have a girl crush on her by the end!
TrèsSugar: What were some of the challenges to getting a movie made about vibrators?
Tanya Wexler: Getting the script right was tricky because if you just make a movie about the invention of the vibrator, it's actually a really short movie: you go "bzz" and it's done. And we had a kind of light romantic comedy. I say I made the vibrator movie you can bring your mom to. But some people wanted it to be raunchy or some people wanted it to be more serious and about feminism. People project a lot onto this movie of what they want, because there isn't a lot out there about vibrators and women's pleasure, and we still don't really deal with that topic very well, or we're overly antsy around it. And as a result, people have a lot of ideas of what the movie could and should be, and you can't please everyone. [laughs]
TS: Ha, good one.
TW: It's nonstop!
TS: Do you find sex toys inherently funny or something to be seriously celebrated?
TW: Yes! Yes. I think they make me laugh, and I think that the inner kind of Beavis and Butt-head in all of us goes "[laugh]." You know, that inner 13-year-old, like, "Hahaha vibrator . . . " and yet they're awesome and fun.
TS: What shocked you the most when researching the movie?
TW: That ducks are the rapists of the bird world, and you'll see when you see the movie, because there's a little bit of questionable duck behavior — or awesome duck behavior — in the movie. It's totally a sidebar, but you cannot make ducks shag on command. I'm just saying.
TS: What about the whole history of hysteria being a medical condition?
TW: When I first heard the idea, I was like, "What do you mean it was invented in Victorian times?" I knew about hysteria, but the idea that the treatment was manual [British accent] massage deparaxism — which is what they called it — and, of course, the denial. The most shocking thing is the denial, that they didn't think it was sexual.
TS: Do you think they were really in denial?
TW: No, I don't think that some people were. My college roommate was with her high school boyfriend for two years and she had never had an orgasm. I think there's all kinds of denial, especially with women's sexuality. So the fact that there are young women today who haven't had an orgasm, whether self-induced — which is insane — or with a partner, then why wouldn't we think back then that women wouldn't know what orgasms were?
They would get a massage, and the doctor's saying, "Without a penis, this isn't sex, because sex is about procreation," so what is this? The best physical therapy you've ever had. So once you don't think of it as something other than what the doctor's supposed to do to cure your uncontrollable crying or uncontrollable laughter or whatever, then it's just an awesome muscle spasm. If you don't think women have their own inherent sexuality, then you're not thinking about it like that.
Keep reading for Tanya's thoughts on Fifty Shades and more!
TS: Did anyone blush on the set?
TW: Probably me. I'm kind of a prude perv. Like nothing shocks me until something shocks me, and then I'm like "[laughs]." I'm totally the teenage boy.
TS: What was the most awkward scene to film?
TW: There's Gemma Jones, an older actress. She plays Bridget Jones's mom. She's awesome, and she does a little cameo for us. And you'll see there's a bit at the very end that I could not stop laughing at. I was so embarrassed. The character who plays her husband tries the vibrator on her at the very end, but it's all under the covers. And she was like, "We'll never get this shot done if the director keeps cracking up!" And she said she had taken that movie because she knew exactly how to do her little bit and because it shows a woman in her 70s having an orgasm.
TS: What do you think of the phenomenon of faking orgasms?
TW: I think it's a bummer. It's like you're soothing your partner's ego. Maybe you're tired and do want them to just be happy and stop being so persistent. So there's some slight bit of courtesy probably, but for the most part — and I guess it's very orgasm-driven sex. If you want to have an orgasm, and you're not having one, maybe you just need to get involved and help out with the process. I think vibrators are very helpful in that regard. But I think that you just need more and different kinds of sex, and that we don't need to be fixated on one specific thing.
TS: Right. Like maybe the focus went from procreation to now orgasms.
TW: Yeah, I mean, I'm a big fan of orgasms. Frankly, it's the dessert of the meal, and I hate going out without a dessert, but I [still enjoy] the whole meal.
TS: Why do you think female masturbation has this taboo, while for men it's expected?
TW: I don't know! But now I'm on the other side of the looking glass on this. I used to accept it as just part of the culture, and now it drives me nuts. I've gotten stopped in so many airports for vibrators now because I always have something that I'm giving away to someone in the bag, and I used to be like "[mumbles] . . . vibrator" and very embarrassed, but now I'm like, "What? There's a vibrator in my bag. What's your f*cking problem?" It's crazy that the thing we carry around with us all day long — our bodies — are one of the things we're most ashamed of and embarrassed by.
TS: Do you think the mainstream popularity of the Fifty Shades erotica series is helping women open up about their sexuality?
TW: I can't speak to the content because I haven't read it, but I remember reading an article about porn that was really interesting. A really smart feminist woman basically said, "I have no inherent problem with porn. What I have a problem with is that porn is basically a monoculture." That it's one kind of sex, one kind of set of bodies. It's very hyperbolic. If it was really a diverse representation of human experience of sexuality and what lots of people were looking for and interested in and seemed like it was pleasureful rather than kind of plastic and a little bit robotic. I think that this idea that we all have to look like supermodels in bed just makes everyone feel like sh*t all the time. The truth is, you make funny sounds, and when you fall off the bed because you're f*cking, it's funny! If you can't laugh because you're trying to strike a pose, you're not having fun anymore. You're busy . . .
TW: Yeah! So, if that book helps that, it's great. But if all everyone's trying to do is enact something to then create another kind of myth, then no. It's fun to play games and stuff, but can you be comfortable in your own skin? Can you enjoy yourself, can you have fun, and can you relax? Theoretically, porn or erotica, great. Fine. As long as your kids don't find it. [Laughs]
TS: Do you think we're still kind of backward when it comes to embracing female sexuality?
TW: I think we're limited. I wouldn't say backward. I think we're at a better place than we've ever been in the history of people that I can tell. On the whole Western world and this century, it's about as good as it's been so far. It doesn't mean there's not a long way to go still. The fact that we're having debates about birth control and transvaginal ultrasound is like, "What the f*ck?" I think there's a long way to go, but I think we're in probably the best place we've ever been.