Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Daily Show's Desi Lydic traces female orgasm, from Bridgerton all the way back to Ecstasy

Desi Lydic
Desi Lydic
Screenshot: The Daily Show

There are plenty of worthwhile and necessary ways to honor Women’s History Month. Reading books by and about creative women. Supporting woman-owned businesses. Mercilessly dismantling the male-constructed, misogynistic power structure in America. Stuff like that. But the key is to have fun with it, as The Daily Show’s Desi Lydic demonstrated via her in-depth, thoroughly exhaustive, and deeply pleasurable exploration of how the entertainment industry has approached the to-some unseemly and threatening fact that women—hold onto your monocles—have orgasms.

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In her “Brief His-TER-y” of the female orgasm onscreen, Lydic first conceded how far the depiction of women on the silver screen has come, all the way from being “secretaries being saved by James Bond” to “nuclear physicists—being saved by James Bond.” Still, as Lydic explained, there’s one tender, essential, yet utterly terrifying-to-some aspect of womanhood that Hollywood just hasn’t been able to figure out historically, and that’s the representation of female sexual pleasure. As Lydic pointed out, the Germans—in the groundbreaking person of Ecstasy star Hedy Lamarr—broke the still-taboo taboo all the way back in 1933, with Lamarr’s memorable depiction of her unhappily married woman’s secret side-climax being condemned by every dude from Hitler to the Pope. As Lydic noted, Lamarr’s reputation as sultry orgasm queen followed her for the rest of her career, even though the legendary actress’ side-hustle involved basically inventing wireless technology and kicking Hitler’s hateful ass by personally designing a torpedo-foiling radio-jamming device.

The censoriously censor-happy Hays Code was implemented soon after Ecstasy (ain’t that always the way), which led to a long dry spell until the late 1960s came along. But even though, as Lydic put it, that’s “like having your Dry January end at an open bar in Cabo,” Hollywood still had no idea what to do about women’s scandalous enjoyment of sex. So they threw it into a non-consensual Barbarella orgasm machine, posited a male-fantasy Cronenberg-ian body horror mutation in Deep Throat, and basically abused this new cinematic lassitude by treating female sexual desire as a big, hacky punchline.

Lydic fast-forwards all the way to 1989, when America’s sweetheart at the time, Meg Ryan, showed smug pal Billy Crystal that he’s not actually all that thanks to some performative public faking over the pastrami, the now-beloved scene helpfully hinting that men have to step their game up. Still, the whole lack of consent/human punchline trope endured, as unwitting male playthings Jennifer Aniston and Katherine Heigl can attest thanks to Bruce Almighty and The Ugly Truth, respectively. (Heigl’s non-consensual climax comes thanks to a thankfully clueless little boy with a remote control and an itchy trigger finger for crying out loud, notes Lydic.) Thankfully, things are shifting (slowly and fumblingly, but, as Lydic demonstrated, with some long-delayed success), with the correspondent pointing to movie and TV efforts like 2017's Disobedience, Lena Waithe’s Twenties, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Obama-aided efforts in TV’s Fleabag as joyful, female-centered, and non-exploitative proof. And don’t get Lydic started on the unbridled, un-corseted period pleasures of Bridgerton. (Okay, maybe fire it up just one more time.) After all, Lydic deadpanned, “sometimes holding up a mirror to something is the only way to get a good look and figure out how it works.”

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.