When we first saw the trailer for Sticky: A (Self) Love Movie, it caught our full sex geek attention. The trailer starts off in the style of a schlocky, old school B movie while describing the horrors of masturbation, then quickly turns to various experts sharing their perspectives on self love (including noted sex positive thinkers like Betty Dodson and Dr. Jocelyn Elders).
As sex educators, we were intrigued that someone made an entire film about masturbation, a subject that many people don’t discuss freely, so let alone devoting an entire film to the subject. We reached out to Nicholas Tana, the writer, director and producer for an interview. Mr. Tana gave us his insights into the challenges of filmmaking, the stigma surrounding masturbation and his personal journey of overcoming shame about self love. The trailer puns that masturbation is a sticky subject, read on to find out why it shouldn’t be.
Black Pomegranate: In the promotional material for “Sticky: A (Self) Love Story”, you mentioned some bad experiences as a youth when you admitted masturbating. Nicholas, why did the ridicule you encountered early prompt you to create a documentary about masturbation? Was the process personally healing for you, on some level?
Nicholas Tana: When I started the film, I had no idea it would be so personal for me. It wasn’t until around four years into making the movie that I realized this to be true. This was a time when I was struggling with lack of funding and had to dig deep to get the movie completed. All the effort caused me to question, why I really wanted to make a documentary on masturbation. It was only then that I recalled a profound moment of shame and guilt that I had felt as a child for admitting that I had masturbated to some fellow students. The students had been joking about masturbation and I joked back, and in doing so I admitted to them that I too masturbated. That’s when they started laughing at me. I think the question always stayed with me. Why was it ok to joke about masturbation but it wasn’t ok to admit to masturbating. Years later, I think in an effort to vindicate myself (at first subconsciously and later very consciously), I decided to write my personal narrative into the movie, and dig deep to get this movie made. I begged and cajoled, and convinced people around me to volunteer their time and energy, and eventually nearly a decade since its conception got the movie completed. How personally rewarding it will be in the end depends in part on how well people receive it. The positive reaction so far has been great and has made me feel it was all worth it.
BP: What was the initial reaction when you told people the topic of your documentary was masturbation? Were people receptive to the idea?
NT: The reaction to hearing I was making the film depended on who I told it to really. People more comfortable with their sexuality thought it was a wonderful idea; they were envious they hadn’t thought about it themselves. Others thought I was crazy. My uncle (Italian American from New Jersey) asked, “What’s this I hear you’re making a jerk off movie?” I think it embarrassed my family a bit. Recently, I heard from the publicist that the producer from the Ellen DeGeneres Show requested a DVD. I also heard that afterwards Ellen started asking her audience about their masturbation habits. It may be coincidental but my hope is that the people behind the show are priming the audience for a possible interview. It would take someone popular and well received by audiences to legitimize the film to mainstream audiences, which would in turn help to rid us of the shame many of us still feel about this touchy subject matter. I think if mainstream media starts to give “Sticky: A (Self) Love Story” positive attention that my family will be proud and the movie will have a great reception around the world.
BP: The trailer for “Sticky: A (Self) Love Story” shows many viewpoints on masturbation from clergy, medical professionals and sex educators, etc. What unique challenges did you face, getting people to speak on camera about masturbation? As a filmmaker, why was it important for you to include different opinions?
NT: I felt that including different opinions was necessary if audiences were going to truly understand why so many people in society have a touchy relationship with masturbation. It would have been poor journalism to just include sex positive people. They all agree masturbation is healthy and normal, and would have done little to bring real understanding to the discussion. There is an increasing polarity in people and organizations these days, as we try to strike down and or distance ourselves from opinions not our own. This extreme polarity tends to be evident in the beliefs of people in the film, touching upon everything from morality to health to politics. As one interviewee mentions in the movie, it’s truly a ‘sticky’ subject; hence the title. I had to fight with the distributor to keep the name “Sticky….” They wanted to use the word “masturbation” in the title. I had to be creative pitching the idea to people when asking them to be in the movie. I think after ComCast said they would never release a movie with masturbation in the title that even the distributor came to realize just how taboo a topic it was dealing with in terms of sales. Everything has been a challenge about making and marketing this movie. Another challenge has been deciding what not to include in the documentary because after nearly ten years, I had learned so much.
BP: Without giving anything away about the film, what was the biggest myth you encountered about masturbation? Through the process of creating the documentary, did your personal opinions about masturbation change?
NT: The myth that masturbation is acceptable is the biggest myth that I encountered. While it may not be the most extreme, it’s probably the most dangerous. It’s partly why as a modern nation the U.S. has more STDs and teen pregnancies than any other modern nation. The problem is many people believe masturbation isn’t taboo and don’t feel something must be done about it. I’ve seen comments online posted beneath clips of the movie or its trailers, in which someone comments: why anyone would bother making a documentary about masturbation. It’s as if we’re making a bigger deal of it than it warrants. This is also coming from people who have not seen the film yet as it doesn’t release until February 2, 2016. To be fair, I understand where these people are coming from especially having not seen the movie. In society, most kids don’t talk about masturbation. It’s something that you may hear about but usually in the context of a joke. It’s rarely a topic someone in grammar school or high school will openly talk about, unless making fun of it or someone else about it. This stems from a fear people have with children as sexual beings. It’s almost as if by ignoring our sexuality and the fact that sex exists for children and adults that we’re helping to keep people pure, and protecting them from being taken advantage of by damaged predators. The truth is that by talking about sex and masturbation openly, and without shame, we do more to protect the children growing up as adults who will be engaging in sex and masturbation whether we admit it or not. Personally, I found myself growing more comfortable and self-accepting as the years progressed while trying to make this documentary. Originally, I had no intention of putting myself in the film. I think I was scared it would limit me as a writer and director, and that some people wouldn’t want to work with me. I think the child in me was afraid I’d be outcast for it once again. Masturbation is so taboo a subject that even the sex educators in the film stumbled a bit when I asked them personal questions about their masturbation habits. I basically turned the interview from the subject of masturbation to their personal masturbation habits. This made a number of them very uncomfortable. For open individuals, it is sometimes easy to believe that the rest of the world thinks as openly. Someone who works at CNN recently said that they would be forced to resign if they ever put a movie like “Sticky…” on the air. This person said this without even watching the movie. I’m learning everyday just how taboo a subject it is around the world. If one believes masturbation is not taboo, watch the movie.
BP: The consistent theme of “Sticky: A (Self) Love Story” seems to be how negatively masturbation is portrayed in the media. Why do you think this is the case? Have you seen a difference in how masturbation is depicted? What can be done to show the positives of masturbation on film?
NT: Masturbation in the media is usually shown as something embarrassing, funny, or grotesque. Ironically, with the exception of pornography, masturbation is rarely displayed in media as pleasurable. When I interviewed Janeane Garofalo, she admitted that while doing a phone sex scene in the romantic comedy “The Truth About Cats and Dogs” that she had to do shots of tequila. I hope that if more people make more movies like the one I made, we can end the shame and guilt so many individuals still feel about something most of us all do, whether we feel comfortable admitting to it or not.
BP: The trailer for the documentary is irreverent and funny. Even the name, “Sticky: A (Self) Love Story” is comical. Was levity something you intentionally wanted to include, to make the topic of masturbation more accessible?
NT: The title was meant to play with the romantic comedy idea. Romance doesn’t always have to be limited to loving someone else or more literally to having sex with someone else. The comedy surrounding masturbation in the movie is a natural byproduct of our sensitivity around the subject matter. I remember having a conversation with the owner of The Laugh Factory in Hollywood, and we both agreed that masturbation is great fodder for comedy. I found that the first reaction most people had when I told them I was making a documentary on masturbation was to laugh. As I mention in the film, we laugh at things that make us uncomfortable. It’s like watching someone trip on a banana peel. Our vulnerability can be scary, and so we laugh to deal with it. It would have been impossible to remove comedy from the film because people watching this movie expect to laugh. I think this helps people deal with the sensitive nature of its subject matter.
BP: When someone watches the documentary, what do you want them to learn about masturbation? Ultimately, what would you like viewers to take away from the film?
NT: I hope that the viewers learn something about themselves from watching this movie. As the narrator, I try hard not to preach too much or to take a particular side throughout the film. The truth is though that this is impossible to accomplish fully. Every choice is subjectively influenced by my past; society; how I was raised; how I reacted to being raised that way. My attitudes about masturbation are no surprise, as I make my statements clear throughout the movie. For the most part, I ask a lot of the questions. I ask the questions I wanted to have answered for myself. In the end, masturbation is a very personal act. Despite my best intentions, however, what one takes away from watching this film is one thing that’s out of my hands.
Even when things get sticky, keep it sex positive and kinky. For more info: http://stickythemovie.com