© Sabrina Weniger

»What are you no longer ashamed of now?«

This answer, at the end of a long conversation about sex, immediately explained a lot to me, and yet it surprised me. In the previous hour, Marco* had told me his story – one of harassment, loneliness and rough sex. We had talked about why he had rarely, almost never had sex in a relationship and had a great deal of sex with strangers. And about him realising at the cinema that he was gay, and how he panicked, fearing that he would lose his heterosexual male friends.


Marco responded to an open call that Mats Staub and I made. For over a year now we have been meeting people to talk to them about sex, more precisely to talk to them about when and how in the course of their lives they learned to have sex all over again, differently, or unlearned previous sexual behaviour. When we began, we had little more to work with than the observation that while sex might be omnipresent in the media, honest conversations about what sex gives us and what we expect of sex are rare. Even the people who did approach us, who were prepared to talk about sex, would often find once the conversation got going that they lacked the words to describe what happens to them when they have sex. It became clearer with every conversation we had that we are never »only« talking about sex when we talk about sex.

We are talking about fear when we talk about sex.
We are talking about freedom when we talk about sex.
We are talking about trust when we talk about sex.
We are talking about thrills when we have sex.
We are talking about identity when we talk about sex.
We are talking about pain when we talk about sex.
We are talking about belonging when we talk about sex.

The people who are talking to us cannot be placed in any single category. They are aged between twenty and seventy; they have a disability or have no disabilities; they are queer, heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay or trans; and they feel they belong to various different genders or none. They live in both rural and urban areas; they are academics, live on benefits or are in paid employment. But what they all have in common is that they have experienced their own intimate revolution and that they were willing to share their story with us.

Marco: »I’ve had a lot of sex. But I still don’t know what actually turns me on. I’ve always done what the other man wanted, because I wanted to be of interest to him. I want to learn what pleases me. And to stand up for that.«

With our long-term project »INTIMATE REVOLUTION«, we create a protected space, where the people we are talking to can look for and experiment with a language that they can use to describe the inspiring and painful events of their sexual biography. They can test whether words are suitable, hesitate, start again and keep on looking. In doing so, they are carrying out pioneering work for everyone who will listen to their story: they are expanding the extremely paltry language that is currently available to describe sex with their own expressions and metaphors. When you consider that most people have sex on a regular basis, the fact that talking about it happens so rarely is incomprehensible. One woman we talked to compared it to drinking good wine. There are at least 3,000 adjectives and images to describe what wine tastes like, but when people are asked what sex feels like, often the only words they can think of are »good« and »hot«. This linguistic poverty and lack of communication are also obstacles to achieving sexual fulfilment. Just imagine spending a whole lifetime never being asked whether you like the food that is put in front of you. There would just be unspoken acceptance – either that it was good, or that if you didn’t like it, you would somehow manage to swallow it and get on with other things in your life. And if the day finally came when someone asked you whether you liked your food, you might be able to answer »no«, but you would not be able to go on and describe what you would like. It is evident from the language we use about wine, that this is something we value and wish to discuss precisely, where - as, in linguistic terms, sex is left to vulgar or medicinal language. And who among us was able to experience a shame-free, empowering upbringing? While families traditionally pass on recipes for Christmas biscuits, recipes for enjoying sex are not handed down. Our relationship to sex has a lot to do with social conditioning. A person’s sexuality makes it clearly visible what their personal needs are and how they deal with them. But conversations about sex often go beyond individual needs. They are always also about the structural conditions in which a person is living: Why did I believe that sex was one of my marital duties? Why do I think I’m not a »real« man any more if I can’t get an erection? Why can’t the three of us be registered as life partners?

We are talking about politics when we talk about sex.
We are talking about power when we talk about sex.
We are talking about doctrine when we talk about sex.
We are talking about media representations when we talk about sex.
We are talking about religion when we talk about sex.
We are talking about the need for a revolution when we talk about sex.

With Intime Revolution Mats Staub and I want to facilitate a collective experience while also providing a framework that allows visitors sufficient privacy. We will not use any images. Instead, we will concentrate entirely on listening – all the stories can be heard on headphones, but no one will listen to them alone. Inspired by the comparison between wine and sex, we have chosen a wine bar as the venue to present the project: the seating arrangement at tables where the listeners are either alone or with a companion creates a private situation within a room full of strangers. We like the feeling associated with visiting a wine bar: going somewhere to enjoy a glass of wine is not a luxurious activity, but it is something special you treat yourself to. We hope that this sense of anticipation and doing something you enjoy will also be felt by people attending our audio wine bar. And that listening to these stories of people’s lives will inspire them to have their own intimate revolution. Marco, for example:

»For the first time in ages I’ve just met someone I like. I met him because we were both active in the ›Marriage For All‹-campaign. This is very new: we’ve been together for three weeks. So far, we haven’t had sex yet.«

*This name has been changed.

Translated from German by David Tushingham

ANNA PAPST, grew up in the Zurich Oberland and works as a director, author and dramaturg. Since having completed her studies in directing at ZhdK, she has been working at various theaters of the independent scene and municipal theaters. In addition to plays for adults she regularly directs for young audiences and works collaboratively with artists of all disciplines. Intime Revolution (Intimate Revolution) is her first collective longterm project with Mats Staub.