First Person: Lillian Isabella Wanted to Know How We Love/F*ck — So She Asked 28 Women
Isabella's sex-positive documentary play runs at the Cherry Lane Theatre through October 6.
I decided I wanted to create How We Love/F*ck, a sex-positive documentary play about female sexuality, right as the #MeToo movement was exploding into our collective consciousness in late 2017. The public airing of this long-repressed trauma, while powerful, was also deeply disturbing and painful. I started to have a strong drive to explore female sexuality from a positive perspective. What does it look like when we're having fun? 'Cause sex is supposed to be fun… you know?
I grew up in a single-parent household with a genuinely sexy mom who worked full-time as a scientist but also always made time to play with us. When I was a little girl, my sister and I would dance around the apartment, twirling after my mom, while listening to the Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" and Josephine Baker's "Ram-Pam-Pam." My mom used to joke that she had a weakness for great shoes and handsome men. Sex wasn't a taboo topic— so much so that I remember coming home from high school as a particularly cranky 17-year-old and my mom telling me, "You need to get laid." I remained a virgin for a couple of years after that. Reverse psychology is real.
Ten years later, it's December 2017, and I tentatively mention to my mom that I want to interview women about sexuality and create a play about it. She looks over at me with a serious expression and says, "Do it. Begin tonight." This time, I listened.
As I began my research for this play, I did a deep dive on social media to try and find sex-positive female-identifying individuals. I wasn't sure what I'd discover, but it turns out there are many highly vocal sex-positive leaders out there, including a particularly powerful sex-positive community of women at the forefront of the sex tech industry. While sex is still shrouded in clouds of taboo and secrecy in mainstream American culture, I found that many people are actively working to unearth it. It's not just me. It's a dynamic community.
All of the women I interviewed — in sex tech and not — were eager to talk with me about sex in a positive way. I asked them questions like…
How would you describe an orgasm?
What makes a great lover?
How did your childhood shape your sexuality?
I recorded and then transcribed the interviews by hand and wove about 450 pages of transcripts into monologues with the intention of writing an Anna Deavere Smith-inspired exploration into female sexuality. I never envisioned my own sex life or sexuality as part of this show, but I soon realized that they are embedded in the project's DNA. My experiences gave me the foundation on which to build this piece, and they now serve as the connective tissue between each individual story reflected in the finished product.
Through this exploration, I discovered that many women, including myself, find an initial sense of shame around their sexuality and the discovery of pleasure — a sense that sexuality is a condemnable secret in the eyes of religion, culture, or family. Yet, with time, many of those women come to understand that embracing their sexuality and accessing their pleasure can be a great source of personal power.
I'm so grateful to be collaborating with our fearless director Lorna Ventura, super talented pro-ducer/actor Lindsay-Elizabeth Hand of Edge In Motion Productions and our incredible actors Tulis Mccall, Greer Morrison, and Nancy Sun who have breathed so much life and energy into the project.
I can feel the cultural conversation around sex positivity slowly shifting, and it's my hope that this play releases some of the shame. I'm betting the more we can talk about sexuality in an open way, the more safe, respectful, and mindful we will all be about it.