5 Questions on female sexuality with Bryony Cole and Grace Carroll of WET

As I sit down to write this intro, I’m asking myself why we need to have a discussion about female sexuality in the first place. Female sexuality, much like mental health or anxiety, is a topic that’s been swept under the rug for many years, usually only referenced via innuendo or in hushed tones — so why should we open it up for public discourse now? Why not keep it a private matter as it has been for so long?

When I look at my own relationship to the subject, I find some threads of the answer. I think about all the ways in which female sexuality is already omnipresent. How, from a young age, I was accustomed to seeing women sexualized and objectified, without ever giving it a second thought. Women half-naked selling ice cream, women in pageants made to parade in swimsuits for public scrutiny, women openly disparaged for being too free with their wants or desires. Yet despite all the focus on female sexuality, the vital aspects of it were never addressed. Things like how to find comfort and power in one’s own sexuality, how to stay safe, both mentally and physically, or how many different varieties of sexuality exist, were never deemed subjects worth mentioning. These sorts of things were to be discovered on our own, through experience, over a glass of wine with close girlfriends or perhaps with the help of the Internet. And I suppose this is why I find it important to talk about now: to help normalize things we all experience and grapple with, to shed light on the many different shades of female sexuality that exist, to help us realize the options out there, and, most importantly, to help us feel less alone.

But to rewind a little, all of this thinking was prompted by Bryony Cole and Grace Carroll, the writers of a new play called WETa play about women, sex, and porn – that tackles these topics head-on in a humorous way. The play recently had successful runs in London and Amsterdam and looks at female sexuality through the lens of female friendship, which is the real bedrock of the story. It puts a spotlight on the kinds of conversations and struggles women are already having in private as the main characters, Holly and Sophie, frustrated with their own sex lives, venture to write and make a feminist porn film. The play prompts us to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, and, in the process, grants us permission to feel okay with where we are with our sexuality, showing that there is no right or wrong way, but rather, infinite possibilities.  

To get to know more about the play and dive deeper into this topic, keep reading for Bryony and Grace’s thoughts on the subject. Once you’ve finished, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Head to the comments to tell me about your relationship with female sexuality and how you view its role in society and your own life.

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Bryony Cole, co-creator and writer of the play. Photo c/o Dana Marin of the Amsterdamian.

1. WET discusses the topic of female sexuality and porn. I read on your website that it was inspired by responses you received from an anonymous survey sent out to women about their attitudes to sex and porn. What prompted this survey and what did it reveal?

Bryony: So WET came about when Grace and I were having one of our very honest conversations about sex, and we got onto the topic of porn. Did we watch it? Did our friends watch it? And why did women watching porn feel so different to men watching it? We’re very lucky that we’ve got a friendship where we can openly talk about everything, which is so crucial. We chat about whatever’s going on in our brains without having to filter, which means we have the freedom to explore loaded topics in our writing.

Once we’d decided we wanted to write about women, sex and porn we really wanted to learn and understand female sexuality on a wider scale. We have a limited view on the subject because we are just two women in our 20s and 30s. Using our own personal experiences is great, but we wanted to open up the conversation to women across the world, of any age or background. Research started with reading lots around the topic, watching lots around the topic and having lots of in-depth chats.

The next step for us was to create an anonymous survey for women. We wanted to give women a platform to freely express their thoughts and desires, and we were so touched that so many women took the time to answer the survey, and trusted us with very intimate details about themselves. The speed in which the survey took off really cemented our belief that this was a subject that women desperately wanted to discuss.

The biggest insight we got from the results of the survey was that female sexuality is so vast, varied and complex. For example, some women watched porn on a daily basis, other women have never watched it before.

We wanted to say thank you to the women who took part in our survey, so we used some of their responses (with their consent) as verbatim at the opening of the play. It was powerful and moving to hear all these very personal accounts of sex and porn played out in the space.

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Grace Carroll, co-creator and writer of the play. Photo c/o Dana Marin of the Amsterdamian.

2. You also mention in your play description that women are growing up in a time with a heavy emphasis on sexuality. I find this to be very true, but at the same time, we are expected as women to not have an interest in things like porn and we are often admonished if we are too open with our sexuality. Why do you think this is? 

Grace: Many reasons, but mainly the lack of equality between men and women. There is a complete double standard when it comes to sex.

Sexuality is everywhere but so often it’s represented through the male gaze. We are taught only how to be on the receiving end of sexual interest. We are taught to be  “sexy” but not to engage with our sexuality in a meaningful way. And women are taught that their pleasure is always secondary to men’s.

The society we live in tries very hard to make women feel shame for expressing their sexuality and that makes me sad. Sex is about expression, pleasure, connection and intimacy and these are all wonderful things and extremely important for self-esteem and identity. More women need to own their sexuality; but that can only happen when they feel safe enough to do so.

It sounds simple, but the more open I am talking with my close friends about sex and sexuality, the more open I can be with my sexual partner. I guess it’s getting used to talking about sex freely, exercising that muscle, so it doesn’t feel weird or scary or abnormal. Lessening the shame surrounding it. I mean, there’s such a stigma around women and sex; but by putting sexuality on a platform we really hope WET encourages people to be more open about their own sexuality and desires.

It’s been so inspiring after the shows hearing audience members open up to us about their own experiences and seeing people responding in such an emotional way to the show.

The biggest insight we got from the results of the survey was that female sexuality is so vast, varied and complex.

3. How do you use humor in your play to get at this topic from a new angle? 

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A shot from a performance of the play at the Perdu Theatre in Amsterdam. Photo c/o Dana Marin of the Amsterdamian.

Bryony: Me and Grace are both funny people who love comedy, so our writing will always have a comedic angle. That is a space we feel most comfortable in. And we also think comedy has this immense power to make people feel united. If you’re all laughing at something together, you feel less alone. You obviously never know if something is actually funny until it’s tested on a live audience, so all the scratch nights in London were really useful for us when we were developing the play in establishing the humour.

There is a bravery and strength in trying to find the funny side of a hard situation. Comedy has this amazing way of dealing with some of the hardest topics and making them approachable and easy to access. However, we never use humour at the expense of the writing. There is a very thin line between humour and truth, and we feel WET sits nicely in between these areas.

4. What are the reactions you’ve been getting to WET? Anything you didn’t expect?

Bryony: The most common word used by people chatting to them after the shows has been “relatable.” And we couldn’t ask for more! We are delighted that the audience felt heard and seen. We never want people watching to feel uncomfortable or isolated after our shows, we want them to feel understood and comforted and to be able to laugh at the absurdity of life.

5. What do you wish was more understood or accepted about female sexuality in the larger culture?

Grace: That female sexuality is multi-faceted. That there is no “right” way to be. That it is complex and beautiful in all its forms. The responses to our survey solidified to us how varied female pleasure and sexuality is. When writing WET we wanted to send out a message to our audience that whatever you’re going through with your sexuality, you are not alone. Whether that’s struggling with communication, understanding what turns you on or figuring out how you express your sexuality. We are all in this together, and we just need to TALK. Don’t be ashamed, don’t be afraid – embrace every messy part of yourself!

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Learn more about WET on their website, Instagram and Twitter, where you can also stay tuned for future performances.

All photos are courtesy of Dana Marin of the Amsterdamian. Read her interview with Bryony, Grace and their director, Cíntia Taylor, here.

Read more 5 Questions posts and don’t forget to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

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