Newly single, forty and doling out relationship advice to a teenage daughter on the brink of her own first sexual encounter, Rosy Carrick is forced to confront the niggling suspicion that something about her sexual past has never felt quite right in Musclebound. Could reconnecting with the hyper-macho desires of her youth be the key to restoring her sexual power in the present? Or is there a more uncomfortable truth waiting to be reckoned with?
Rosy is poised to recount the obsessive real-life details of her quest for sexual fulfilment alongside frank and intimate conversations with her daughter Olive, and candid interviews with her childhood heroes Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren. Musclebound aims to leap from the niche fetish of one individual woman into an important and long-overdue exploration of power, performance and the politics of pleasure in heterosexual sex. Rosy is forced to ask herself: what are the sexual lessons we want to pass on to our daughters – and what do we still need to learn for ourselves?
We sat down for a pixelated pint with Rosy to get to the heart of that question, and find out more about the show. You can catch Musclebound at Camden People’s Theatre on Saturday 24th February at 7:15pm. Tickets are available online. Other tour dates for the show can be found on Rosy’s website.
Jake: Hi Rosy! Your show ‘Musclebound’ takes a look into sexual power, female pleasure, and the world of bodybuilding – tell us about what spurred you on to create it.
Rosy: Hello Jake! It’s certainly a strange blend of subject matters, and one that, despite making perfect sense in my head, was quite difficult to bring together at times! The crux of it was that, a few years ago, after breaking up with my boyfriend, I got seriously back into my childhood erotic obsession with watching musclebound men from mainstream films of the 1980s being tortured in strange and interesting homoerotic ways by their male antagonists. (It’s less niche than it sounds, I promise!) It struck me that these mad erotic fantasies I had always had since my youth, in which hyper-muscular men in (often very bizarre) vulnerable positions still somehow managed to maintain their power felt very different from the kind of sexual identity I had built for myself over the last 20-odd years. I have always been very vocally and actively feminist in life but, at the same time, for many years I prided myself on being a very “sexually powerful” woman – both in real life, and onstage as a performer. I started asking myself what it meant to be “sexy” and “sexually powerful”, as a woman. And how much of that just meant being fuckable to men, i.e. performing the heteronormative markers of sexuality that made me officially “hot”, whether that was wearing high heels and red lipstick, or being the most extraordinary lover anyone had ever had.
At the same time, my daughter was reaching sexual maturity, and her being on the brink of her own first sexual encounter really made me look back at my sexual history and wonder what I would’ve done differently. What advice I wish I could have heard back then, and how I might put that across now in a way that didn’t feel preachy or like old news. There are some odd synergies between the dichotomy of power and submission in bodybuilding and muscle films on the one hand, and in the performance of female sexuality on the other, and so a narrative started to emerge that was woven between the two but unlike anything I had ever seen before.
Jake: In the show you discuss the sexual lessons that women pass onto their daughters – tell us about what you’re hoping the audience will take away from it all.
Rosy: Well, the show itself doesn’t “discuss” the sexual lessons that women pass onto their daughters, as such. My hope is that it is parents in general, not just women, who will leave the theatre thinking about what kind of mad social indoctrination they’ve grown-up with and internalised. What the next generation of women is learning now, and how they can change that – for themselves and their children. Of course, I want all youngsters to feel sexually confident, not just the female ones, but the fact is that it is primarily young women who put the sexual needs of their partners before their own. I really want to challenge this.
Musclebound doesn’t tell anyone what to think. It’s essentially a madcap account of a year in my life in which I become more and more shameless in pursuing bodybuilders and muscle film actors (I interviewed both Dolph Lundgren and Arnold Schwarzenegger for the show), while my daughter quizzes me from the sidelines on her ongoing series of hot dates! It is a very unusual narrative, based entirely and truthfully on my own life, taking the pressure off the audience a bit, and allows them to draw their own conclusions.
Jake: You’ve described the show as a ‘long-overdue exploration of power, performance and the politics of pleasure in heterosexual sex’ – tell us why you think that this story needs to be heard at this moment in history.
Rosy: There is an enormous amount of fabulous sex positivity now compared to when I was growing up in in the 80s and 90s. I was a teenager when Ladette culture was at its height, and being a sexy woman essentially boiled down to giving your boyfriend a blowjob while he watched the football, then downing a pint of beer afterwards to demonstrate the strength of your gullet! Back then, the closest I got to a sexual education was reading ‘Sex Position of the Fortnight’ in More! Magazine. Now – say what you like about the Internet – you can look up anything you want online, however, shameful, in the privacy of your own home.
And yet, conversations around the performance of sexual pleasure in heterosexual sex are weirdly lacking. I thought the TV series Sex Education was fantastic for normalising sexual conversations among young people but, in all its myriad themes, it never once, for example, focused in any real detail on orgasm faking. This is despite the fact that studies show that over 70% of women in heterosexual couples fake orgasm, and 26% do it every time they have sex! That’s a huge statistic. It’s not just about male-centric sex not being set up for female orgasm. It’s about women lacking the agency to state their own sexual needs, and faking pleasure for the sake of the partners, which speaks of a very different and far more insidious power imbalance. it’s still very taboo and shameful as a subject, and I really want to cut through this and shine a light on it.
Jake: How are you feeling about heading out on a national tour? Anywhere you’re looking forward to going in particular?
Rosy: Oh my God, I’m so excited! I was meant to do the tour last year, but two house moves and a very intense video game writing project meant I had to postpone it, so I’m raring to go now. I think the dates are most looking forward to Sheffield, Bristol, London and Brighton. Actually, that’s not true – they’re just the ones I feel most confident about. They’re more known quantity! It’s quite a concise tour, compared to the one I did for my last show, Passionate Machine. I really picked the venues because they’re totally glorious, so there aren’t any elements of it that I’m not looking forward to.
Musclebound is also a really funny show, which makes it super fun to perform. I really screwed myself over in the previews by not taking into account the amount of time the audience was laughing for! Passionate Machine had its fun moments, but was a lot more complex as a narrative, and more difficult to perform. And before that, I was mainly performing poetry and speaking at academic conferences, which didn’t quite have the LOL vibe!
I’ll be running some free workshops once the tour is over as well, to keep the conversation going. I’m really looking forward to those. When I took it to Edinburgh, I got so many emails after every performance – mainly from women, but often men as well) who told me they had never seen someone speaking so frankly about sex and desire, and how heartening it was. It was wonderful to receive them but made me realise I’d really like to create a more open space for discourse on this subject to keep evolving within.
Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?
Rosy: Well, I have heard it said that the Caipirinha cocktail first came out in Brazil in 1982 to mark the occasion of Arnold Schwarzenegger visiting. (Just to clarify, when I say “I’ve heard it said”, I mean I saw this once on a cocktail menu many years ago). I’ve never since been able to prove it as a fact, despite my frequent online searches, but I love it as an idea and, speaking as someone who also came out in 1982, it seems the perfect fit!
Picture Credit: Andre Pattenden