by Sara Dueck
Back in the late nineties, someone gifted my very conservative grandparents with a VHS cassette of The Titanic. I should say two VHS cassettes of The Titanic, because the movie was so long it was split in half over two tapes. My grandparents hadn’t seen the movie in theatres—they had never seen a movie in theatres—but they were told that The Titanic was a classic. So, they watched the movie together, and promptly threw out the first tape. That was the half of the movie that contained the scene in which Leo DiCaprio draws Kate Winslet naked on a fancy couch, and the later scene where they boink in the back of somebody’s Model T. Somehow, according to my grandparents’ judgement, the first half of the movie was inappropriate, but the second half (you know, the part where all the third-class people die horrible, icy deaths?) was totally fine. Why they didn’t just chuck the whole thing will probably continue to baffle me for the rest of my life.
As a kid, I didn’t know there were supposed to be two tapes. I watched the second tape, believing that was the whole movie. If you’ve seen The Titanic, you’ll know that this drastically changed the storyline. Instead of getting swept up in a famously doomed love story, I got to watch nearly two hours of a boat slowly sinking. I finally watched the whole movie (both halves) at a preteen sleepover, and I. Was. Shook. I developed a raging, belated crush on Leonardo DiCaprio, and that shot where his hand hits the steamy window of the Model T provided me with sexual fantasy fodder for most of my early teens. I became obsessed with The Titanic.
The story of how my grandparents threw out of the first half of The Titanic was probably responsible for my later obsession with the movie. It was like I had revisited some foggy, distant memory, only to discover that something grown up and forbidden had been hiding there the whole time.
Of course, that was the appeal: I wasn’t supposed to see the sexuality in The Titanic. This is a pretty common theme in the formation of most people’s sexualities—we’re drawn to the forbidden. The taboo is romanticized. It’s an ever-present, deeply familiar trope, but it does not foster healthy sexualities. It’s not just the subversive aspects of sexuality that are treated as taboo, it’s all of sexuality. Items of lingerie are unmentionables, genitalia are privates, and questions about sex are met with the response, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” As a result, all elements of sexuality are relegated to a private space, held separate from our public identities.
As an adult, it can be hard to reconcile this notion of sexuality as deeply private, taboo, and indulgent with its mundane role as a facet of human wellness. Sexuality is not a surplus luxury, it’s an element of wellbeing as important as physical or mental health. If I prioritize my physical and mental health by eating well, staying active, and practicing self-care, shouldn’t I also prioritize my sexual health? If I create an identity for myself that leans heavily on my love for running, my commitment to vegetarianism, and my search for self-love and acceptance, shouldn’t that also incorporate my identity as a sexual person?
This is easier said than done. Being open about the role that sexuality plays in your life means combatting a slew of cultural messages that tell you to keep quiet. It means seeking out alternative communities that celebrate sexuality instead of silencing it. But it also means discovering a deeper level of self-acceptance. It means viewing your sexuality holistically, as an integral part of your whole being, instead of as a secretive, shameful, isolated piece of yourself. Chances are, it also means having a way better sex life. It’s a long journey, but it’s one worth taking.
Sara Dueck is a sex writer, blogger, and lover of black liquorice. She talks way too much about sex at Sex and The Rest, Call Me Harlot, and Tart Magazine. You can follow her rants against fitspiration and the patriarchy on Facebook and Instagram at @sexandtherest.