NEW YORK – It’s no secret sex can be a tough subject for people to talk about, even among a small group of close and trusted friends. Add the challenge of intentionally tackling some of the more controversial questions surrounding human sexuality, hold the discussion in front of a fully engaged live audience and what you get is Creative Tensions: Sex, part of an experimental event series produced by the Sundance Institute Theatre Program in collaboration with the global design and innovation firm IDEO.
On Monday June 8, Sssh.com owner Angie Rowntree became the first person from the adult entertainment industry to speak at a Sundance Institute event, appearing at Creative Tensions: Sex to tackle a series of questions which were a mixed blend of challenging, provocative and fun.
In addition to being the founder of Sssh.com, the world’s premier “porn for women” website and winner of the 2015 XBIZ Award for Best Alternative Website, Rowntree is an inductee to the AVN Hall of Fame Founders Division and has been named one of the industry’s top female power-players.
Joining Rowntree was Taylor Mac, a playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, cabaret performer, performance artist, director and producer who New York Magazine calls a “critical darling of the New York scene.” Interacting heavily with an engaged and lively audience, Rowntree and Mac led a discussion that reexamined widely accepted notions about sex, gender and the adult industry.
The discussion began with simple questions expressed as a dichotomy, like “leather or lace?” The audience would then move to the side of the room that matched their choice. From the start, Rowntree bucked the two-option paradigm and took a position straight down the middle, saying she was neither leather nor lace; instead, she’s inclined to weigh how she and her partner feel at the moment in question
While it was straightforward and sensible answer, it also planted a seed that would resonate throughout the evening: The realm of sex is not so easily broken down into convenient, either/or options and mutually exclusive possibilities.
As the discussion moved along, the questions became a little edgier, including one aimed directly at the adult industry: “Is pornography constructive or destructive?” Many members of the audience seemed unsure which side of the room to choose – and the comments were equally equivocal.
“Porn has presented challenges to my friends which seems destructive, but ultimately they have all grown through those challenges,” said one member of the audience. “So I stand with constructive.”
One woman raised the thorny issue of children being exposed to porn, saying she was “terrified” about porn as the mother of a nine year-old who is “one click away from a rabbit hole of porn.”
Rowntree responded by saying while the ease of access to online porn can be frightening for parents, there are resources available to enable parents to be proactive in preventing such access, noting the efforts of responsible websites using the Restricted To Adults (RTA) label, and other resources which can help, like content filters and the list of parental resources maintained by the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP).
To add spice and pick up the pace of the conversation, the discussion included several “lightning rounds” with questions like “giver or receiver?” and “taken or looking?” – rapid-fire choices which led to the audience quickly scrambling from one side of the room to the other.
Of all the questions asked, Rowntree said her favorite was “What do you feel is more sexually oppressive and limiting: Government/Media or Self?”
“What I liked best about it was how a seemingly simple question revealed such a great degree of complexity in how the audience interpreted it,” Rowntree said. “Taylor and I each took the question somewhat differently, and then we got to hear how all over the map the audiences’ interpretation was, and the diversity of interpretations led to a really fascinating and nuanced conversation.”
Rowntree says she was a bit nervous leading up to the event, in part because the open structure of Creative Tensions meant she was given no specific questions or topics to prepare for. Once the session started, however, Rowntree said she quickly felt right at home.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but the whole night was really fun and interesting,” Rowntree said. “I walked away having learned a lot.”