Unbound Is Changing the Way Women Buy Sex Toys, One Box at a Time

Most sex toy companies are owned and operated by men who could care less about what women want. This is where startups like Unbound come in.

By Saira Khan

Polly Rodriguez was 21 years old when, after undergoing treatment for Stage III colon cancer and being kicked into early menopause, she went to a sex shop to buy a vibrator. “It was a horrible experience,” she told me. The store she went to in St. Louis, Missouri was full of older men perusing pornographic magazines. There were bright sex toys displayed on shelves, with no information on how to use them or even why to use them. Polly found a void wherever she looked. “It’s one thing to be in New York City, but I was in St. Louis, and we just didn’t have any information for us out there,” she told me. The experience stayed with her.

Polly Rodriguez (left) with the Unbound team at a Sex Expo in Brooklyn, NY

Now, nine years later, Polly is the co-founder and chief executive of Unbound, which she bills as “an online sex shop for rebellious women.” It’s a way for her to rescue other women from going through what she did: feeling embarrassed about wanting to learn about and explore her sexuality.

Unbound has a quarterly subscription box, in which people receive a number of sex toys and products. The company also offers themed boxes for different events in a person’s life: a Period Box, a Menopause Box, a Pregnancy Box, and there’s even a Rebound Box for people who are going through a breakup. The point of all of this is to give women the information they’re seeking about their sexuality and wellness, in a way that isn’t embarrassing for them.


Cards, necklaces, and cuffs, oh my!

It’s only in recent years that sex toy companies have started considering women’s needs, and the reason for this is clear: most sex toy companies are owned and operated by men who could care less about what women want. This is where startups like Unbound come in: CEOs like Polly are working hard to fill this void that has existed for far too long. And while she’s seen success with Unbound, getting there hasn’t been easy.

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The Pregnancy Box (Image from Unbound)

The same problem that exists in sex-toy companies exists in venture capitalism: men. “There’s an image of what a startup CEO should look like, and it isn’t usually a woman,” Polly said. “You walk into those investor meetings feeling like you don’t belong. I had to learn quickly how to be resilient.” To add to this, listening to conversations about sex can be awkward and often people’s first instinct is to laugh. “I’ve been laughed out of rooms and it ends up creating this sense of imposter syndrome where you feel like you aren’t good enough,” Polly said. “But you are good enough and you should be there! It’s just easy to forget when you’re in that environment.”

I asked Polly if she could go back in time and give her 16-year-old self some advice, what would it be? “Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s fine if you go to a state school. What really matters is that you do well and work hard,” she said. Oh, also, “Go to the doctor early because you have cancer in the butt!”



Memories of a City Kid’s Summer

Our summers aren’t for backyard pools or manicured lawns or days spent in air-conditioned basements. They are for screaming, running, falling. For skinned knees.

By Gabrielle Sierra

Go. Leave the city. Flee to your upstate houses, your lakeside homes and your ocean-front rentals. New York summers belong to us. The native New Yorkers, the city kids.

Our summers aren’t for backyard pools or manicured lawns or days spent in air-conditioned basements. They are for screaming, running, falling. For skinned knees. For sneakers hitting hot cement. For jumping through sprinklers or being blasted by an open fire-hydrant, cartwheeling back and forth in the street. For us rolling ten deep, fifteen deep, every day. We fill the street. Kids with nowhere to go and nothing to do for two whole months.

Our summer is for games in driveways and for tagging your little brother just a little too hard so you have to run and hide before your mother finds you. For spinning and spinning until you fall onto your back to watch the world above you twist.

We play Freeze Tag and Spud and Man Hunt and tear across the block, darting into front yards, exploring rooftops and sneaking up alleys. Homebase is always the same tree, a beast that can only be seen in tunnel vision as your legs pump as hard and as fast as they can, moving you just ahead of an outstretched hand.

Our summers are for the Ice Cream Man, whose name is Mike, who rings his bells as he cruises up each street, sending even the calmest of kids into mild hysterics, prompting us to run inside and scrounge for change or beg our parents for a few dollars. We devour electric-colored pops that drip into a pool at our feet that will later be overrun with ants.

We draw with chalk over the cracked sidewalk, people complimenting us on our shading skills as they step all over our masterpieces. (Picasso never had to deal with this.) We rescue bugs from the tar oozing on the curb and we listen to the sound of cicadas in the trees.

Our summers are for playing handball in the park “asses up,” the losing team standing against the wall like criminals while they wait for the rubber ball to sting their bare skin.

For those of us lucky enough to grow up near the ocean (yes, New York City has ocean access) our summers are for running to the public beach and never bringing enough of anything, never having an umbrella or the right towel or the appropriate amount of suntan lotion. For sucking the salt from your hair as you walk across the too-hot sand without your shoes on. For smelling the ash can barbeques that are watched over by families who have come down for the whole day, lugging coolers full of meat onto city busses just to spend some time with their children by the water.

My summers don’t smell like hot garbage. They don’t make me want to get out of town. My summers are not for the faint of heart, the bored. We fill the space you leave behind (thanks for clearing out of our way.) We are adventurers, explorers, city kids in the heat.

So go, we’ll be here. See you in the fall.

Pools Are Weird

The history of these oversized baths in America is a history of socioeconomic divides, private and public spaces, and of course, bikinis.

By Frida Oskarsdottir

There is something quintessentially American about a diver cutting into the surface of a crystal blue pool on a searing day, the air filmed with humidity as the water ripples in his wake. When summer comes around we march onward toward that fenced-in oasis, some of us lucky enough to go no further than our backyards. Iconic film scenes happen in swimming pools, artists paint them, writers use them as symbols, and all the while we keep swimming.

I hope I’m not the only one who has asked herself, as Seinfeld might, “What’s the deal with pools?” Where did they come from? When you think about it, doesn’t it seem a little strange that we just decided one day to build ourselves a personal ocean, but without salt and devoid of all life? These blue squares, which essentially amount to oversized baths, are packed with so much meaning – leisure, isolation, excess – and their history in this country is in a way our history of socioeconomic divide, private and public spaces, and of course, bikinis. Part of the American-ness of the American swimming pool is its duality, it represents our desire for individual conquest and the conflict between private property and communal experience.

Van Gogh’s Ear (2016) Elmgreen & Dragset; Image via http://www.artnet.com

There’s no question that humans love the water. On the most basic level, it makes up most of our biology. If we don’t drink it, we die. But our connection goes much deeper than survival. Wallace J. Nichols, marine biologist and water obsessive, describes our draw to the water – ocean, pool, or puddle – as our “Blue Mind…a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment…It takes advantage of neurological connections formed over millennia.” It’s not hard to see what he means – for instance, we take showers as part of a perfunctory routine but stepping under the water has an automatically relaxing and meditative effect. Ditto listening to the water flow in a river, or hearing your cat lap it up from his bowl.

Of course, what most people do in a given body of water is swim. We’ve been swimming, wading, and floating since we started recording history, in watering holes and ancient bathhouses, or — for those of us blessed with proximity to it — the ocean. The appeal of swimming in the ocean is obvious: it is formidable, vast, unknown, dangerous. We are still discovering species by the bucketful in its depths, and epics have been written about what takes place on and beneath the waves. Visiting the ocean allows us to skirt the edge of a largely inaccessible world, a completely different Earth that takes up more space than land on our planet but is somehow totally unsuited for us to live in. The ocean says, ”Sure, you can play on the beach, but if you go too far, I’ll fucking kill you.”

To create pools, we neutered the danger and mystery of the open sea and cordoned off watery spaces for our recreation. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t without their own troubles. In America, racial desegregation in pools followed a meaningfully different trajectory than that of other public spaces. Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, argues that during the Progressive Era of the late 1800s, while gender and class divides were strictly enforced in public pools, race played less of a factor, meaning black and white swimmers shared the water with little tension. However, the integration of sexes and classes brought to light different biases; for instance, now that men and women were mingling in swimwear, the racist stereotype of black men preying on white women led some to alarmism. In addition, as swimming became more appealing to the Middle class, pools were built further towards majority white suburbs. This intersection of race, class, and gender relations played out differently in the water than in the workplace, school, and home, and it left a lasting mark, evidenced by the fact that even today white Americans are twice as likely to know how to swim as black Americans.   

While backyard pools are privately owned, they still carry a convoluted and somewhat contradictory history. Historian Ryan Reft describes the boom of private pools in Southern California in the 1960’s as “decadent and grandiose expressions of wealth and power, communal experiences for working class kids and families, and a symbolic reservoir of twentieth century alienation and danger…the pool stands as a testament to the complexity of California life.” He goes on that the pool even came to mean something when it was empty, the 1970’s drought forced swimmers out and the abandoned pools became an enclave for underground skateboard culture, most famously including the Zephyr Competition Team, or Z-Boys.

The pool as a status symbol, a glistening money sink for all your neighbors to see, is a common trope seen in the lush backyards of reality TV stars and Hollywood films. John Cheever’s famous short story, “The Swimmer,” reveals the more sinister undertones of this grandeur. The story follows its wealthy, tanned protagonist as he attempts to swim the entire way home from a party through the backyard pools along the way. It was dissected in my literature class (and, I assume, most literature classes) as an allegory for the inherent loneliness and darkness of material excess. The swimmer’s mood at the beginning is so eternally upbeat he can hardly contain his good fortune, or the beauty and riches that surround him and afford him the opportunity to swim through private pools all the way home. As the day wears on and a storm clouds above, his mood darkens, as do the demeanors of the people in the backyards he swims through. He grows tired; the water is not as familiar. Finally, he arrives at an empty house, his own, long abandoned and his family nowhere to be found.


Poor Barb. Image via http://www.strangerthings.wikia.com

It’s telling that Cheever chose the pool as his main character’s conveyance when he needed a symbol mercurial enough to change completely over the course of the story. On a summer day, the pool is the 4th of July and sharks and minnows, a stand-in for the school cafeteria where you might glimpse the beaded back of an upperclassmen as he squints at the sun. As with most hallmarks of American culture, once the lights dim and the hot dogs have been taken off the grill, an eeriness descends. Barb in Stranger Things didn’t fall into the Upside Down through a trampoline, is all I’m saying. There is something enamoring, strange, and special about the pool. Everything is clear, but everything is murky.


5 Summer Drink Recipes for People Who Are Already Drunk

You don’t have to be a mixologist or own the “correct” ingredients or be fully “sober” in order to come up with a creative summer cocktail.

by Gabrielle Sierra

You don’t have to be a mixologist or own the “correct” ingredients or be fully “sober” in order to come up with a creative summer cocktail. You are a strong and confident member of this community, and damn it you can replace club soda with tonic and lime juice with milk if you want to! So whether you like your booze in a martini glass or out of a paper bag, these five “mixed” drinks are sure to fit your every warm-weather whim no matter what you have handy.

Garden of Earthly Delights

Ingredients: Mint snatched from your neighbor’s yard, rum, club soda, ice

Steal the mint and shove it into a cheap bottle of rum. Store the bottle for a few days and make sure to tell everyone about how you infuse things now because you are classy and take advantage of fresh summer herbs. Retrieve the bottle while hosting a barbeque and realize the rum turned brown. Play it off like you meant it to be brown and anyone who thinks it looks gross just isn’t earthy enough. Make a loud toast to Mother Earth and cast a sharp eye at Debbie who clearly hates the earth because she is refusing to drink your cocktail.

The Beach Towel

Ingredients: Warm vodka, a splash of warm iced tea, suntan lotion rim

Enjoy this delightful beverage at the beach after you realize that the beer stand only takes cash and you don’t have any cash but you do have a water bottle half-filled with vodka and a few sips left from a can of Arizona iced tea. Bonus points if you just applied sunscreen all over your face and it transfers to the sandy rim of your bottle to capture that perfect summer flavor. Cheers to you, you clever bathing beauty.

Summer Sangria

Ingredients: Back-of-the-fridge white wine, rum, apples, canned fruit (drained)

Hey, there is an open bottle of wine back here! It smells okay, what do you think? Eh, yeah I wouldn’t drink that, but I bet we can make sangria with it! What goes in sangria? We have an apple I’ll add that. Yeah just pour in the rum, I don’t think we have to measure. Oh, we have no other fresh fruit. Hey here is a jar of fruit cocktail! That will work, right? Let’s drain it first though, we aren’t savages. Shit, no one filled up the ice trays. Oh well, I am sure it will be fine.

The August Night Margarita

Ingredients: Tequila, old bottled lime juice, tonic, salt rim

It is midnight and you and your friends are ready to go out and enjoy the hot summer night but everyone wants one more drink. You search your fridge and pantry for the margarita mix you could have sworn was in there but after realizing you don’t have any you decide that tonic water should do the trick. Pour in a bunch of that sticky sweet juice you found in that lime-shaped plastic bottle because maybe that will make it taste more like a margarita. Sprinkle salt around the edge and serve with a flourish. Bottoms up, you genius.

Watermelon Crush

Ingredients: Vodka, fresh watermelon

Chop up that half of a delicious sweet watermelon you found at the store and place it in a bowl. Pour vodka over the top. Keep pouring. Store the watermelon in the fridge for a day and then serve to your family for a light treat. It tastes like pure vodka and now everyone is drunk. Keep eating pieces until your mother’s judgmental gaze and teenaged cousin’s vomiting fades into a thick beautiful summer fog and all you remember is your great contribution to this year’s family reunion.    

6 Episodes of “Sex and the City” That Made This Millennial Cringe

Binge-watching the HBO show in this current political climate, it’s impossible to ignore the glaring missteps the creators took.

By Saira Khan

I’m about two-thirds through rewatching the “Sex and the City.” And boy, do I have some thoughts. 

Look, I know much has been written and said about the problematic things in this show. So why do I keep rewatching, you ask? Because it makes me laugh, and it makes me cry. It’s a damn good show. But I do find myself shaking my head at the same things every time I rewatch it (like how every brown person on this fucking show has a goddamn accent). And in the current political environment–when we are more alert than ever about identity, casual racism, and internalized misogyny–it’s impossible to ignore the glaring missteps “Sex and the City” took. And so, I made you a list of a few episodes that absolutely do not stand the test of time.

As a way to ease into this journey, let’s take a moment to gawk at Carrie’s fucking Allah necklace. Let’s add this to the long list of Things You’ll Never See on TV Again At Least Until Ivanka Trump Is President. On one hand I’m like, “O.K., breathe,” (it was the past, we’ve come a long way since then), on the other I’m screaming “APPROPRIATION!!”


Moving on.

All plot lines courtesy Wikipedia.

“Politically Erect,” Season 3, Episode 2.

Plot line: Carrie wonders if there can be sex without politics, while Miranda and Steve assess their level of commitment.

Essential Quote: “I always vote for candidates according to their looks.” -Samantha

Every episode of “Sex and the City” fails the Bechdel test but this one is especially atrocious. We all have friends with whom we talk about sex and our love interests…but we also talk about race, social justice, movies, books, and, yes, politics! Not only does this episode make it seem like women are incapable of talking about anything other than men, Samantha proudly proclaims that she votes for the president based on how attractive he is. Sigh. The fact that our current President is a former reality-TV show host and that 53% of white women voted for him is not lost on me.

“Boy, Girl”: Season 3, Episode 4

Plot line: Carrie’s new love interest turns out to be bisexual; Charlotte’s male alter ego is unleashed; Miranda feels suffocated by Steve.

Essential Quote: “I’m not even sure bisexuality exists. I think it’s just a layover on the way to Gay Town.” -Carrie

I hate everything about this episode.

Let’s start with Carrie. How is it that a fucking sex columnist doesn’t understand bisexuality? What? She seems 100 years old,  going above and beyond to be awkward and judgmental. Fuck off, Carrie. Sorry (not sorry) there’s a glitch in your white heteronormative matrix. But also, fuck off everyone. Please watch the conversation below and cringe in horror with me.

“No Ifs, Ands or Butts”: Season 3, Episode 35

Plot line: Carrie’s smoking becomes a problem when she goes on her first date with Aidan Shaw. Miranda makes more time for Steve in her life. Charlotte dates the worst kisser she’s ever met. Samantha dates a black man whose sister is prejudiced.

Essential quote: It’s not black talk, it’s African American talk” -Samantha

Oh boy. Holy crap. This episode feels more unreal every time I watch it. The show, which premiered in 1998, came on the heels of “Seinfeld” and “Friends.” In her book “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” Issa Rae describes this new era of TV and the erasure of people of color:

…as the decade made way for the new millennium, cable exploded with its own original content and film studios began to obsess over international box office sales. Somewhere along the line, we became unrelatable and invisible to the Hollywood system. Our images and diverse portrayals just weren’t worth the dollars and effort anymore. The images I had grown so accustomed to seeing slowly disappeared, and it seemed to happen all at once.”

People of color were reduced from being protagonists to propsonly seen in the background, on the street, rarely speaking? This may explain why we see few POCs on “Sex and the City” but it sure as hell doesn’t explain how the first actual role black people had on the show involved bigotry against whites. Are you fucking kidding me? And for the record, just because a bunch of white people say they don’t think something is racist doesn’t mean it isn’t fucking racist.

From the way she speaks, to the way she dresseseverything about Samantha in this episode is total bullshit.

“Cock a Doodle Doo”: Season 3, Episode 18

Plot line: Carrie meets with Big for the first time since his marriage ended. Miranda gets frustrated when she thinks the Chinese take-out girl mocks her stay-at-home lifestyle. Charlotte moves back into her old apartment and gets an up-lifting visit from Trey in the middle of the night. Samantha feuds with the raucous transsexual prostitutes who conduct business outside her apartment at two in the morning.

Essential Quote: “I am paying a fortune to live in a neighborhood that’s trendy by day and tranny by night.” -Samantha

Talk about transphobic. I know this show was written in the early 2000s, but shit. Watching this now, I cringe so hard at the language they use to talk about trans women. In fact, it’s so shitty I don’t even want to get into it. Just watch the clip. And by the way, you know they ended this episode? With Samantha inviting the ladies she’s trash talking to a rooftop party to drink flirtinis!!! We can all go to bed happy now.

“The Agony and the ‘Ex’-tacy”: Season 4, Episode 1

Plot line: Carrie thinks about men and the future when no one shows up for her birthday party. Miranda confronts her married friends about her single life. Charlotte tries to deal with her separation from Trey. Samantha tries to seduce a celibate monk.

Essential Quote: “How old are you? Look, you don’t have to give an exact number; pick a box… Thirty to thirty-five, thirty-five to forty, forty to forty-five. Really? Forty to forty-five.” -Carrie

I have one qualm with this episode. Carrie dated Mr. Big for two years and had an affair with him and yet, SHE DOESN’T KNOW HOW OLD HE IS? No, I don’t buy it. What kind of bizarre relationship is this? Who doesn’t know how old their significant other is? I get it if you just met but two years? Get out of here.

“Baby, Talk Is Cheap,” Season 4, Episode 6

Plot line: Charlotte and Trey (Kristin Davis, Kyle MacLachlan) agree to take an important step together; Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is reunited with an old love.

Essential Quote: “Oh my God, he’s online! Can he see me?” -Carrie

How in the world does Carrie not understand how the internet works? Can he see me? Really? This scene just adds to how stupid the show makes women look. Fast forward, please.  

Given the attention this show has been paid, this is far from a comprehensive list. But I’d love to hear from you about your more recent “uh..what?” moments when revisiting Sex and the City. If you have any episodes or scenes that you find especially problematic, e-mail me at saira@highstrung.com. Now, back to binge-watching!

I’m Sorry, What?: The Shortcomings of Foreign Language Education in the U.S.

Examining the American education system through Spanish class failure.

by Gabrielle Sierra

My name is Gabrielle and I am a monolinguist.

I speak English and only English, (unless Brooklyn-accent slang has recently been accepted as an official language,) and I really hate having to admit it.

I took Spanish courses in school, but, like many American kids and teens, I only learned as much as I needed in order to pass exams. My motivation for learning another language was so low that I didn’t even think to take advantage of speaking Spanish with my Puerto Rican father. As soon as I had completed the minimum requirements for New York City I said “adios” to everything I had learned, and now live with tremendous regret.

When I look back, I can’t help but wonder; would I have walked away so easily had I known, really known, how incredibly important it is to expand beyond your own native language? To communicate with others, to learn about different cultures, and most importantly, to correctly order and enjoy a coffee or beer in another country?

According to a 2015 article in The Atlantic, less than 1 percent of adults in the U.S. are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in school. This may be because the U.S. does not have a national requirement that students learn a foreign language at all and many educational institutions begin language studies far too late in the game.

The number of K-12 students enrolled in foreign-language courses between 2007-2008 was 8.9 million students just 18.5 percent of all K-12 public school kids, according to a survey published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

Martha Abbott, the Executive Director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, recently stressed the need to view language instruction as a mandatory part of the American education system while speaking at a June 2017 panel.

“We need to start early and stay long,” Abbott said. “We often say we need to make sure that languages are included in the school curricula just the way math is. If you told a parent, oh, your child isn’t going to start learning math until eighth grade, I think we’d have a revolution on our hands. That’s what happens with languages. You really don’t have the opportunity in most cases to learn a language until middle school. ”

According to a 2012 report from Eurostat, in most European countries, it is compulsory that children begin learning their first foreign language between six- and nine years old. In Belgium and in Spain, preschool students start learning a foreign language as early as three years old.

Perhaps this is why English is spoken in over 101 countries and is the most studied foreign language in the world. Over 1.5 billion English-language learners across the globe have allowed me (and English speakers like me) to rely on other people’s bilingualism instead of pursuing my own.

Can we skate by in many circumstances with nothing more than Google translate and an apologetic smile? Sure. But learning just the surface words of a language is not only shortchanging us for obvious things like travel and job options, but it’s also keeping us from really delving into other cultures and histories.

A 2017 study conducted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences came to a similar conclusion, stressing that it was crucial to work on partnerships that would encourage students to “learn languages by experiencing other cultures and immersing themselves in languages as they are used in everyday interactions across all segments of society.”

That means opportunities like study abroad and participating in exchange programs are crucial in this process, often providing students with their first real taste of another culture. (Unless you are like me, who studied abroad in Australia, and only learned to say “no worries”.) It is this level of comfort and exposure that allows people to speak from a place of understanding versus snap judgement from afar.

Unfortunately, only 7 percent of U.S. college students are enrolled in a language course. That means that not only are we forgetting everything we learned, but we also don’t give ourselves the opportunity to dive back in and really advance.

A study by The Modern Language Association of America found that in 2013, the ratio of undergraduates that enrolled in introductory Spanish language courses as opposed to advanced Spanish language courses was 5:1. More extreme still, the ratio of American Sign Language introductory enrollments to advanced were 9:1, and the ratio of Italian introductory course enrollments to advanced was 11:1.

The U.S. education system’s approach to foreign language instruction also trickles down in yet another crucial way; a lack of people interested in becoming foreign-language teachers.

“There is not an adequate supply,” Abbott said during the June panel. “The states report every year to the Department of Education their shortages in teachers by subject areas. And for 2016-17, this current school year, 44 states plus the District of Columbia said they had a language teacher shortage.”

Of course changing that attitude is easier said than done, especially in the face of possible education cuts. Language classes are often the first to be removed from schools when budgets need to be tightened. Title VI grants and Foreign Language Assistance Programs also face cuts in funding on a regular basis. In fact, we may see language courses drop even lower on the priority scale sooner rather than later under the Trump administration.

In a world where we are all striving to be connected, woke, and hip to the latest news, this self-made American language barrier feels all the more shocking. I try to remain hopeful that the next generation of digitally-minded American students will recognize the importance of global understanding and connectivity through language far more than I did. That they will appreciate and push for the language learning opportunities to arrive and remain as a staple of the U.S. curriculum.

As for me, I just downloaded Duolingo and have been embarrassingly pronouncing words aloud in Spanish during my commute, so it is never too late.

We Asked, You Answered: Lost in Translation

We all know learning a new language is hard. It can also be humiliating, rewarding, alienating, and exhilarating. We asked all you bi-, tri-, and multi-lingual speakers out there for your experience and advice!

By The Editors

What’s the one spelling you never get right, no matter how fluent you are?

Acommodation, accommodation, accomodation?

Beautiful — it has to do with the three vowels together


Complementary/complimentary, this/these


None on my iPhone 🙂



I’m a very good speller. I think being multilingual generally makes you better at languages.

What’s the most embarrassing mistake you made when you were first learning a new language?

I’ll keep on repeating the (wrong) answer more and more animatedly, and feel more and more irritated for not getting the expected reaction to what I’ve said. Then it’ll turn out I misunderstood the question in the first place..

Not being able to use the words witch and which correctly comes to mind.

My first language is English, but this didn’t stop me from saying “standing novation” instead of “standing ovation” for the better part of my life. I was in my early teens when I realized my mistake — I loudly commented that the word “novation” was spelled wrong in one of those quizzes they show at the movies. My friends had a ball with that one.

In Romanian “pussi’ means kiss.

While learning Catalan in Barcelona, I referred to an exam I took as my ‘ex-lover’ due to a mispronunciation. The choice of words and my phrasing translated what I said to “Yesterday I got f***ed hard by an ‘ex-lover.'”

Early on I didn’t know there was a difference in pronunciation of v and w. So vice versa became wice wersa.

Asking for a kitten, instead of chicken at a restaurant.

What’s a word from your native tongue that just can’t be translated into English? How would you define it?

I find it’s more often expressions that are hard to translate. The English language is so rich in words.

Frekja (Icelandic) – (ed. note: Google translates this to “bitch” which it is NOT, more so a difficult, disagreeable, argumentative person)

German: schadenfreude (happiness at someone’s misfortune) , Romanian: dor (longing for someone you miss very much)

Tapas. You guys got the concept all wrong.

Taarof (Farsi) – (ed. note: a term describing social etiquette in Iranian culture; think of it as excessive southern hospitality where guests are offered food incessantly and relatives won’t stop fighting over who pays the bill)

Nenna (Icelandic) – a verb meaning you don’t want to, have the desire to, too lazy to, too tired too – it means all of it at the same time

Duglegur (Icelandic) – a common adjective meaning hardworking, diligent, but more as a personality trait than a description of action

To’borneh: Lebanese dialect of Arabic that means “may you bury me.” It’s a sign of affection – moms love to use it.

What’s the best piece of advice you have for people learning a new language?

Get comfortable with giving up on your well-chiseled grownup identity. You won’t be able to be funny or clever for a while, so try to channel your inner two-year-old.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, it is the nature of the beast.

Speak it with as many people as you can and don’t be embarrassed to make mistakes.
Don’t give up!

Embrace embarrassment and you will be unstoppable.

Listen to NPR.

Do a little bit every day, and make it fun — if you like music, then listen to music in your target language and study the lyrics, watch foreign movies, read foreign magazines or websites, change the language on your computer.

Let go and learn (as you go).

Alcohol is your friend.

Revisiting the Movie “Stepmom”

A play-by-play of the 1998 film, starring Julia Roberts post-“Pretty Woman” and Susan Sarandon pre-Bernie Sanders. Watch with us.


By Frida Oskarsdottir

For those of you who don’t know, “Stepmom” is a 1998 film starring Julia Roberts post-“Pretty Woman” and Susan Sarandon pre-Bernie Sanders. I was 11 when it came out and probably watched it ten times over the next few years. I think I was finally at the age where I could appreciate a good weepy movie and I cried Every. Single. Time. It’s been a few years since then, so I figured it was time to take a look with fresh eyes at a movie that allegedly dives headfirst into divorce, family dynamics, and death, but also has a montage of dancing using hair brushes as microphones and a LOT of horseback riding. So, here I am at the ripe old age of 30 taking another look. Won’t you watch with me?

Fun fact: if you google “Watch ‘Stepmom,’” the 1998 family drama does NOT come up first, but a lot of other “close looks” at “family relationships” do!

We open on a shimmery New York City, quiet before the dawn as a super cool radio DJ narrates that he’s about to play a great record for us. I feel like there are 15 movies from the ’80’s-’90’s that start with this exact introduction. If this were 2017, it would be a podcast.

“Under Pressure” plays and I think solemnly about Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. Miss you guys!


Cut to a flouncy-banged Julia Roberts waking up and smiling for no reason because it’s just so great to wake up in the morning (?) before frantically realizing it’s 7:44 am and she’s LATE and rushing around the house with a scrunchie in her hair.


She’s yelling names like “Ben!” and you think, oh my does this young blonde-ish waif, in what appears to be the largest apartment in Manhattan, have CHILDREN?! But she’s so beautiful!?

She runs into Ben’s room and is startled to find he’s not there, then heads to another bedroom on a different floor of the same apartment (in this fantasy, apartments have many floors) to find a creature of sarcasm (Anna, played by Jena Malone) going OFF about Purple Shirt Day and how Julia Roberts forgot to wash her Purple Shirt:


In case we weren’t sure, Julia is STRESSED – “Under Pressure” keeps blaring and toast pops forcefully out of the toaster – EGAD – Ben is located and Julia wrestles him to the ground in attempt to dress him, Anna keeps sulking, and then…


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Susan Sarandon, just a few years after being one saucy half of Thelma and Louise, is straight up wearing high-waisted khakis and a canary yellow cardigan DRAPED OVER HER SHOULDERS; GOOD GOD, MAN.

She could not be cooler or calmer and Julia Roberts is a literal Cathy comic right now, which I kind of find hard to believe given her general demeanor. Can you frazzle Julia Roberts? Anyway, now the audience knows that, thank god, Julia has never given birth because, I mean, look at her. Also we learn that Julia Roberts’ name is Isabel because Susan goes “I’ll take it from here, Isabel” and Julia is all “I’m sure you will, Jackie.” A-plus storytelling, really.

P.S. Jackie remembered Purple Shirt Day, she is really out-moming herself

Jackie takes the kids to school in her mommy SUV and manages to mock Isabel in front of her children while also negging Anna when she does the same thing – so, in order to be a good mom you have to be a master manipulator? Noted.

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Cut to Isabel on set of a fast-paced, New York City photoshoot complete with 80 kinds of fruit trays, bright lights, and not an autumn hue in sight – this is how we know she is a Childless Woman with a Real Job, and that job is being the most high-powered photographer of all time. She takes a single polaroid and then DEMANDS THE DIGITAL CAMERA RIGHT NOW. She has a genius idea of shooting the models in a non-traditional way and then says “that’s a wrap everybody” after roughly 2 minutes.

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Uh oh, but Isabel is in hot water because she was late and didn’t shoot very long and her boss is nervous in front of…the investors? The board? There are like 30 People in Suits milling about who seem to be really interested in this single photo shoot. This tension proves to us that in order to be successful you must first and foremost have no children, because children make you late. Thank god this has only happened to Isabel once and her boss is willing to look the other way – I’m sure it won’t happen again or become a central theme of the movie.  

At one point, Isabel makes a joke about her boss hiring her even though she wouldn’t sleep with him but LOL dude is literally wearing an homage to Elton John, but I guess this is the 90’s.

Isabel runs to edit her genius photos on the first Macintosh computer invented:

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Finally, her brilliant idea is presented to the clients. First, the men say they like it and then the only woman jumps on board and agrees in a super progressive, very cool way. Cue Julia Roberts’ Million Watt Smile!

Later at a parent teacher conference we meet DAD played by Ed Harris, whose beeper goes off immediately but he’s all “I won’t get that” and you can see in Jackie’s eyes that no sir this is not the first time that beeper has gone off. A pattern emerges wherein the audience realizes that if you have a job (re: Dad and Isabel) you do not get to love your children or any children but you do get to roll in the dough and buy clothes for yourself that aren’t yellow, unlike Jackie.


The reason Dad and Jackie are meeting with the school is that little Anna has been spreading QUITE the rumor that her parents are getting remarried and moving to Switzerland (the scamp!). But what could she be acting out about?

Don’t worry, as becomes apparent throughout the rest of the movie there is literally nothing this family can’t handle with a heart-to-heart chat! All conversations take place in their mansion in a faraway land called “Outside the City,” in a kitchen designed by Beatrix Potter. After her mom looks at her for approximately one second in the eyes, Anna realizes the error of her ways and basically self-therapists herself: “I guess if I just said it out loud I thought it might come true.” How old is this freak supposed to be again? The most well-adjusted 12-year-old of all time.


Anna comes to this conclusion while working on her watercolors (as 12-year-olds do) as her brother reaches Peak Precociousness practicing his magic routine – quick question, have the creators of this film ever seen a family?


No, no they haven’t. This child is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy.

Later in a different, sleek, city-slicker kitchen, Dad and Isabel have some sexy kissing time and there’s a super funny joke about Isabel not liking to cook because duh she’s a HIGH POWERED CAREER WOMAN GOD DAMNIT how can she cook with all the photos that need taking?!

Dad ruins sexy time by bringing up the kids – yawn – and Isabel gets annoyed he doesn’t trust her. This is a good time to point out that to date Isabel’s crimes against humanity are:

  • Waking up late
  • Not washing the Purple Shirt

As their discussion gets more heated the phone keeps ringing but the person calling is hanging up. Finally Isabel answers, “What is your problem asshole?” and the caller turns out to be Anna, who in five minutes went from mature watercolor angel to bratty stepchild and goes, “YOU ARE MY PROBLEM.” ZING. Then Isabel goes “Call your daughter,” and they reconcile and she goes “Lol don’t fight with me when I’m hungry,” even though she totally just called his kid an asshole?? Isn’t that kind of a big deal??

Sidebar: I still wish I owned basically everything Julia Roberts wears in this movie – it is ’90’s gold. These white baggy pants, have I died and gone to Express heaven?


So because everyone in this family hates Isabel so much she gets the kids a puppy. Again, because she dares to exist and date their father THREE YEARS after a divorce, she has to prove her worthiness with a golden retriever. Anna is less than impressed and tells Isabel she smells like a dog; very cool. Obviously, that bandana is going in my look book.


This movie seems to be a series of picking up the kids and dropping them off. The next morning, Anna CAN’T EVEN because she walked in on Isabel and Dad getting it on in the shower (unpictured, stupid PG-13 rating). When Isabel explains to Jackie, she shames her for not having a Harrison family conversation about it (Harrisonation) and Isabel gets to drop the one f-bomb of the movie:

“I’m not June-fucking-Cleaver”

No you aren’t Isabel, this blazer/shirt combo make that crystal clear:


Oh, did you want to know what Jackie is wearing? NO PROB:


Poor Susan Sarandon, we all know what she’s got going on underneath all that squash coloring.

Later, Jackie is toiling over Anna’s custom-made Halloween costume when Anna walks in and says “A hippie? That’s what I wanted to be last month.” As in, “Mom, you created this from me for scratch but I’m changing my mind on a whim” and Jackie JUST GOES WITH IT AND LAUGHS ALONG AS ANNA TELLS HER SHE WANTS TO BE ELVIS HA HA HA YES DARLING I WILL NOW MAKE YOU AN ELVIS COSTUME?!??!?!?! I don’t know if anyone else reading this has a mom but if I had told my mother after she sewed me a couture Halloween costume that I wanted to be something else I wouldn’t have fingers to keep writing this with. Jackie. Get a grip.


Then she has a sex talk with her (re: steamy shower scene that the audience was deprived of) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 12-year-old enjoy talking about sex with her mom so much?? She like begs her to describe it and then says she likes talking to her mom about “stuff”??? WHAT IS HAPPENING?? There is such a thing as TOO well-adjusted.

Next scene, Isabel is shooting another masterpiece in Central Park. Naturally the kids are there because for some reason even though everyone thinks Isabel is completely inept at handling children THEY’RE ALWAYS ALONE WITH HER?!


Because the “light is so good” and other photography reasons, she loses track of the kids and Manic Pixie Boy plus puppy vanish. But it’s fine because in this movie children and puppies alike are instantly found by helpful police officers.

While Jackie yells at Dad about Isabel, Isabel interrupts and goes,“Don’t take this out on him.” FAT CHANCE LADY. I’m pretty sure nobody in this movie plans on blaming anyone but you for anything. “Is it about to rain?? Fucking Isabel.”

Later, Jackie explains again why the family hates Isabel so much (re: how dare she lose my precious baby), this time perched atop a horse in another unbeatable sweater khaki look.


Manic Pixie Ben asks if Isabel makes a lot of money at her job, and Jackie answers “People like Isabel who only think about themselves often do make a great deal of money.” DAMN! Then Pixie goes, “Mommy if you want me to hate her I will.” BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE. JACKIE, YOU ARE PLAYING A DANGEROUS GAME.

She realizes she may be mommy-ing too hard, so when Dad asks her to go easy on Isabel and not call the lawyers she says, “I’m going to give you one last chance,” a line people say all the time outside of movies. 

Back in the Manhattan photo-loft, everyone is making art and wearing black. Isabel and her Elton John boss are fawning over her photos while listening to pop music and discussing cosmopolitan things with this going on in the background, because photography:


The phone rings and turns out Perfect Mom forgot to pick up the kids I mean who can you trust in this movie? To her boss’s dismay, Isabel rushes out because she cares about these kids more than literally anything. I’m beginning to think she’s only going out with Dad to get to hang out with the kids? This movie should be called “Who Loves The Kids Most: Not Dad.” Anyway, Isabel goes to pick them up and pretends like SHE’S the one who forgot the kids since she doesn’t want them to be mad at mom, what a damn hero.

But SURPRISE! Out of nowhere JACKIE SHOWS UP, barely glances at Isabel, doesn’t thank her, and takes her precious angels home to roost. Later, Jackie scoffs when Isabel asks her if she can take Anna to a Pearl Jam concert. If you’re keeping track, now we’re on Isabel’s side.

BUT NOT FOR LONG because like in any movie where our sympathy for the characters starts to wane, enter Cancer:

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So Jackie invites Dad to dinner to tell him she’s sick but before she does he says HE has news (oh, Dad, you rascal) and that he’s going to ask for Isabel’s hand in marriage. Wait, they weren’t married yet? Why the hell is she raising his children? Jackie is all “her?” and he’s like “she’s special” and Jackie hits him with this face:


Jackie is such a babe in this scene, her eyes are all cancer-crying-shiny. Anyway, then she doesn’t tell him. Asking someone to dinner specifically to tell them something and then saying “Oh, it was nothing” is something that happens explicitly in movies. This has never happened in real life. What do you do for the rest of the meal?

Cue Engagement scene: Dad is really ahead of the times with this elaborate but tasteful proposal (no flashmob) wherein he tricks Isabel with this:

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But then makes a metaphor about strings and relationships and I wasn’t really listening and then BLAM:

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Isabel is IN. TO. IT.

Anna, not so much:


She’s child acting her little heart out when she hears the news, very rage-ful, very teary. However, after another perfect five-minute family discussion she decides she’s cool with it because otherwise everyone will be sad. Manic Pixie Son is cool with it, too. These kids are TOO MATURE. You know the trope of casting 30-year-olds to play teenagers in “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Saved by the Bell”? This is exactly the opposite of that.

Then Isabel and Anna have a small bonding moment because Anna is having a hard time with her watercolors (normal 12-year-old problems) and everything seems to be wrapping up nicely – EXCEPT that they bond over drawing more realistic trees but do these look like realistic trees to you??


Also, Isabel said she learned the technique after taking “an art class when she was at N.Y.U.,” Uh…ok Isabel, I guess you just happened to learn that one specific tree-realifying method. REAL CONVENIENT. Also these are her pants:


*Kisses fingers* Perfection.

During a classic car sing-a-long (I’m telling you 96% of this movie takes place in a car), Anna puts on some of Isabel’s lipstick. When she gets home, Jackie goes “Well, you don’t ordinarily see that color on in the afternoon except for on working girls!” DUDE do you have a professional joke writer? This is fire. Isabel gives her this look, and this hat:



But since this movie can’t make up its mind and insists on making its characters complex we’re BACK TO SYMPATHIZING with Jackie as she starts her chemo treatment. She gets weepy on the phone at the hospital with Pixie Magician and suddenly, it’s kind of dusty in here. Anyway, next scene.

Later Pixie Ben is injured after falling off the jungle gym and Isabel is hanging with him at the hospital, and he says “Will you sing to me? My mommy always sings to me when I’m hurt,” which is really too cute, but then Isabel straight up HAS A MOMENT with this little kid staring him in the eyes singing Emmy Lou Harris. He just scraped his leg, you don’t have to get so intimate.


But really:


No woman has ever loved children this much. I don’t think this is what Ben bargained for when he asked for a song.

Jackie walks in and this is where the movie takes a turn from bitchy to sad – I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this charade up of mocking it. 

Moving on, Sharon Stone smoking a doobie in her leaf-strewn garden wearing a beret is everything I want to be. Also, yes, I typed Sharon Stone and I don’t even care.


She deserves to smoke some pot and enjoy her garden in her brown getup. Because she has cancer, sure, but also because she has not one friend outside of her bi-polar kids, ex-husband, and his fiancé? Thing are tough for Jackie.

Pixie is home from his friend Tucker’s birthday party and runs out of the car wearing a problematic Native American headdress. Tucker’s mom, I’m putting you on blast!


Isabel does some espionage looking through Jackie’s mail and figures out she’s sick. This is in all sincerity some excellent acting between two gifted ladies and makes me miss when actors acted. Their outerwear is also, as always, on point.

Now that the cat’s out of the bag it’s time for, you guessed it, another Harrison Family Meeting. When they tell the kids that Mom has cancer Anna’s reaction is to scream “I COULD NEVER BELIEVE YOU AGAIN,” and “MOM’S DYING ISABEL IS OUR MOTHER NOW,” but then 6-8 minutes later this is them:


Now it’s Thanksgiving! Because it’s 1998 we see more problematic Native American costumes and a familiar Pilgrim narrative, and because I am an insane person, I recognized a cameo of Susan Sarandon’s daughter in this scene. For those of you watching at home see if you can spot her! It’s fine, I’m seeking help for my celebrity obsession, moving on. 

Suddenly Isabel and Jackie are best buds? They’re gossiping about Anna’s torrid affair with THIS GUY:


Honestly, you should watch this movie just for this scene and the genuinely hilarious description of what it’s like to “go out” with someone in the 6th grade. Anyway, Blonde Face BROKE UP with Anna in front of everyone after two weeks of going out and she is humiliated. 

Later, she asks her mom for advice and she tells her to take the high road and ignore him. Solid Mom tips from a solid Mom in a solid sweater:


So at this point, if the question was am I going to cry even though this movie is pretty ridiculous – like, where is Dad? – the answer is yes. Because it snows and Jackie gets introspective and takes Anna horseback riding in the snow in the middle of the night in a perfect Cool Yuppie Mom move. I wept. I’m also going to skip over a lot of the cute sweet stuff because my shriveled heart can’t handle it. If you watch, you’ll know. 


Speaking of weeping, Isabel doesn’t cry when her boss FIRES HER for dating a guy with kids, basically. She does wear this hat though. 


Anyway, she loses her job and that is the last we hear about it for the entirety of the movie. Like, her career is gone so now her transformation into Stepmom is almost complete? Great!

So turns out Jackie’s advice didn’t quite work out because Anna is crying because Blonde Face called her “Frosty the Snow Bitch.” Isabel offers to help and Anna gets in one last jab before their bond is solidified. Whew, good because I think the movie is ending soon so we better wrap up all these loose ends and decide who likes who now. 

So Isabel of Genius Ideas comes up with a Genius Revenge Idea for Blonde Face, namely teaching her a bunch of cruel things to say to him and then hiring a male model to meet Anna out in front of school and pretend to be her boyfriend. I’ll admit I still think this is pretty bad ass, although like many things it’s now completely infeasible since the Internet exists.

Other thoughts I have about this whole scenario now that I’m an adult include how young Anna is, like, Jesus Isabel chill out you’re making her say the words LIMP DICK! This is one of those cool things in theory but IRL if your stepmom was like “lol ‘I’m gonna hire a male model to pretend to be your boyfriend,” you’d be like “uhhh Linda lay off the Bailey’s, ha ha where’s Dad?”

So, the hiring a male model and shaming your ex scene unfolds perfectly. Anna, flanked by her girl squad, delivers the perfect monologue with just enough swearing to be edgy (she says ass).


Blonde face reacts accordingly:


This kid has the worst friends ever – his ex-girlfriend humiliates him and they just laugh and laugh. Actually, I guess that’s par for the course in middle school. OK, well done.

Oh, did you want to know what 1998 deemed the hottest fantasy dude to play the role of hired hunky teen? Wonder no more!


OF COURSE this Twilight extra is wearing a beige turtleneck. Clean up on aisle 4, right ladies?? Anyway, Anna killed it. All is well. Or is it?

Not in this movie! Jackie is MAD because Isabel taught her angel not to take the high road. There are words exchanged, meaning a heated argument which basically boils down to who really loves Anna most. But five minutes later they make up with a real love fest at the neighborhood restaurant and I fully admit my face looked a lot like theirs during this scene.


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Minus the pillowy lips and perfect skin, obviously. They’re just SUCH GOOD ACTRESSES and I know this entire live-blogging experience has been an exercise in irony but I am being completely serious. Also why are these two characters having this meaningful conversation about the future of the children after Jackie’s death without the other half of the kids’ biological parent? WHERE IS DAD?! He showed up at one point a few scenes ago to put up a Christmas tree for Jackie and gives her a shiny-eyed stare and I guess that’s it? Meanwhile Isabel is literally POURING HER SOUL OUT TO HER and they aren’t even MARRIED YET. If you’re keeping track: women feel things, men put up Christmas trees.

If you’ve seen “Stepmom” as many times as I have then you probably remember the last few scenes: they are meant to gut your insides and they succeed. I kept putting off watching the ending of the movie because I knew it would get me good, I mean look at these:



Jackie sticks around on planet Earth for a final family picture and Isabel sits next to her wearing what is the first primary color of her entire life. She is: Stepmom.





How 3 New TV Shows Get F*cking Right

How “Insecure,” “Fleabag” and “Chewing Gum” get messy, dimpled, and quite often un-sexy sex right.

By Frida Oskarsdottir


According to everyone writing about it, we are in the Golden Age of Television™. TV has gotten smarter, more diverse, andbest of all for us slutty monogamists who are forced to sleep around through otherssexier. Networks like HBO have always been able to spice it up a little more than cable, but in the last few years there has been a unanimous push to portray sex as it really ismessy, dimpled, and quite often un-sexy. We also see much more of sex and intimacy from women’s points of view, and not just women searching for lovesometimes it’s just women searching for the D.

These forays come as a welcome corrective to the good ol’ “women with completely symmetrical breasts and very few speaking lines orgasming in 45 seconds despite being in extremely uncomfortable positions” trope (“Sopranos,” I love you endlessly but I’m looking at you). There will always be the soft lens, sensual lovemaking followed by both parties’ private bits strategically covered with clean linen sheets. There will always be the overly ecstatic gasps despite what appears to be minimal clitoral stimulation. But there will also be honest-to-god cellulite, repositioning, and sweat that isn’t dewy. Variety is good.

In thinking about my favorite TV shows of the past year, I realized how uniquely and creatively sex was used as a plot device and sometimes even a secondary character. I put some of these recent binges (sorry not sorry that they’re all female-led) through the sex-machine to explore the role f*cking plays in each through a few select moments.


“Insecure” (HBO): There’s a lot to love about Issa’s world. The men are smoking hot, the women are flawed and complex, and the music is always on point. Issa is so often in her mind that much of the show’s portrayal of sexuality is through her fantasies. This might be why when she does finally hook up with the one-that-got-away-with-his-8-pack it is essentially a real life wet dream, complete with slow thrusts and an almost unbelievably toned butt (CGI?). The scene itself is a more traditional Hollywood-version of sex, but in the context of the show it works just right as a way of portraying her temptation. The penultimate scene of Season 1 parallels this, when Lawrence finally gives into his demons with a flirty bank teller in retaliation against Issa. The sex itself is basically porn — all tennis grunts and “daddy’s” — but the viewer can’t help but feel his pain while watching it.

Another stand-out scene follows Issa’s best friend, Molly, as she decides she just can’t stick with nice-guy Jared despite their obvious chemistry. Her discomfort with his previous sexual experiences with men comes to a head (wink, wink) while he’s going down on her. The camera angle and his bobbing allow Molly to see exactly what a man might see when receiving fellatio, and it’s all a bit too much. It’s also riotously funny and somehow a little melancholy at the same time, better known as great TV.


“Fleabag” (Amazon Original): In “Fleabag,” the eponymous protagonist has an active sex life, which could skew young and carefree. Fleabag may be young, but her cares pile up as high as someone who has lived through a lot of tragedies, which we learn she has. Suddenly, boning a guy you just met up against the counter in a restaurant isn’t so spontaneous and quirky; the more you watch, the more sadness imbues her actions until you end up ugly-crying into your mug of wine. Like most of her behavior, her sex is impulsive and occasionally fraught with regret even as it’s happening.

Lika Issa in “Insecure,” Fleabag also has a lively inner monologue which the viewer experiences as spoken aloud even in conversations with others, and even mid-coitus. We learn firsthand exactly what she’s thinking before, during, and after sex because she tells us, or sometimes, asks us, “Do I have a massive arsehole?”


“Chewing Gum” (Channel 4; Netflix): Tracey, the 24-year-old cashier and enthusiast of basically everything, is one of my favorite TV characters from the last 5 years. She’s so RAW. Given that the media’s portrayal of older virgins is often as pathetic, neutered puritans, Tracey’s horniness for life is as refreshing as it is hysterical. Her manic curiosity about sexuality is unleashed in Episode 1, when she is mercifully dumped by her gay Christian boyfriend. She takes control of her own destiny with the cute guy down the way with the help of a more experienced friend and, of course, Beyoncé. Following her friend’s advice to “sit on his face,” Tracey forgets to first take off her pants and underwear. This could be a metaphor for the rest of the season. Oh, Tracey, never change.

Virginity continues to play a role throughout the series in anything but typical fashion. While Tracey is eager to jump over what she sees as a hurdle to sexual liberation, she plays by her own rules, seeking reciprocal pleasure rather than simply penetration. One of the better — although admittedly hard to watch — scenes includes her, cutie Connor, and a “Unicorn” called Sasha, plucked from a threesome app in an attempt to help Connor see Tracey as a sexual being ready to bloom. What ensues with Sasha isn’t what they had in mind, but it does lead to an important moment between Tracey and Connor that allows Tracey to put herself and her desires at the forefront of their intimacy, traditional sex roles be damned.

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Revisiting the Sex Scenes of Our Pasts

Do these scenes stand the test of time? Are they actually sexy, or just sexy to a 12-year-old who doesn’t know any better?

By the Editors


As we get older it’s only natural that we ask ourselves important questions. Am I the person I thought I would be? What can I do to make this world a better place? Do the sex scenes I loved as a teenager hold up if I watch them today? We at High-Strung place great value on our ability to address all vital questions in order of importance, so naturally we started with the sex scenes.

There is no doubt that as any red-blooded human you know the scenes we mean. That one moment of a movie you watched over and over, rewinding the tape with anticipation or viciously tapping the arrows on your DVD player until you got it just right. The scene you watched alone in your basement or every weekend with a best friend because it gave you a glimpse into the wonderful and mysterious world of sex.

Do these scenes stand the test of time? Are they actually sexy, or just sexy to a 12-year-old who doesn’t know any better? We decided to revisit our all-time favorite sex scenes and reevaluate them with our now adult eyes. To double down on our reviews we asked our resident youth correspondent and millennial tastemaker, Monica Torres, to pass her judgment on the scenes as well, since she timidly admitted that she had not actually seen most of them in the first place.

The clips are not included, just a screenshot, but beware what you scroll through at work.  This is x-rated, NSFW content. 


“Fear” (1996) starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Wahlberg

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Gabrielle: Leave it to a horror film fanatic to focus her teen lust on a moment in a bad movie about a crazed murdering stalker boyfriend who decapitates a dog. At the time I felt like this scene had everything I loved most: a roller coaster, Mark Wahlberg, and a sexual act that seemed really mysterious and confusing and exciting. Watching it now all I can see is how young they both look and how dangerous and potentially painful it would be to perform this act on a freaking roller coaster. Additionally, the adult in me must insist that they are at an amusement park and therefore there must be children around. Children! I do have to give bonus points for the fact that this is clearly a moment of sexual pleasure and discovery for the female, with most of the focus on her face. Minus points for the creepy pairing of a public teen sex act with a sappy rendition of “Wild Horses” by The Sundays.

Monica: I only watched the trailer to prepare, and I have no plans to watch this movie after seeing this scene of unbelievable sexual acrobatics. The tunes of “Wild Horses” are supposed to make this scene feel romantic, but I felt like there should’ve been horror strings playing for Reese’s vagina. I was deeply concerned for Reese’s cervix on that roller coaster. How could a finger bang on a roller coaster not end badly?! I also don’t buy that she would orgasm in a minute-long ride. Puh-lease.

“Secretary” (2002) starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader
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Gabrielle: I was already eighteen when this movie was released, but my level of fascination with it was still on par with the sex scenes that entranced me as a naive pre-teen. Sadomasochism was certainly not something anyone had gone over in sex education, and Cosmopolitan really dropped the ball on giving us a cohesive “Top Ten Ways to Ask Your Boyfriend to Spank You” list. It helped that I was (and still am) in love with James Spader, so even though I felt slightly confused by the eroticism of “Secretary”, I still swooned every time he was on screen. I would watch this movie late at night because that was the only time it would air on TV, but I never really discussed it with people. Nowadays, with the success of crap books like “Fifty Shades of Grey”, it would seem that sadomasochism is a bit more mainstream, so going back and watching “Secretary” feels a bit less scandalous. I still find it incredibly enjoyable, sexy, and intriguing. But to be fair I never really stopped watching it.

Monica: I wanted to watch the rest of the movie! The spanking scene was hawt and intense, and I noticed that unlike every other sex scene the High-Strung ladies and I watched, we did not talk through this one. His hand possessively cupping her butt over her pencil skirt as she’s bent over a desk is an arresting image. Like, arrest me for my impure thoughts! As a literary nerd, I first learned about this movie from a journal’s article that got nominated for an award this year. “Ladies in Waiting” uses the protagonist of “Secretary” as an example of the lover’s fatal identity: “I am the one who waits.” The article’s author Becca Rothfeld argues that waiting, erotic and otherwise, has long been defined as a feminine activity: Maggie Gyllenhaal as “[t]he figure at the desk, with her tattered wedding dress, her throbbing hunger, her clenched hands, could only have been a woman.” Just giving you all some academic thots to chew over as you watch this scene.

As a child of burgeoning social networks, my introduction to BDSM and orgasm denial was not through this 2002 indie film, but through the more nefarious means of creating a fake username, so I could read explicit stories on adultfanfiction.net that were way above my grade level. Ah, the things we do to discreetly learn about sex!


“Y Tu Mamá También” (2001) starring Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, and Ana López Mercado 

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Frida: Rewatching these scenes again (five altogether – Gael and girlfriend, Diego and girlfriend, Gael and Ana, Diego and Ana, Gael, Diego, and Ana – WHEW) makes me wonder how this movie had time to develop any plot at all considering they take up so much time having sex. I love this movie for so many reasons, not least because it was my first introduction to the work of art that is Gael Garcia Bernal. The sex itself is so integral to the story – you can practically see the hormones oozing out of these two young men and their sexual interactions with women showcase how little control over themselves they have. When they fuck their girlfriends early in the movie – pardon my language but there really isn’t another word for what they’re doing – they can barely get their pants off before they finish, it’s so frenetic and animalistic. Ana tries to get them to slow down a little bit on their own but ultimately it’s the final scene where all three of them come together that actually feels like sex. For me it still completely holds up as a powerful cinematic feat, but as a teenager I just remember feeling VERY HOT AND BOTHERED whenever I put it on (which I did many times).

Monica: Um, I LOVE how Diego and Gael kiss at the end. Only seeing this film through explicit gifsets on Tumblr, I didn’t know the relationships of the film and I am happily surprised that their queerness was not just subtext. Watching Diego Luna in the cinematic masterpiece on sweaty teen dancing, “Dirty Dancing: Habana Nights,” was my introduction to his beauty as a lusty preteen. I’m going to go immediately correct the fact that I haven’t watched this film. Also, unsurprisingly, I’m noticing that all of the clips Gabi, Frida and Saira have chosen focus on female pleasure and I love that.

“Jerry Maguire” (1996) starring Tom Cruise and Kelly Preston 

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Frida: Watching this as an adult I can see the scene actually has an underlying meaning and even humor – it’s supposed to be outrageous and a way to show how unhappy Jerry Maguire was in his fast-paced 90’s power agent life, giving weight to why he ended up with sweet, purse-lipped, cute-kid-having Renee Zellweger. But BOY OH BOY let me tell you when this baby first came out I was SCANDALIZED – they are seriously humping. I’m pretty sure I saw “Jerry Maguire” in theaters and then ended up watching it again at a friend’s house when her progressive parents rented it and invited us to watch it with them (what the fuck, guys?) As I already knew what was coming I calculated my trip to the bathroom at just the right time to ensure that I missed having to sit next to Mr. and Mrs. Whoever while watching the titillation unfold. Still pretty hot though.

Monica: I’m the dog with my head cocked, watching two humans make loud noises. I have seen “Jerry Maguire” multiple times and I have NO recollection of this sex scene. Maybe I only watched the parent-approved censored version? Maybe if I watched this back when it came out, I would’ve thought of Tom Cruise as hot, but now all I see is a fervent scientologist jumping on Oprah’s couch. His soon-to-be-ex in this sex scene is supposed to be a villain, because she’s not always stroking Jerry’s ego: “Jerry, there is a ‘sensitivity’ thing that some people have. I don’t have it. I don’t cry at movies. I don’t gush over babies. I don’t start celebrating Christmas five months early, and I don’t tell a man who just screwed up both of our lives‘oh, poor baby.’” What a hero. Boy bye.


“Blown Away” (1993) starring Corey Haim and Nicole Eggert


Saira: My best friend and I obsessively watched the sex scenes in this horrible movie, starring both the Coreys, which she had on VHS, when we were teens. It took us four years to actually get through the entire film–normally we’d just forward to the “good parts.” Rewatching this for the first time in over 10 years I’m realizing that this is straight up softcore porn, and is probably why we were so obsessed with it. In fact, the only place where I was able to find a clip was on PornHub. From the music to the clothes, the cheap lingerie to the slow-motion thrusting, these sex scenes absolutely do not stand the rest of time. No one has sex like this. No one wants to have sex like this. Also what’s with the dangerous music? And how the hell did my friend have this on VHS?   

Monica: I can’t get over the slo-mo thrusting. It feels like the directors just discovered PowerPoint transitions. I do like how he starts out by focusing on her and giving her oral, but he literally licks her vagina for seconds before moving on.

“Cruel Intentions” (1999) starring Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe

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Saira: In stark contrast to the sex scenes in “Blown Away,” Annette and Sebastian (Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillipe)’s scene always got to me because it’s so sweet and, in my head, felt real. Also the build up to this “lovemaking” was intense. Would they? Wouldn’t they? By the time they finally do it, I felt just as frustrated as Sebastian! Revisiting this with Monica and the team, I have to admit, it still holds up. Sure, no one’s first time is as perfect as this film makes it seem, but hey, it’s Hollywood and decades later Annette and Sebastian’s romantic love-making still makes my heart flutter (just a little). Too bad Ryan turned out to be kind of a jerk in real life though.  

Monica: This is another popular movie I haven’t gotten around to fully watching. But for the record: I was eight when it came out. Later, as a teen who had never been kissed, I definitely remember doing a deep analysis of the kissing scene between Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair, slightly perturbed at how much spit was being exchanged. It didn’t look fun! This scene of sepia-toned lovemaking between Annette and Sebastian does seem like a relatively realistic depiction of how first times usually go: a little pain, a lot of nerves and anticipation into the leadup, and then you’re done with the act itself, but not with how long you’ll be obsessing over it.