The word “icon” might be thrown around a little too liberally, but there really is no other word to describe Emma Thompson. The actress has had a prolific career ranging from a movie adaptation of the Jane Austin classic Sense and Sensibility to family films Nanny McPhee and Saving Mr. Banks. Her latest role in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a big departure from her more kid-friendly roles, though: Thompson plays a widowed mother in her 60s who is determined to have her first orgasm — and has hired a younger sex worker to help her do so.
The film has already garnered favorable reviews from critics since its Hulu streaming debut June 17. Like her character Nancy, Thompson has big feelings on the big O, namely how little education and scientific studies focus on stimulating the clitoris and female orgasm.
“Nobody talks about women’s sexual pleasure because they’re not interested. Whereas as soon as erectile dysfunction began to be discussed, a drug was immediately invented. Obviously!” Thompson said in an interview with Glamour. “Women and their bodies–periods, menopause—we’re not talking about any of this. Especially if you feel uncomfortable in your body and you don’t like your body, it’s quite difficult to then say, ‘Oh, you should be experiencing lots of sexual pleasure.’”
She went on to explain that “all the suppression of information about the female body” is why there are women like her Good Luck to You, Leo Grande character who have put their own sexual pleasure on the back burner their entire lives. She credited this lack of education as one of the reasons the orgasm gap exists.
“[I]t’s also because nobody cares about women’s pleasure. Men’s pleasure has always been made more important—has always been made the purpose of women in a way. So women are there for male pleasure. They’re not there for their own pleasure,” she continued.
She’s brought this up in other interviews as well while promoting Leo Grande. During an appearance on ITV’s Lorraine, Thompson said that, “15% of women have never had an orgasm,” which experts believe is a pretty solid estimate of women, particularly those in heterosexual relationships, left wanting more in bed. She also penned an essay for Vogue. about her time filming Leo Grande, again lamenting how taboo exploring sexuality is in western society.
“Sex is free, natural, normal, delightful, good for us, and, as Leo says in the film, inaccessible to some for all kinds of perfectly valid reasons. It’s a public health issue,” she wrote.
Fortunately, Thompson feels like the younger generations are on the right path in terms of normalizing pleasure for all involved parties. She also feels that in retrospect, previous sexual revolutions might not have been all that revolutionary.
“Even the sexual revolution in the ’60s was a sort of a misnomer in a way. I think a lot of feminists my age are looking back at it now and going, “Well, hang on a minute–was that really for us?” Some of it was for us. It’s great not to get pregnant every time you shag someone. But was it really about pleasure? Our pleasure?” she recalled while talking to Glamour.
Ultimately, Thompson, like her Leo Grande character, thinks everyone should be able to feel empowered and deserving of experiencing pleasure in the sack. And to do that, we need to start talking about all the elements of sexuality with our kids. Not just the dictionary definition of the act.
“People feel desire in all sorts of different parts of their bodies. When my daughter was eight and asking me about sex, I made her a little book with little gingerbread people [and labeled] where you feel things—yes, you feel things in the groin, and you also feel things in the stomach, you feel things in the heart area, and you feel things here [indicates her head]—weirdly, this is where it all comes from,” Thompson explained.
“So intimacy of communication from when we’re very, very little will really help us to navigate the feelings that we get in other parts of our bodies. We don’t include discussions about sex in our everyday lives, and the cost of that is very very high, very great.”
Let’s all take a page out of Thompson’s book and to not only normalize, but prioritize, pleasure. And remember pleasure when we’re talking to our kids about sex. Everyone deserves it.