11 Sep 2017

BANG! Episode 7: Lust for Life

From BANG!, 1:00 pm on 11 September 2017

Melody Thomas leads a frank and often-entertaining exploration into sex, sexuality and intimacy.

In episode 7, Melody speaks to couples in their 60s and 70s about the different ways they choose to stay connected, Lesley Maskery discusses policy and practice regarding sexuality in rest homes, and we look to the future with Jenny Kleeman, on the ethics of sex robots.

To celebrate the release of the final episode of BANG!, Melody reflects on the many things she’s learned during its making. 

Illustration by Pinky Fang

Illustration by Pinky Fang Photo: RNZ

I’m sitting at a wooden dining table with a sweet couple in their 70s. On my feet are the slippers they offered to me as I stepped in from the rain; in my hand a cup of their very good tea.

This couple been married for nearly 40 years and an outsider who stumbled upon the scene might assume we’re talking about grandchildren, or gardening.

But we’re talking about sex.

The gentleman tells me about his naturally high sex drive - a state that sees him “ready to go” in a moment given the right circumstances. His wife nods in agreement. Sensing a sexual energy between them that I’m not sure how to deal with, I joke nervously: “Would you like me to leave?”

“Oh no,” she says, “We’ve already done it.”

He looks at her fondly and adds, “We knew you were coming!”

This interview is in the final episode of BANG!, but it was actually recorded fairly early on - and the mental image of this seemingly-innocent old couple getting it on wasn’t one I was prepared for.

The entire reason for making the podcast was to normalise conversations about sex and sexuality, but the project came from a place of curiosity rather than expertise. Early on, there was a whole lot of faking calm in the face of shocking or embarrassing situations but surprisingly soon I got to the point where nothing really phased me.

It was a baptism of fire. In episode 1, I spoke to a childhood friend I hadn’t seen in years about the time we showed each other our private parts in my treehouse.

In episode 2 I sat at the front of a high school sex ed class and quizzed a bunch of 17 year olds about sex, sexuality and education. I hit the streets to interrupt first dates and ask strangers how they first found out about sex, sat down with couples I didn’t know (and some I did) to ask how much sex they were having and how they felt about it. In one particularly memorable interaction, I called my own mother to talk about a recent sexual experience she’d had - a conversation that moved quickly from awkward to incredibly moving.

As word about the podcast spread, all kinds of people started to open up to me about incredibly private things. I’ve been texted by a mother thanking me on behalf of her lesbian teen daughter; there have been emails from parents about finally tackling ‘the talk’ with their kids. There were adult virgins who had thought they were the only one, and a father who shared episodes about consent with his teenage daughter, as a way of starting conversations between them about her sexual assault. 

Of course there was push back from those listeners who consider sex a private matter. I can understand where they are coming from.

But the thing is, these conversations are not happening privately. In episode one, comedian Michele A’Court talked about wishing she’d had the strength to say, “I said yes a minute ago but I want to say no now”, a sentiment echoed throughout the series by those who were teens in every decade since 1970.

Each Wednesday when we brought an expert into the Nights with Bryan Crump studio to answer listener questions, we’d hear from people desperate for both permission and language to express their needs to their significant other. Of all the feedback BANG! has received, the thing we’ve heard most is, “Thanks to the podcast I have been able to talk to X about Y”. 

When New Zealanders young and old feel like they are in control of their own bodies, like they are not alone or abnormal, like it is ok to communicate what they want and that they have a right to pleasure and respect in every interaction - then I will be happily out of a job. Until then, I will continue to bang on about sex. 

Did you feel your experience was represented in BANG! season one? Were there elements or stories you loved or could have done without? Email bang@radionz.co.nz and we’ll take notes for season two.