Multimedia sex advice superstar Dan Savage says “You know what’s not normal? Normal isn’t normal. What we think of as normal isn’t normal.” The so-called normal, vanilla conception of sex: heterosexual, monogamous, missionary, etc., gains its place by being that pristine object that is left behind when everything else is private. After all, it isn’t considered polite to talk about sex, good or bad, even though one’s sex life has huge implications for a person’s well-being.
Shortbus, the titular sex club of John Cameron Mitchell’s film, in many ways takes the problems and variations revealed in Savage’s column and imagines a charming place where those writing in could go in person to break down the stifling isolation of sex, placing both the characters and the viewer in a safe space to explore their desires and their hangups. The club may not be a panacea for all the sorrows of those present, but the supportive and non-judgmental clientele are sure to take a burden off. Even if the ever-present naked mass in the orgy catches the eye, it offers plenty for the less adventurous sexual explorer as well. The film’s explicit content is matched by its enlightening scenes of dialogue.
Though swingers clubs and the like undoubtedly exist in the real world, that they would live up to the idealized version presented in Shortbus seems unlikely. Even so, most people probably would not know how to locate such a club, nor have the courage to visit if they did, so Shortbus remains a largely mythical place of discovery and healing, and a great film location.