Of all the different types of pornography out there, the casting couch genre is one of the most recognizable. The premise is simple: A young woman, hoping to break into the pornography industry, enters a room outfitted with a couch.
It sets up a power dynamic in which a woman needs something from a man, and she's coerced to use her sexuality to get it. Along with producers Jessica Whitaker, Sky Ferreira, and Markus Mentze, Rachel shot four videos in which four different women open themselves up to prodding male casting directors. The result is a sex-positive series that hones in on the discomfort these power dynamics create, and forces viewers to take a closer look at casting couch porn in general.
Advertisement This isn't to say that the entire genre is inherently problematic — if the pornographic videos Rachel was inspired by are all, in fact, fictionalized, and both people consented to performing these acts on camera beforehand, that's no different than any other consensual porn that depicts disproportionate power dynamics. The problems start to bubble up when consent is murky. Ahead, Rachel speaks to her thought process behind The Curious Female, the major issues with how this power dynamic plays out IRL, and how the casting couch can induce just as much vulnerability as a therapist's couch.
What inspired you to create this series? And so I just kind of wanted to explore that. And I started to wonder what would happen if emotional intimacy was pornographic, as opposed to physical intimacy. The experiment is showing how disturbing it is to be asked how you felt in a situation like that. The interesting thing about porn is that it shows you what people are into sexually and what their fetishes are.
That was disturbing to me. Like in therapy, I want to share my feelings. But in this video, the women are seemingly forced to share their feelings, which is uncomfortable. And the only kind of psychologist I could afford was in an office that looked like this.
It can feel more intimate to some people. It seems very improvised, but was it? The two guys who played the casting directors are actually screenwriters, so we had them in on these meetings to get to know the girls and know what emotional triggers they had. They figured out pressure questions to as them. It was a big psychological experiment. We had them talking to the girls, and asking them things that seemed to make her uncomfortable, so on camera we had them pressure her about these things.
They were armed with these strong, emotional pressure points in order to illicit a response. But it was up to us and the casting directors to know each girl and know what they could play into and pushing them that way. So with Kansas [Bowing, who plays Tara, below], everyone is always referring to how young she is and how sexual she is, so we asked her questions having to do with that, knowing it would make her uncomfortable.
So we had a rough idea of the trigger questions, and then kind of just went from there. And we let it be really natural on the day. The goal was to get them clothed, and to get them to open up. What informed that decision? But the definition changed. It became something like, 'Respect yourself, honey! Put on some clothes! In order for women to be respected, they have to be covered up. In order for them to be heard, they need to be covered up. We wanted to make people uncomfortable, and then talk about what made them uncomfortable.