stranger things’s natalia dyer experiences a sexual awakening in yes, god, yes
Playing a 90s Catholic school girl with a thing for chat rooms and Titanic.
For those feeling impatient in the lead-up to the second season of the retro sci-fi hit Stranger Things, the short film Yes, God, Yes could be just the stopgap you've been searching for. While it doesn't feature aliens or parallel dimensions, it does star one of the show's leading actors, Natalia Dyer, as well as plenty of teenage nostalgia — albeit for the early days of the internet rather than small-town America and classic 80s horror films.
Yes, God, Yes, directed and written by Karen Maine, follows a Catholic school girl (played by Dyer) as she discovers masturbation, her own sexuality, and, subsequently, the hypocrisy that surrounds both within the church and its clergy. These revelations are precipitated by a chance IM exchange in a dial-up chat room, a malfunctioning screensaver, and a certain indescribable feeling the protagonist gets below the belt every time that car scene in Titanic comes on.
Maine hopes the short accurately depicts "what a strange and bewildering experience [being raised Catholic] was, especially for a teenage girl" having come from a strict, religious upbringing herself. Attending a Catholic high school where sex ed was a combination of abstinence-only lecturing, inapplicable medical diagrams, and horrifying images of STDs and late-term abortions, Maine was left with very little practical understanding of how her body functioned. And when it came to her discovery of masturbation, she adds, "I knew I couldn't tell anyone, not even my female friends, because I'd never heard anyone talk about it before. I thought I was the only one who was doing it and I felt ashamed."
Which is precisely where Yes, God, Yes steps in. The filmmaker explains, "I've always wanted to write about a young woman coming of age sexually on her own. Not through a romantic relationship, or a partner, or through uncomfortable sex (which is how we often see female sexuality portrayed in film) but through her own exploration of her own body. This is a love story between one woman and her vagina. Most girls explore their bodies long before they have experiences with anyone else, and yet we rarely see this portrayed on screen because there's such a stigma around female sexual pleasure (even outside of religious communities). I wanted to change that."
The film also examines how the internet has irrevocably shaped our approach to sex and intimacy, both for better and for worse. "Looking at porn online is cliché now. Everyone does it and everyone expects everyone's done it," Maine says. So she set her film in the late 90s, when "everyone was still so innocent and naive about what could be seen and done on [the internet], and for a curious teenage Catholic girl who lived in a very sheltered and conservative community, it opened a whole new world." On balance, she concludes, "I think in some ways [the internet] is a great educational tool for those who've been undereducated (obviously it's also responsible for a lot of miseducating as well!)...I think the internet has made sex — and different types of sex — less taboo and less shameful."
At the end of the day, Maine hopes that her short, and follow-up feature film which will go into production in the fall, will help provide a more realistic depiction of female sexuality. She wants to demonstrate "that women are as sexual and horny as men and masturbate as much as they do, and that priests and other clergy get horny too. And that there can be films about female sexual pleasure that aren't porny or male-gazy, but realistic and poignant and funny."
Text Emily Kirkpatrick