'Wash Me' Is the First-Ever Erotic Film to Discuss Breast Cancer
Inspired by director Rebecca Stewart's real-life experiences with breast cancer, "Wash Me" is a film that focuses on intimacy's many faces, as well as an electrifyingly erotic celebration of the coexistence between breast cancer and sex. The movie is one of the latest videos to come out of Erika Lust's XConfessions, a crowdsourced site for erotic cinema based on viewers' confessions and fantasies.
In the film, performer Victoria Rose expresses frustration with her inability to bathe herself due to her lumpectomy bandages, leading to an assist by her partner, played by performer Jonte. The film explores the borders of typical eroticism, slowly building tension as Jonte washes Rose's body. The film depicts Rose transitioning from impatience with her physical state and at a disconnect with her sexuality to ecstatic at the touch of her partner again, which we first see in the precancer clip in the beginning of the film.
The film aims to expand the definition of erotic, making shots of Jonte massaging shampoo into Rose's scalp or sliding his soapy fingers between her toes just as arousing as the scenes where he goes down on her as she sits on the edge of the tub, or even when she finally orgasms. The palpable urgency in her climax is familiar, but the hope in the pair's laughter after Rose comes reveals another pleasure. "It's back," she says.
The film depicts Rose transitioning from impatience with her physical state and at a disconnect with her sexuality to ecstatic at the touch of her partner again.
In "Illness as Metaphor," author Susan Sontag wrote, "Far from revealing anything spiritual, [cancer] reveals that the body is, all too woefully, just the body." "Wash Me" poses the same critique of mainstream depictions of cancer, with one key difference: There is nothing woeful about the body. In the wake of her illness and eventual recovery, Stewart was frustrated with the one-dimensional representation of cancer in the media, specifically in the way cancer becomes more of a character than the person themselves.
"I wanted to use my position in the media to tell different stories about cancer, encourage discussion about more topics than just death and hair loss," Stewart said of her motivations for making the film. The common narratives depicting cancer focus chiefly on the illness itself and its more external manifestations.
"My only understanding I had of what awaited me was what I'd seen in the movies," Stewart said of her initial thoughts after diagnosis. "It always ended in tragedy and death."
Throughout her treatment with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a lumpectomy, Stewart experienced sexual side effects like vaginismus, vaginal dryness and an inability to orgasm.
"The impact treatment had on my sexuality was far more distressing than losing my hair or my appetite," she said. "Being intimate with my partner was one of the few ways in which I was able to remind myself that I was still alive and I was more than just my medication."
This emphasis on life strays from many media representations of cancer patients, in which the person seems only to be a vessel to carry the true character: the illness. Cancer narratives often pose the patient as metonymic for the cancer, explaining the relative lack of media in which a story of a cancer patient focuses on anything outside of the cancer itself, or the mortal implications of the cancer. "Wash Me" defies this, placing the patient at the center of the story and restoring her importance as a person outside of her illness—desire is the driving force of the film, not illness.
'Being intimate with my partner was one of the few ways in which I was able to remind myself that I was still alive and I was more than just my medication.'
Erika Lust was thrilled when Stewart came to her with the idea for the film.
"Since the beginning of my career, I always wanted to portray relatable stories that matter to real people through my films," Lust said. "What better way to do that than giving Rebecca the chance to share her own testimony and hopefully help other people who are going through the same challenges and sexual struggles."
Lust first broke onto the scene in 2004, with her film "Good Girl," and has since revolutionized the adult film industry. "Wash Me" is just one example of how the company is reshaping porn to join the expansive nature of the erotic with the medium of adult film.
The movie is free to watch on XConfessions throughout the month of October to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness month. For each share of the page on social media, Erika Lust Films is donating €1 to Amics de l'Hospital del Mar, the hospital in Barcelona where Rebecca Stewart received treatment for breast cancer, to support immunotherapy research.