“Virtual S*Exploration”, Jakob* & Schleiff ©Eleonora Gelmetti

My Body, My Choice

“Virtual S*Exploration” (for ages 14+), conceived by Jakob* and Christo Schleiff, utilises technology and VR to discuss the topic of sexuality. It premiered at FELD Theater für junges Publikum on 15 April 2023 with further performances until 18 April. 

What is sex? 

What is embarrassing? 

What is normal? 

I read these questions written on a wall of a dome as I walk through the VR world with my bulky headset and two hand controllers. This world that is floating in the air consists of green pathways and small domes of varying shapes. Baby-pink see-through jellyfish and creatures that resemble amoeba hover over the route. Whenever I pass through one of them, I hear voices responding to the above questions. I can choose to stay and listen, or walk away. I am informed in the beginning that this walk is about sexuality and love. 

I walk through the floating creatures and hear: “Sex is something to do with penetration. It’s also about freeing yourself.” “Just having sexual feelings in myself is already sex. I can use my hands to explore my body.” “It is important to communicate. The first time I learned to communicate my sexual preferences was when I had an older girlfriend. She asked me if I liked this or that during sex, and that was a positive experience for both of us.” “You shouldn’t expect something from someone else, but rather ask. For example, you can ask, ‘Hey, can I hug you?’ If the answer is ‘No’, don’t do it.” “If something is not done with consent, it is violence.” … (These are not a verbatim transcription.) 

My VR walk is cut short as I am asked to take my headset off and join the next activity. Since each group (The audience is split into three groups) have 20 minutes in each station, I comply with this instruction. However, I find it unfortunate to not have had more time to explore the VR world, as I can sense that an enormous amount of work has gone into creating it. I ponder if the walk was really about sexuality and love. Does sexuality equal love? This station, for me, speaks about healthy emotional and physical sexual relationships with oneself and others. The lesson I take away is that I am the one who makes decisions on this matter. 

At another station, the seven of us in my group sit close to one another in a cosy tent lit in dim red. One of the facilitators prompts us to think about the feelings and relationships we have had with our bodies today. Then, we listen to a voice through individual headsets. The voice reads a letter, in which the author apologises to her body for conforming to the external expectations and pressure regarding her body and sexuality. She explains how she just wanted to be liked by others. She therefore tried to follow the guidelines set by society to be “attractive”. When it hurt during sex, she simply accepted it. She had neglected the needs and desires of her body. And now, she wanted to reconcile with her body. 

After reciting the text, the voice guides me to write a letter to myself, addressing the relationship I want with my body in the present and the future. The voice assures me that this letter is just for me, which I can take home and read it after a year, perhaps. As I write the letter, I remember back to my teenage years, when peer and social pressure and the bombardment of the “beauty standard” in the media tortured me. I wonder, if I had done this writing exercise back then, would it have helped me to switch off the societal demands of homogenisation, and seek after my true physical pleasures? Would I have gained the clarity and strength to say “No” to the bizarre and suffocating values set by the capitalistic society?

The last station, lit in blue, consists of iPads and headsets. Each participant interacts with the questions on an iPad. First, I hear a voice asking me to think of an embarrassing situation, then to remember a detail about it. I am told to give this detail a name or a song title, and I write, “Wrong direction”. The voice asks me to designate a place or an animal to it. I respond with, “A squirrel eating pizza”. Then, I am asked to write my “power item”, something that provides me with strength and courage. I type in, “Ocean and trees”. The next screen reads, “It’s meme time!” It prompts me to write a sentence that starts with “When you…”. An example offered is: “When you go to a pharmacy to get condoms, but find it difficult to ask for it.” I send my response and receive three memes from which I can choose. I select the one that depicts a blue sky, blue ocean, and oddly shaped trees floating on the horizon. 

I am surprised to receive an envelope that contains my meme and my “When you…” sentence at the end of the performance. Whenever I feel, “When I want to talk to someone but don’t ask any friends because I don’t want to be needy,” I can look at this image. Maybe it will remind me of the strength and courage to reach out for help. Whenever the shame from my “Wrong direction” washes over me, I can look at this image. Perhaps it will empower me to be kind to myself. 

Before we exit the theatre, we are offered a short moment to reflect on our experience. We are each given a sheet of paper with three questions on it: Who do you want to talk more about this experience? What is still on your mind? What would you like to think further about? I write down the answers. Then, I touch my right elbow with my left hand, hoping that whenever I carry out this gesture in my daily life, I will remember to be honest with my body’s needs and wants. 

“Virtual S*Exploration” (for ages 14+) by Jakob* & Schleiff premiered at FELD Theater für junges Publikum on 15 April 2023, with further performances until 18 April 2023. Ticket reservation at jungesfeld.de.