Yesterday a client asked me about the film and wondered out loud: what do polygamy and brothels have to do with each other?
Well, nothing it would seem on the surface. Except they are both found out here in the "far west" (as I like to call it) or rather the wild west, as most people know it: and specifically for us, these are very remote areas of Nevada, Utah and Arizona. In fact our travels took us to the brothels in southern and eastern Nevada and then right over the borders into northern Arizona - a small area known as Short Creek, and western Utah to Salt Lake City.
But as it turns out the two- prostitution and polygamy- have more in common than it may seem. Not only do the two exist out here in the wild west, but it seems both have been pushed out, to the fringes of society. What does this mean? To me as a filmmaker and sex therapist/educator it speaks 1) volumes about our attitudes about sexuality, 2) about our country and societies adamant and Christian values towards monogamy, and finally 3) has to do with sexuality and women. Most of the brothels are working women. Men pay for sex, but very rarely do we see women doing the same. (This is changing, but very slowly.) And, the women who engage in sex work. Some are very proud and empowered by the work they do, but most see it as a short term gig, to help them through hard times. The theory that our society has is that no woman would choose prostitution as a profession, but every single woman I spoke to did it by choice, and enjoy it. If the work had less stigma attached to it would be more vocal about their work. The stigma itself was the most oppressive piece about the work, not the work itself. And the stigma can be felt everywhere in society, from the way the brothels are regulated, to the way friends/family/police and clergy treat working girls.
The women in polygamist society, on the other hand, are very similar to what we often refer to as sex trafficking and they seem to have little choice in who they marry, who they have sex with, and often times are told to marry their cousins, maybe even brothers. There is a lot of abuse and incest in the polygamist communities. The men actually feel it too. This is changing slowly, as well. But, when something is attached to religion, we often look the other way. (Since the polygamist leader Warren Jeffs has been incarcerated 10 years and counting (he's in for life) people are slowly coming forward, no longer wanting to be a part of the extreme fundamentalist group who call themselves the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints- FLDS- a branch of the Mormon Church.) While the Mormons don't affiliate themselves with the FLDS. And, Polygamy is also illegal in the United States, state officials in Arizona and parts of Utah "look the other way" when it comes to polygamy- a sect which has been somewhat protected under the auspice of religion.
The irony it seems is that both exist out here in the wild west. One good, one bad. America doesn't want us to see this. But, one is done by choice. Religion should be by choice too, but when you are born into something you have no say about, that doesn't seem to be about freedom of choice, at all.
And, here is the bottom line and the focus of this film: Monogamy is force fed to us. Heterosexuality is force fed. If we choose to do something else- see a prostitute for example, it is considered blasphemy, to enoy pleasure and sex. Less stringent views on sexuality might reduce the need for sex trafficking and control based religions like polygamy.