The Coolidge Effect, created by Glasgow theatre company Wonderfools, was written in 2017 and toured all over the UK in theatres and community spaces alike. Its title is taken from the scientific theory ‘the Coolidge effect’, a study which proves that, specifically in males, variety in sexual life is key to continued arousal. Dealing with the effects of pornography on sexual and mental well-being, The Coolidge Effect was initially devised from interviews with porn addicts and advocates, as well as mental health professionals. Writers Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon fuse these different perspectives into four interweaving narratives, all showing a different perspective on the issue of porn addiction. While I didn’t manage to catch the production itself, last week Wonderfools released The Coolidge Effect as an audio play, which, despite not being its original medium, adapted excellently to the format and created something unflinchingly honest and impactful.
What is instantly striking about The Coolidge Effect in this format is how suddenly personal it feels, consuming it alone and with a disembodied voice speaking directly in your ear. Through the use of music, soundscapes and, of course, the dialogue itself, we as the listener are never allowed to feel inculpable or exempt from the problem; instead, it feels like we are being asked to be part of the solution. Throughout the play we hear four stories/voices, two of which are father and son George and Gary, both of whom are struggling sexually, and are respectively at the beginning/very much in the deep end of a relationship with porn. As a woman consuming the piece, I found it to be really informative about how porn addiction, misogyny and sexual violence are interlinked and self-perpetuating, and also how easily it is passed on to the next generation. Robbie Gordon’s performance as ‘Retrospect’, the impassioned voice of an ex porn addict, was particularly powerful; these sections of spoken word were a welcome shift in tone from the story, and were perhaps the most provoking of the piece. In speeches that can’t help but be comparable to Irvine Welsh’s famous ‘Choose Life’ speech, ‘Retrospect’ forces the listener to question their relationship with porn, and educates us about its inevitable effects on mental health. The fourth perspective was from pioneering porn producer, Gail, speaking to a crowd of investors about the newest VR technology.
In stringing together these four characters, The Coolidge Effect does not only tell a story about porn addiction, but one about capitalism, isolation, sexual violence and stigma. The play calls for us to address porn addiction like any other, by acknowledging that a problem exists, and encouraging real and honest education about it. An insightful, informative and necessary piece for our time.