The Coolidge Effect

During the early years of the British Broadcasting Corporation, its first Director-General Lord Reith established the BBC’s mission as being to “inform, educate and entertain”. (Note: in that order.) Certainly, audiences will leave this new production—from Scottish theatre company Wonder Fools—having learned something while also being entertained. However, Reith wouldn’t have approved of the subject matter: this is a show about pornography, and society’s changed relationship to it in the internet age.

there’s no doubting this show is educational, informative and entertaining

We’re certainly given a steady flow of facts over the hour: that, every month, more people visit porn sites than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined; that men’s first exposure to pornography is now, on average, when they’re 12 years old; that, essentially, online pornography has replaced “behind the bike shed” as their main source of sex education. Oh; and that the Coolidge Effect is a behavioural phenomenon seen in most animals, and named after the former American President who once suggested that a rooster in a chicken farm wouldn’t have sex so often if it only had one sexual partner.

To put it another way, males (and to a lesser extent females) will apparently keep sexually activity far longer if there is are numerous sexual partners available—it’s the variety, rather than individual factors, that keeps them (and us) horny. So the core question co-writer and performer Robbie Gordon asks us is simple enough: in this internet age, what happens when the potential variety never stops? What then? If one of the characters Gordon portrays is anything to go by, it’s far from pretty: “a constant craving for variety can take you to places you don’t want to go”.

Co-written with director Jack Nurse, The Coolidge Effect is inevitably more tell than show, albeit with the neat trick of Gordon—a friendly enough persona, even when playing hooded rapper “Retrospect”—getting one scene performed by audience members. Some aspects are less successful—those dance movements, for example—but there’s no doubting this show is educational, informative and entertaining; Reith might not have approved, but it’s hopefully the start of a much-needed conversation. 

Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn

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Performances

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The Blurb

As our pornography-use increases, so does our unwillingness to talk about it. The Coolidge Effect uses an interactive blend of storytelling, poetry and science to ask how pornography affects our mental health, relationships and sexual experiences.

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