Lust Thrust Thursdays: Joyce, Women & Masturbation

Masturbation! The amazing availability of it!

-James Joyce

Today’s Lust Thrust Thursday is here to remind you, in our best Justin Timberlake ’90s voice, that it is still the month of May and May is International Masturbation Month. We hope you’re all enjoying yourselves.

Celebrating this month of self-love is not all about being cooped up in our rooms. Somewhere between flexing our fingers and changing out our toy batteries, we continue on our merry, cultured, artistic lives. We read books. Find new playlists on Spotify. Hit refresh on PornHub’s Homepage. Things like that.

And we watch films. For the occasion, I’d like to direct your attention to 1985’s James Joyce’s Women.

As you can guess, the film is about the women that were in Joyce’s life and had an influence in his life and career. Fionnula Flanagan plays James Joyce’s wife, as well as five other real and fictional women. In fact, the majority of the lines spoken in the film were delivered by Flanagan. She also wrote and produced the film.

Flanagan appears to be something of a Joyce scholar, having partaken in readings and panel discussions about Joyce’s work years after the film was released. She also played Gerty MacDowell in the 1967 film version of Ulysses and Molly Bloom in the 1973 Broadway production of “Ulysses in Nighttown.”

What does any of this have to do with masturbation?

The movie contains what is referred to as an unsimulated sex scene, which is a where the actor actually engages in a sexual act for the camera instead of miming the act. Most films have simulated sex scenes, namely for legal reasons, as the lines between film and pornography become blurred. Some of the most notable movies with unsimulated sex scenes include, Caligula (1979), Nymphomaniac (2013), and Love (2015).

Movies with unsimulated scenes are few, and most of the scenes are oral sex or intercourse. James Joyce’s Women, however, is the best known movie where the unsimulated sex scene is twenty minutes of real female masturbation by Fionnula Flanagan.

Joyce was often criticized for writing two-dimensional women. It’s only fitting that this movie not only be dedicated to the women that affected his life, but contain one actress with so many roles, they spill out of the screen and into the mechanics of filmmaking itself. Joyce, an amazing writer in his own right, did hold the stereotypical notions about women and gender roles that were standard for his time. In fact, his notes on the character Richard Rowan, a character that parallels Joyce himself, say: “Richard must not appear as a champion of women’s rights. His language at times must be nearer to that of Schopenhauer against women…” And he once told Irish literary critic, Mary Colum, that he “hated women who knew anything,” or so claimed biographer Brenda Maddox.

Flanagan is obviously a talented woman who indeed knows a lot, with her ability to portray several characters in the same film, to write the film and produce the film. Is the twenty minute long masturbation scene a way of “sticking it to the man?” It’d be easy to make that leap, but I doubt it.

Flanagan is a fan of Joyce’s work. She proudly celebrates his work every year at the Bloomsday Live event in Manhattan. It’s difficult being the fan of classical literature in the modern world, where opinions about social issues have changed so drastically. (I struggle with this as a huge fangirl of T.S. Eliot’s writing style, but not so much his opinions.) James Joyce’s Women, and specifically the twenty minute long masturbation scene, bridges the gap between appreciating a writer’s work and giving importance to the subject that Joyce himself couldn’t due to the bias of his time.

Gem Blackthorn is QMT's Sex Columnist, and the author/curator of Lust Thrust Thursdays. Send her your submissions and questions at sexsexsex [at]

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