If Salt ‘N Peppa had written lyrics with the phrase, “Let’s talk about sexuality, baby,” instead of, “Let’s talk about sex, baby,” I wonder if it would still have its legendary pop status. After all, it is easier to talk about sex than it is to talk, or rap, about sexuality. It’s much easier to talk about sex acts than the decision to express one’s sexual development or process of maturity. If talking about sex is socially taboo, save a handful of pop culture, then talking, or rapping, about sexuality is unthinkable. The documentary, First, does a little bit of both.
Ten women provide candid commentary describing the first time they had sexual relationships. First gathers a handful of women who range in age, experience, occupation, and race and draws from them the dark and juicy secrets that most sexually active people keep to themselves: details about the first time they had intercourse. However, not only does it recount the tales of virginity lost, it also touches briefly upon the ethos, attitudes, and expectation of each woman.
Without a narrative voice, or any guiding measure, the documentary blends the voices, creating a collage of informal conversation with an underlying current of feminist discourse. Each contributor could easily represent any woman’s sexual experience, and they evoke the common, but often silent, connection between women when recalling their own journey of sexual discovery. There are parallel stories of confusion, awkwardness, and peer pressure.
First is a thirty-eight minute film exploring not just first encounters with sex, but with sexuality and the upbringing, culture, community, and influences surrounding each woman in her development. While the film respectfully and warmly captures these stories, it does not provide any constructive or critical analysis. It is a finely woven fabric of stories, but does not question or probe. The bold title and nature of the documentary loses momentum as the film reaches midpoint, and then the themes begin to feel a bit redundant.
With no nuanced questions or prompts, audiences can be entertained by the stories, but would need a series of directed questions if this documentary would be used as a learning tool for a group discussion or to begin a conversation with a teen confronting issues of curiosity, puberty, and intimacy. With its brave participants, however, this film carries a rich and unique potential to create a safe place to share our own hidden stories of sacred firsts.