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July 16, 2018 | by  | in Podcasts |
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BANG! is a Radio New Zealand podcast about sex, relationships, and intimacy. In light of the release of Season 2, I sat down and had a chat with producer and presenter of BANG!, Melody Thomas.
For those who haven’t heard of it, how would you describe BANG!?
It’s a podcast about sex and relationships and intimacy. I use a mix of talking to people about their experiences — which is where I get the real joy from, having people open up to me in a really amazing way — and a little bit of talking to “experts”, so academics or sex therapists who put things into context and talk about the wider picture.
I’ve often felt that in New Zealand, talking about sex and sexuality openly is definitely taboo. You’ve spoken about it being something that people think is “dirty” or wrong to talk about. Have you found it hard getting people to open up?
Weirdly, no. I really expected to find that. I think I’ve got a slightly biased sample, in that people who are willing to talk to me about their intimate lives are that much more open about it to start with. That said, a lot of the time I do go onto the street and ask people questions — I’ve spoken with people about their earliest sexual memories and the ways their parents talked to them about sex, I even hit town on a weekend and interrupted a bunch of dates and every time I’m amazed by the fact that people are willing to go there with me. It’s like they’ve been waiting for permission, that’s how it feels.
Has making this podcast changed your own outlook on sex and intimacy?
I was always someone who liked to talk about this stuff, which is why I got into it in the first place. But it’s definitely opened me up to a ton of sexual experiences I had no idea about before! I’m also hugely unfazed when it comes to talking about sex now. Like, I knew talking about this would break down taboo, but I didn’t expect to be able to talk to my family members about their sex lives — which is where I’m at now. I don’t have that visceral gag reflex anymore, I just find it all very interesting.

Are there any topics in Season 2 that you’re particularly excited for?
I’m excited for the first one because I just finished it and it’s really fresh in my mind. I went into it thinking let’s hear some stories about how people lost their virginity and how they felt about it, and ended up coming out with a real question mark over whether the concept of virginity was even valid. The thing about that was that it doesn’t tie up neatly, I don’t have an answer, which as a storyteller, you can want sometimes.
I think what I got from it was that maybe it’s a meaningless concept, so there is no answer?
Yeah, and why do we hold onto it when it can cause so much anxiety for people, or make them feel really bad?
Another episode I’m excited about is the one on masculinity. I’m also really nervous about it, because it’s not as relatable to my personal experience, I don’t have a natural understanding. But that’s also why I’m doing it. It feels like there’s a current rejection of the model of masculinity that we’ve accepted for so long, and a lot of men are genuinely confused or afraid about who they can be and where their place is. It feels like a lot of that anger gets misdirected, and I’m keen to understand that.
I find that really interesting because I’ve always thought that breaking down the stereotypical idea of masculinity would be a liberating thing.
Yeah, same. And I think in a lot of cases it can be, but one of the “experts” I talked to — this psychologist and researcher Zac Seidler — talks about how we might have broken down some of the ideas of traditional masculinity but we haven’t really offered up a bunch of other options. And in that place is a void, where men are kinda lost and confused. He thinks we need to give men other options in order for that to feel liberating or empowering for them.
I also talked to James Nokise, who is a comedian and activist, and he talks about how we can’t just say “men are the problem, you guys need to figure this out for yourself” — because even though men do hold a certain amount of privilege, in many cases they are also vulnerable, and if we don’t help them then everybody suffers. It’s kind of a tough pill to swallow, but as he also points out the answer needs to be societal. This can’t fall on any one group’s shoulders.
In between Seasons 1 and 2 there was the Me Too movement, has that changed anything for you going into Season 2?

Yes and no. Obviously it would be a huge omission for the Me Too movement not to be part of the series — it’s been incredibly important for so many men and women, me included. But I am a woman who has lived in this world for 33 years, so one thing the movement didn’t do was surprise me. Issues around consent, coercion, and the ways people experience the world differently based on gender and sexuality were always going to be a part of BANG!
Are there any other episodes you are particularly excited for?
There’s going to be a frequently asked questions one which will be fun. I’m answering some of the questions that have mostly come back to me from listeners but also some of the questions people get all the time that they actually would rather not – things like asking a lesbian “how do lesbians have sex?” or “who’s the man in your relationship?”, or someone in a wheelchair how they have sex… that kind of thing. I figure if we answer some of those questions once and for all in the podcast then anyone who relates can just send people a link the next time they ask! I’ve also interviewed Māori academic Ngahuia Te Awekotuku about what sex and sexuality looked like in the Māori world before Pākehā arrived, which is fascinating and something I had no clue about before starting the podcast — that one is really important.

So how do you go about answering the questions?
Just depending on the question — whether it’s something an academic or expert would best answer or something I just need to talk to a “real person” about based on their experiences. It’s tricky as well, because you don’t want to rope in one lesbian to be the advocate for all queer sex, ever. I’m just taking it case by case at the moment.
Do you have any thoughts on podcasts as a medium?
I just love podcasts. I think partly my love for it is a reaction against how I feel about media. Especially working inside media I see this trend towards giving people what they want and making sure it is easily digestible and happens within 3 minutes. I love that with podcasts you can hit play and learn about something that you never thought you even wanted to learn about. You spend half an hour or even an hour inside that so there’s time for the story to unfold. I think maybe people are feeling a bit of a lack of connection with other people generally in the world at the moment, and it’s a really nice way to feel like you really hear and empathise with someone else.

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