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Award-winning filmmaker and actress Desiree Akhavan participated in a question-and-answer session on Wednesday night about how her work questions what is sexually appropriate.

Credit: Nicole Rubin

According to English professor Heather Love, it’s “Penn’s year of sex.”

Love introduced the award-winning filmmaker and actress Desiree Akhavan, to the stage Wednesday night. Akhavan spoke for the kickoff event for the Penn Humanities Forum, which introduces a series of events across interdisciplinary focuses to educate the community each year on one very broad topic — and this year, it’s sex.

Akhavan participated in a question-and-answer session about how her work questions what is sexually appropriate. Her film, ironically titled “Appropriate Behavior,” centers around the life of Shirin, an Iranian-American bisexual woman living in Brooklyn.

“I think it is a way to start off the year by disrupting some people’s expectations about what that is or what that means,” Love said, who also serves as the topic director for this year’s forum.

“What I learned about what it was to be an American, what it was to be a woman and what it was to have sex, I picked up from various films and television,” Akhavan said. She said what she learned was lies. When portraying the lives of people in a film, “Why would we not show them having sex? Why would that not be part of that dialogue?” she added.

Akhavan said that in her own sex scenes, “his [the cinematographer’s] camera tells the story much more than my dialogue ever could.”

The educational goal, according to the director of the forum professor James English, is “to encourage students to think more freely and creatively about sex as a field of research; whatever their majors, backgrounds, interests, to come away from our events thinking there are ways to approach the themes of sex as a scholar or artist or both, as exciting, and that I’ve never considered before.”

College sophomore Elena Varela said that the event “plays into the fact of the containers of what is sex and what fills those containers of gender; what we think these specific behaviors are.”

Akhavan said that bisexuality is a taboo in society today, which is exactly why she chooses to display it in her work. “Things that make me uncomfortable I really want to ask myself, why? Why is it taboo that I am not a lesbian? And that I’m not a heterosexual person?”

With 14 more events to come this year, each bringing a new perspective, the conversation around sex is far from over. This year’s topic aims to “highlight the strength of our own commitments to sexual variety and difference,” English said.

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