That Thing You Do With Your Mouth: The Sexual Autobiography of Samantha Matthews as Told to David Shields


Copyright © 2015 David Shields and Samantha Matthews

Cover design by Sunra Thompson

All rights reserved, including right of reproduction in whole or in part, in any form.

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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That Thing You Do With Your Mouth


, an actress, voice-over artist, and my cousin once removed, since she was a teenager. (I'll be sixty next year; she just turned forty.) For a decade, I'd encouraged her to make a self-reflexive documentary film about a job she occasionally moonlighted at during her first few years in Barcelona—dubbing Italian porn films into English. It seemed to me powerful material, well worth exploring, especially since she wound up divorcing her Spanish husband. I thought perhaps the dubbing had something to do with the divorce, on a difficult-to-articulate level that she would try to articulate.

She'd gathered some footage but never was able to carve out enough time to make the film, so a couple of
years ago I suggested that we work on the story together. To my horror and her own, she immediately agreed. Over eighteen months—via email, text, Skype, and FaceTime—I asked her increasingly difficult questions and she emailed back her increasingly revelatory answers (as well as several surreptitious recordings of her dubbing sessions). Initially, I thought we'd wind up with an amusing novella about America and Europe and Daisy Miller, updated to the twenty-first century. I had no idea. Samantha tunneled so deeply into her own psyche that we wound up with more than seven hundred pages, relatively few of which had anything to do with dubbing porn.

My goal was to shape all these pages into a narrative that explores what is for Samantha and for me and for many people a crucial or even
question: how and to what degree is it possible to get beyond early trauma?

David Shields


January 2015

Intimacy is for strangers.

—Karen Bettencourt

to not apologize before any performance, and I find it annoying when actors apologize for what they're about to do, particularly during an audition, but in this case I need to do that, once; I feel terrified. If I just say it, instead of pretending to know what I'm doing, maybe I can start off on an honest path. My mind doesn't think at all linearly. I have a hard time keeping up with my thoughts and narrowing them down. I don't know. This might be a complete mess.

In no way do I want to feel like I'm being self-indulgent, talking about all of my “issues.” Who gives a shit? Who am I to be telling a story? I have this intimacy-junkie part of me, though, that wants to provoke others to see something deep inside themselves. I like breaking down
barriers—not to be perverse but to find a more authentic connection. Generally speaking, we're not unique.

A director once said to me, “Sam, it's so exhausting for the audience to watch you hold up all that armor. If you could stop holding it up, it would be so much easier not only for you but also for us to watch. The energy required to protect yourself just gets in the way of telling the story.”

I have less and less of a need, I think, to pretend I'm a good girl. I should be professional, friendly, responsible, accommodating, easy to get along with, elegant, and graceful. Must never step out of the house without wearing at least a tiny bit of makeup, because you never know who you're going to run into. Lipstick is a winner, because my lips sort of blend in with my face. Must be confident. Don't slouch. Don't diminish yourself in public or in any conversation. Wear classic clothes, which suit you. Nothing too tight-fitting because that looks cheap. Always good to make people wonder what's under those clothes instead of shoving it in their face. Game's over, and so is their respect for you. I must foresee everyone's
needs. If I'm incredibly attentive to everyone and everything around me, I can avoid all possible conflict, dangerous and trivial situations alike. No one can call me selfish, either. Don't get in the way or be irritating. Don't joke around and make silly faces with three chins (I'm really good at that) around your lover, who will then find you unattractive, even disgusting. Be aware of how big your nose is (once, on an airplane when I was fifteen, my mom told me maybe I could just get my sinuses operated on and the surgeon could do a quick little nose job while he was at it). Try to avoid the profile: not good. I should never talk about anything negative—that's a waste of energy and makes others see you as a negative person. I can smile and say yes to everything, make your life easier. Keep those nails trimmed and not painted. No, leave them a little longer, but still not painted; he doesn't like that. Don't paint your toenails; he doesn't like that, either. Be strong. No, don't. That's butchy. Seeing a difference between men and women is better. Be vulnerable, but don't cry around men, because there's a study that says the smell of women's tears actually lowers their sexual desire for you. Be mindful. Do yoga. It gives you a great ass.

Friday—how many days to Friday? It's only Tuesday. Four more days of this till I can escape.

When I was fifteen, Scott fingered me, breaking my hymen. Blood covered his hand, as though he'd punched a window. I was convinced he'd seriously disfigured me, maybe even made me sterile, for all I knew—flashes of the doctor examining my genitals at age five. After all, bad things happen to me. I'd deserve that for what I'd done. My mom was constantly reminding me of all the possible life-threatening dangers that could accompany sex and other illicit behavior. A famous basketball player died of a heart attack after trying cocaine for the first time. Basically, sex and drugs meant death. Moments before the hemorrhaging, I'd had an orgasm, dry-humping against what I now know as the biggest cock I've ever had or seen in any porn film. I didn't tell him I came. After cleaning up all the mess, I walked him out to say goodbye, and as I hugged him good night, I fainted. An orgasm and a wrecked vagina were all a little too much.

I lost my virginity to Scott at his best friend's house while the friend's parents were away for the weekend. I lied and said I was staying at Dawn's. She covered for me. It was planned a week in advance. The guest room was all set up. It was a granny's room: perfect and sterile with a
Little House on the Prairie
flower-print comforter on a queen-size bed I'm positive we must have stained
in a way that made it look like a nasty murder had taken place. I was giving birth the other way around, and he came into a condom. Proud of myself and crippled, I showered, water stinging me horrifically.

I'm aroused by distance/coldness.

I want someone to know what they want and not fumble around trying to please me. I want them to go for it; I like the roughness sometimes. I've always liked that dark, perverse stare, the dangerous, mysterious-looking guy, almost mean-looking, the
9½ Weeks
Mickey Rourke. Even the way he treats her badly makes her want him more—that's sexy to me, just like Carl, my oldest half brother, handsome and mysterious and scary. At nineteen I found myself wanting him to desire me. Did I invite him to treat me the way he did that Thanksgiving more than twenty years ago? I feel shameful for desiring something I know is twisted.

An open, serious stare from afar that continues during sex… looking straight into your soul with their desire… knowing you desire them just as much. That's possible only with chemistry. I can't fake that. I'm sure my
ex-husband, Jaume, would have liked me to look at him that way. You simply can't force desire. Maybe you can fake it in porn, but I doubt it. In the dozens of porn films I've dubbed from Italian into English, I think I've seen one couple that had that chemistry.

Maybe by watching these uninhibited women for so many years, I've come to see it as normal—why couldn't you be “base” with someone if there was mutual attraction? I envy the women's openness. They're dangerous in the way they fuck. I want to be like that. To say,
Yes, I like that
, and
Do that to me
, and to be completely open with my body, wanton—I'm reclaiming what I wasn't allowed to want and feel, which of course only heightens the desire.

In many ways, I'm not masochistic or self-destructive at all. I'm assertive about my career, etc., but there are things in my makeup that stifle and baffle me.

Michael and I were on the high school varsity swim team together in Scottsdale. He was on steroids. It was the '90s and it was cool to be buff. He told me my legs were huge, I had a big nose and horse teeth, but he was used
to all these things. Awww shucks, thanks. I was blessed that he could let go of all these disfigurements and still love me. Which I still believe today. He did only point out the obvious; it just wasn't nice. One night, our tickling fight turned into pinching and biting, which he did so hard that on prom night I had to put makeup all over my arms to hide it, the dress covering the wounds on my legs. Despite my starvation and makeup, you can still see the evidence in the prom photos, which should be titled
Bruised Barbie

Pre-prom night, we went to the tanning salon and had a competition over who could be more chocolate; that hurt, too. He won. He always won—until one night, when I suddenly stopped caring and hated him instantly. I kicked him so hard on the side of his thigh that I whipped both of his feet out from underneath him. Me, my 110 pounds to his 180. To this day, I have no idea how I was physically capable of it.

Some people don't like sex, some people like sex but don't see it as an especially important part of their life, and some people see sex as a journey. It's never been a minor part of my life, even when I wasn't having sex regularly for years.

I've stopped hoping I can fuck William tonight. Two days ago was plenty for the next couple weeks, right? Barricades are up. Man space. Leave me alone. He keeps me at arm's length, keeps the feral girl down. He's rationing. I'm in the sex breadline.

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