True Blood Cast Gets Sexy And Bloody–Remind You of Anything?

My first thought on seeing this Rolling Stone cover, featuring cast members from the vampire TV show True Blood, was “I wonder if Anna Paquin had her period when they shot this?”

Yeah, I went there. I know this is a show about vampires–and vampires who really get around, at that–making this sexy, bloody cover shot very appropriate. But I also think this photo has the potential to challenge dominant cultural ideas about “tainted” bodies, sexuality and menstruation. In addition to making some folks really uncomfortable.

Bear with me.

Menstruation is most often constructed as a “curse” in Western societies, or at least a massive inconvenience and definitely an embarrassment should anyone find out you’re on your period. The menstrual taboo in film and television is palpable, and any reference to a woman having her period is comical, gross or an explanation of her bitchiness (is it that time of the month again?).

But what does this have to do with the Rolling Stone cover? Clearly the blood and nudity here are in reference to vampires, blood sucking and the hyper-sexualized nature of the show. But what strikes me about this photograph is the unabashedness with which blood and sexuality come into contact. Most often in popular culture, the only images of naked people we see are in sexual situations (other possibilities include naked people bathing and as babies). And because sex + menstrual blood = an absolute no-no for mainstream media, then blood and naked bodies–especially women’s naked, bloody bodies–are not likely to appear together.

So when I saw the True Blood cover I was surprised and a little thrilled. I knew I was supposed to be seeing sexy vampire stuff, but immediately I started to think about other situations in which you might be naked and bloody. And what did I come up with? Period sex. Which is an even bigger taboo than menstruation itself.

The separation between sexuality and menstruation is almost maniacal, though that may be changing. Clinical psychologist Ros Bramwell argues that the sexualized nature of the vagina contributes to the strength of the menstrual taboo and creates an inherent embarrassment around menstruating in sexual situations. Women’s sexualized bodies are public, their menstruating bodies–tainted. And never the twain shall meet.

And that brings me to why I think this cover is so fantastic. Though Anna Paquin (likely) isn’t menstruating in this photo, we are seeing blood, sex and bodies in the same frame, forcing us to consider the mingling, seeping and blending of these very human things. If we can look at these sexy, naked actors covered in blood and still think they’re damn fine, we’re one step closer to getting over the menstrual taboo and taking part in the joys of loving our girlfriends while they’re bleeding.

Photo: the Aug. 18 cover of Rolling Stone.

Comments

  1. Personally, I never would have associated the imagery in this photograph with menstruation. I think to do so would require having a bit of a one track mind. It is refreshing, however, for Rolling Stone to have two nude men on their cover. They have long ignored their female readership in that respect.

  2. Kris Macomber says:

    As a feminist I do not think this "cover is fantastic." As a sociologist who studies men's violence against women and who connects pornography to the maintence of our rape culture, I see this cover as a pornographic image of two men "giving it" to one woman–one from the front and one from the back. The blood is of course symbolic for a show about Vampires but it is also consistant with our tendency to sexualize men's violence against women.

    • I had the same reaction. One women can see this cover as being "fantastic" but that doesn't negate the fact that magazine covers peddle what sells: sex. And this one is hardly revolutionary in that respect. My reaction was disgust, it reminds me of rape and violence. There's nothing sexy about that.

    • I love the blood. I think this photo is beautiful, sexy and creative.

      Sometimes people see something that isn't there because they are so used to looking for it.

      Religious zealots find sin everywhere because they are always looking for it.

      In this case, my fellow feminists are finding objectification and oppression because they are looking for it.

      It's a problem with you, not the photo.

      If anybody here actually chose to watch the show, the ENTIRE REASON she is between them is metaphorical; she HAS come between them because they both have feelings for her in the show.

      The blood is easy – THEY ARE VAMPIRES. In the show, humans drink the vampire blood for strength (and to get high, actually). Having a photo shoot about vampires without blood would be ridiculous. At least they did something creative with it.

      It is also another metaphor; all three of their characters have blood on their hands – they have all killed people.

      All that aside, it's just an incredibly hot picture. Beyond sexy. Those of us who are into horror and the macabre love this stuff.

      Like I said – Sometimes people see something that isn't there because they are so used to looking for it.

      Rape or violence would never occur to me looking at this photo. Blood alone isn't going to make me think of "rape"…or menstruation for that matter.

      The most it makes me think of is a threesome…a somewhat macabre threesome…but nobody in the picture looks distressed, upset, angry or hurt. Everybody in the picture either looks happy or horny. Women are allowed to have sex, you know. And they are allowed to have threesomes. With blood, if they so choose to.

      and excuse me…but the MEN are ALSO covered in blood, naked.

      So calm down and focus on REAL oppression, 'cause this ain't it.

      • Thank you, Kerry. Totally agreed.

      • No one in the photo looks "happy" to me, and I did not know that someone feeling "horny" was that easy to see in a photo. I do not understand why people are so impressed to see naked men. The media will exploit anyone's sexuality in order to make a profit. Threesomes? People love threesomes! Why wouldn't that sell… violent or not?

    • Same reaction. Rape and violence.

    • "I see this cover as a pornographic image of two men "giving it" to one woman–one from the front and one from the back."

      Why would that be related to rape culture? The actress doesn't look distressed. People have threesomes willingly.

  3. Catherine, Van, BC says:

    As a feminist AND a fan of pop culture (for the juicy insight it offers regarding changing ideals and the intersection of "mass" @ "pop") – your post and this cover are truly fascinating.
    We surely have come some distance from the taboos of sex, blood, aids, the feminization of men in advertising, the female gaze, distorted bodies…holy crap!
    Thank you!!!

  4. "blood and naked bodies–especially women’s naked, bloody bodies–are not likely to appear together"

    In the 1990s, Rolling Stone had an equally as bloody cover-photo with the sexy female cast of the "Scream" movies. There were women in white underwear, some partial nudity if I remember, and splattered in blood. So no, I don't agree that blood and sexy naked women are a taboo. Even outside of pornography, the horror movie genre has for a long time made a staple of this kind of imagery.

    Although, that said, I am a fan of True Blood and this article now makes me wonder if those vampires dig menstrual blood just as much as blood from the arteries.

    • prettyprogressive says:

      hahaha omg is it wrong that I often think that Bill and Eric must love it when Sookie is on her period?? (I was a fan of the books first, I know she and Eric haven't done it in the show… yet.) Or when she had sex for the first time with Bill, did he get turned on by her bleeding? He must have! haha I mean, they love sex, they love blood…. there's an obvious connection no one here is making.

      Back to the original article…. I'm not sure where I stand. Thought about the connotations of both men owning her, and having them both hold on to her possessively while covered in blood…. my mind definitely went to violence. Bill did just almost kill Sookie on the show, under-the-influence of blinding, mind-numbing hunger, but still. (In the books he feeds on her and rapes her in that scene, since the two are so entwined for vampires, but HBO dealt with that by making Tara a rape victim, not Sookie, I think so that their fan base wouldn't lose their love for Bill and Bill/Sookie…. I don't even want to get into white women being raped vs. women of color. That's another blog post.) BUT as I said above I definitely think it's funny with the hyper-sexualized nature of their show, and just how much it revels in blood and gore mixed with sex, that it has NEVER ONCE even alluded to going there. Personally if I had a vampire boyfriend I think period sex would be really really freaking hot. I mean… think of the oral. They would literally be eating you out! hahaha

      I think it's important to note that blood shows up in sex more times than your period. Having sex for the first time often causes women to bleed, but I've bled many other times during sex, especially if it was rough, if I hadn't had it in a while, and/or was with a man whose size I wasn't used to. In all of those situations, my partner found blood perfectly acceptable. One of them was even a little turned on by it. Me: "Oh shit I bled." Him: "*Grin* Wouldn't be the first time, babe." Men often say things like "I want to fuck you until you bleed." But as you say, blood due to our period carries with it connotations of our innate "dirtiness" as women, and therefore revolution and disgust… It seems that blood in sex is only acceptable if it was the man who caused the bleeding. Whether that's through penetration of teeth, (or fangs as the case may be) nails, or penis. Now that is definitely something to think about.

      • they only think they own her…her sly smirk tells us otherwise ;)

      • And, pp, that rape scene in the book being deleted from the show, applies to the realistic undistressed, peaceful, unhurt and otherwise not upset photo representation of the TV series. Otherwise, one would have to delicately and thoroughly navigate the extreme emotions one experiences after being raped by someone they knew and her consequent acceptance and forgiveness in order for that photo to really represent something other than female oppression.

    • Hmm, and that's how many years between now and then, Emily? And, even though I don't find this fantastic for exactly the same reason that Kerry does, I do find it fantastic for the reason the OP gives, as well as the fact that two men are suggestively posed alongSIDE the woman (which is ALso very rare), and no one is distressed, upset, angry or hurt-looking (which is what would be required for this to be designated oppression). Pornography hurts women and contributes to rape culture when it is NON-consensual (which I agree is likely most often the case) but there are examples out there of completely consensual instances of it.

      • Wow, not sure what you meant. When rape is consensual (which is impossible), or when two men are with one woman at the same time is consensual?

  5. Your blog post got me thinking! Here is my response on Female Impersonator:
    http://impersonated.blogspot.com/2010/08/true-blo

  6. Absolutely thought provoking point of view and gave me reason to pause and think about the issue. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and would love to reference it and cross post it on my blog! I love the Rolling Stone cover and the boundaries it begs readers to challenge.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for all the feedback! I posted a reply on Female Impersonator [http://impersonated.blogspot.com/2010/08/true-blood-rolling-stone-cover-possible.html] but wanted to replyhere as well:

    As far as this blog post, I wanted to engage in a bit of intellectual play, and discuss some more empowering (and perhaps a bit out-there) ways that we could read this image. It's an intellectual leap, not a steadfast, definite sociological interpretation of the image. Obviously it has nothing to do with menstruation. But given the social history of repulsion towards blood/menstruation/bodies/sex/HIV the photograph indicates a significant social shift.

    I'm glad we can have this conversation!

  8. If anything, the cover image represents sex and violence (rape & physical beating) against women. We may have taken one step closer with nude men on the photo, but who has their hand on whose breast? The blood represents the proof of the horrible act. If menstrual blood were represented here, it would be proof of the grossness by which our culture perceives a womans' period. However, I do like the fact that you got others to think about the issue. So much so as to render a response.

  9. it looks more violent than menstrual to me.

  10. Well, now that you have me thinking about it, that splot of blood on her right thigh DOES look kind of like a fleshy menstrual glob. ;)

  11. I don't have anything against Mentrual bleeding and all, but for me blood is gross regardless of where it comes from. What are we teaching our kids and ourselves? That it's ok to transmit blood to one another, even though it's not a good idea because blood is one of those bodily fluids that can transmit diseases?

    Maybe it's just squeamishness, or the fact i have a blood disorder, but this is definitely not attractive. Maybe shocking, which is what they're trying to get across and doing a great job at it–as i might add–but it's been done so many times.

    Oh and look, it's a threesome. I hope there is enough blood to go around for these sadistic men!

    • Artemis says:

      What makes them sadists? Or are you automatically assuming that Sookie/Anna Paquin doesn't want to be there? Also, vampires in the show and books enjoy being fed from, as well as feeding from others, and Sookie enjoys both actions.

  12. Brilliant post. You know I just got back together with my ex and this blog just made me even happier.

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