New East Digital Archive

‘Touch to unlock’: this sensual video proves sexuality pours from within

An undulating huddle of people glow in electric blue light. Their bodies are naked; their movements are slow, sensual, and hypnotic. They speak of a “space vibrating in eternal orgasm”, of feeling “pierced by electricity”, of their bodies, desires and taboos — until their voices blend as one and they each expose who they truly are.

This is When You Don’t Have to Act A_Part, a statement video by Sensual Cinema: a community of artists rediscovering sensuality, corporality, and sex in Russia. The video features members of the group who have faced and fought shame to reclaim their bodies as their own, including a transgender woman and a man with HIV.

Founded by polyamorous photographer and therapist Gala Khalilova in St Petersburg, Sensual Cinema organises and hosts performances, gatherings, and erotic film screenings to nurture an alternative understanding of embodiment and inclusivity.

It is a rebellion against the more conservative norms that still prevail in Russia today. When Khalilova decided to launch Sensual Cinema three years ago, she was feeling “bored” and “trapped and limited by conventional sexuality”. Unlike other sex communities driven by fast joy, Khalilova’s gatherings became a “foreplay of some sort”: deep and nuanced, free-flowing and instinctive, and not necessarily implying direct contact.

At its heart is Khalilova’s belief that sexuality “pours from within” — and that it is essential to represent and admire different bodies to shift the norm.