Launched in 2012, Hysterical Literature is a 12-part video art series that explores feminism, mind/body dualism, distraction portraiture, and the contrast between culture and sexuality. It was conceptualised and produced by NYC-based photographer and filmmaker Clayton Cubitt.

After a couple of film projects, Clayton set out to make a film that merges art and sex, and allows self-expression for the women. He says: "The series examines the battle between the mind and the body. It also explores the cultural contrast between art and sex, particularly how people react to the mixture of the two, and the battle over female sexuality and society's concepts of shame."

Hysterical Literature Session Six: Solé reads "Beloved" by Toni Morrison.
Hysterical Literature Session Six: Solé reads "Beloved" by Toni Morrison.

The women, who are not pornstars, are filmed, seated at a table, in austere black and white against a black background. They read a passage from a book of their choice while being distracted by a vibrator outside their control. The subjects stop reading when they're too distracted or fatigued to continue, at which point they restate their name, and what they've just read.

One of the participants, Marne, speaks on her experience since her session: "But despite being a project I’m deeply proud of, it has been challenging to deal with the intense scrutiny by the art world for my participation in this work, while my male counterpart rarely dealt with any.”

How to read yourself to an orgasm

Hysterical Literature Session Five: Teresa reads "Sexing the Cherry" by Jeanette Winterson
Hysterical Literature Session Five: Teresa reads "Sexing the Cherry" by Jeanette Winterson
  1. Pick a good book or a passage from your favourite book. It doesn't have to be erotica — it could be sci-fi, African lit, crime, etc.
  2. A vibrator at a steady humming should be placed at the best place of choice and turned on, out of your control.
  3. Read your passage aloud and enjoy!