Arnie, Dolph and me: Musclebound, the show that focuses on pleasure, pain and bodybuilding

IIs there a gap between our personal desires and the desires we are brave enough to share? Not for Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, a young Arnie equated lifting weights with ejaculating. “It gives me just as much satisfaction as coming,” he explains with a grin.

Schwarzenegger and fellow torn action star Dolph Lundgren take center stage as actor, playwright and poet Rosy Carrick‘s newest show, Musclebound. She was fascinated by it as a teenager and recently revisited Masters of the Universe, starring Lundgren as He-Man. During a torture scene in which Lundgren is stripped nearly naked and his oiled, hairless body is beaten by his enemies, something struck her.

In the pantheon of ’80s action films, muscular men are “presented in a way that only women are typically presented, showing off their bodies in all their glory.” The films invite viewers to objectify men, but never rob men of their power. What intrigued her about the torture scenes is that “it’s a performance of weakness that comes from an inherent position of power,” says Carrick. In her own sex life, she discovered that she was “putting on a show of power, the kind you only have to do when you don’t actually have that much power.”

Erotic spark…Dolph Lundgren in Masters of the Universe. Photo: Cannon Films/Allstar

In Musclebound, Carrick explores how the erotic feelings sparked by He-Man forced her to face the truth about her own life. She realized she had barriers to having honest conversations about sex and relationships with her teenage daughter Olive. Olive was in the middle of her first romance at the time and looked to her mother for guidance. “I was 19 when I had Olive, so there have always been times when she was growing up that I remember what I was like at that age.”

Although there have been advances in attitudes towards sex since Carrick was her daughter’s age, and now there is ‘more emphasis on sex positivity and fun’, Olive’s concerns sounded familiar. The sex education she taught from school focused on penetrative heterosexual intercourse; her friends did not talk about how sexual experiences made them feel, and Olive expressed concerns about being ‘used’ by boys.

“It took me back to the first time I had sex, which was a pretty lackluster experience,” says Carrick. Sex with someone else was not the same as masturbation, yet there was a feeling that being good at sex meant enjoying it. “When it comes to heterosexual sex, there is still an imbalance,” says Carrick. “We are socialized to put our feelings second and to look sexy while we do it.”

Mother and daughter always had a close and honest relationship, but Olive raised issues that Carrick had not resolved himself. She had always talked openly about sex and masturbation on stage. “But I had forgotten how important it was to me to be the sexiest person I knew, the most amazing sexual partner,” says Carrick. “I started to wonder what value that kind of sexual power has if it depends on someone else to grant it to you.”

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For the show, Carrick explored other ’80s action films, attended Comic-Con to meet Lundgren and even flew to the US to attend Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding tournament, the Arnold Classic. Just as she spent hours practicing sex, bodybuilders spend “hours of grueling work creating their bodies… literally objectifying themselves in front of a line of judges.” But while the work Schwarzenegger does on his body makes him more powerful, Carrick felt the opposite. “If you put a lot of effort into being sexy, like I always was, there comes a point where you start to resent it.”

‘It gives me as much satisfaction as coming’… Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1970. Photo: Cinetext/Allstar

As the show progresses, Carrick abandons her bravado and reveals her biggest secret. “I was so scared when I first did the show: I was taking anxiety tablets, I wasn’t sleeping. The shame was so great,” she says. But she knew she had to talk about it. “Talking about it is normalizing. But it still makes me quite emotional when I say it.”

She gets the support of her co-star, Olive – or rather, a celebrity cameo in the form of young Courteney Cox, Lundgren’s Masters of the Universe co-star, who appears on screen throughout. Carrick debated including Olive in the show. “Writing about my own experiences is one thing, but writing about hers is another.” However, Olive said not to worry. “It was such a wonderful gift,” Carrick says, and it made her realize how important Olive’s questions had been to her personal revelation. “There is mutual motherhood between us, so I wanted to credit her with that.”

While making the show, Carrick reflected on the sexual lessons we needed to pass on to our daughters. Now she has answers: “Be honest. Prioritize your own pleasure in a society that tells you to do otherwise. And don’t be ashamed of it.”

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