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Filmmaker and creator of MASHED Madeline Scrace, aka Madge

Q&A | MASHED Creator Madge Explores Sex with Vaginismus

MASHED, a six-part episodic limited series by Australia-born filmmaker and writer Madge, has been a film festival favorite for its fearlessly raw storytelling. It starts with 20-something Mashie — the main character that Madge has created in her image — partying in New York City as she quits sex with men and celebrates her queerness. The story quickly evolves into a complex and emotionally moving journey where Mashie finds herself stuck between her brazen sexuality and the vaginismus that makes vaginal penetration impossible.

As huge fans of Madge and MASHED, we’re so happy to get a chance to chat with her about her story, how MASHED came to be, and why it’s so important to make and share art about pelvic health issues.

I’d love to first talk about why creating art like this is so important. As a medical provider, Origin can offer education and treatment, but there’s an emotional barrier to getting care that’s harder to reach.

I don't know if you've ever caught yourself crying in front of a mirror and liked it? There's this school of thought that, it's not because we're attention seeking and self pitying that we want to see ourselves like that. The crying in front of the mirror is actually a way of being witnessed in your pain.

Art does that, too. It’s seeing yourself reflected. Like when someone writes words or creates art that connects with the thing that’s missing for you. It evokes a felt sense of knowing.

Yes, we need to advocate for policy change and to go to pelvic floor physical therapy. But we also need this deeper-level psychological shift, and that doesn’t happen without art, without people making a show or even telling jokes.

No one reads a piece of policy and is like, Oh my God, I'm so turned on. The thing that electrifies us is the connection that comes through art. It's not definable when we're sitting here talking about it. And when we're experiencing it, we don't need to define it because it's the most obvious thing in the world.

When did you first think to yourself alright, I'm going to make a series about my inability to insert a tampon or have penetrative sex?

I remember the exact date. It was March 27th, 2020. Before this day, I had no intentions of ever writing this story because I had never even told this story out loud or to myself. Not even in therapy. I wasn't being dishonest in therapy — I just never touched on painful sex. I really thought this was the thing I would take to my grave. I couldn’t share it because I thought that I was so alone. I thought I was a lost cause.

But on March 27th, I wrote a note to my therapist that started Have you heard of vaginismus? The pandemic had just begun, so we're on Zoom, and I just read the note out loud to her. That was in the afternoon on Friday, and by the end of that weekend, I had written the first draft of MASHED.

Your main character Mashie is so strong and sexual and fearless. That’s unusual for a film that’s centered around pelvic pain.

Before making MASHED, the films that I’d seen about painful sex reflected my physical pain but they didn’t reflect my life. They were, kind of, success stories about a person who ended up in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. They weren’t kinky or queer or raunchy.

And that's what's different about MASHED — it shows this young person who parties, who is extroverted, and seemingly wouldn't have any sexual issues. Yet this person is also thinking that they're broken and deserves to have their story told.

I mean, it's also my life, right? MASHED is a narrative series, but it's based on experiences I have had, and then hyperbolized a little. But for the most part, it's me.

And this isn’t a success story… yet. I am still fully in the throes of it.

How close was your first draft to what ultimately ended up going into the series?

For the draft, I started by writing in abstract bursts, as I thought about the more significant sexual experiences and episodes of pain that I had had. Not just with partnered sex but also with masturbation or trying to put in a tampon. So, before I weaved it into an actual narrative, it was really a collection of memories — of things that surfaced. Then it evolved into a more lucid narrative and story.

Over time, I ended up getting braver. This stuff is linked to trauma for me — it isn’t for everyone — and I ended up being able to tell that part of the story too, in a small way.

Mashie, protagonist of MASHED in EMDR therapy
Protagonist Mashie, portrayed by Madge, in an EMDR therapy session

For so many people, we might write down our memories in a journal, but that’s where it ends. This self-censorship takes over and we keep it to ourselves. Why do you think you were willing to share it all?

When it comes to writing, I don't experience that impulse to censor myself. I’ve always felt that when I read what's on my page, whether it be a journal entry or like an essay or film script, there is something that I just implicitly trust in it. I am not self conscious about it. I can't really explain that because I've experienced self consciousness in other directions. But, if I'm telling my own story, it’s truth. So how could it possibly be wrong or not good enough?

That’s so beautiful. Where did that confidence come from?

I don't know. This is my first time putting words to any of this, by the way. I am. It must have come from somewhere. I mean, starting when I was very young, I wrote poetry and performed at home and was always applauded. I was precocious and performative. You know, dressing up as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz when the movie was on and wrapping myself in aluminum foil and putting a funnel on my head, like, that kind of stuff.

My main champion when I was a child was my nan, my grandmother, yeah. She really fostered this sense of storytelling and performing. That any idea or any story that you tell, whatever comes out of your mouth, it's because it's your truth and it has value.

Outside of my writing and also the way I dress, which I’m also very confident in, I'm fully capable of being self-conscious and needy. MASHED is different. I don't feel self conscious about the work I did in MASHED on an acting level, because it's my story.

At that point, were you feeling any shame or stigma about having vaginismus?

Before I wrote about and shared it, it was very much a private shame that wasn’t aligned with who I knew myself to be. And once I wrote it, once I had something that told this story, I was like, oh, this is it, this is my thing now.

This is the story I was truly born to tell. don't think you have to find a silver lining in your pain and your traumas. I really don't believe that. But for me, it is such a fulfilling sense of purpose to be like, Oh, my voice is worthwhile in this conversation and I’m telling this story in a way that I haven't heard it told before.

And if it's true to me, I know it's true to someone else, because I'm not that special. Like, the thing that I can do is be bold about my story. But that does not mean that my story is unique, you know?

The bathroom scene from MASHED
Attempts to insert a tampon leave Mashie in excruciating pain

Once this story was out there — the story you thought you were going to take to your grave — how did that feel?

I ripped the bandaid off and I just went for it and I have no regrets about that. But what I do regret is just expecting it to be all better after it. Our minds can get really tricky around the shame that we hold in our bodies, and I thought suddenly I was all good. Like, it's shared now and in the open. And I wasn't prepared for the new layers of shame that were coming up and the specificity of the shame that was coming up.

I found that I was not ashamed of any of the sexual stuff because I felt sexually confident. But I was so embarrassed to suddenly have people know that I couldn't use tampons. And that's because we're conditioned to think that pads are dirty, that pads are like diapers. That’s starting to get better with new tampon and pad companies coming out with different messaging.

But I remember the comment that was made to me on the schoolyard. It wasn't made to me directly, actually, it was made next to me about someone else. But I remember a girl that I thought was cool said that her older sister said that pads are dirty. And I’ve carried that with me.

What next steps did you take to get MASHED made?

After that I pitched it to a production company that I wanted to work with, who ended up being the production company that made it with me. Then we worked on financing it. We got a grant from somewhere and crowdfunded. Which was a whole other level of coming out, right?

Suddenly, I was telling this story in my immediate New York-based artist circle and posting teasers, like something new coming on Instagram.

Then we posed on Seed and Spark and I'm really, really proud of that teaser, which I had friends film for me. I'm on my back and the camera's right above me, and I'm like, I'm Madeline, I want to talk about my vagina, I have this thing called vaginismus, I wrote a thing about it, I am so ashamed, I want to vomit, the work's really good though, I'd like your help funding it. And we raised the money we set as a goal within 48 hours.

MASHED takes a wonderfully real and raw approach to sex, menstruation, drinking… have early viewers welcomed all that realness?

Most people have really welcomed it. Most people want to talk about this stuff, they just don't know how to get the conversation rolling. I once did a private screening of MASHED for a group of people in their late 50s and 60s, and I thought that maybe some of them would have been put off by it, but it sparked a night long conversation about pelvic pain and sexual issues. Everyone had a story relating to painful sex.

I think when you start being brave talking about these things — because there is an element of bravery or boldness, at the very least — people are inspired to be brave themselves.

An emotional scene from MASHED
Mashie in a moment of reflection after a casual hookup doesn't go as expected

What are your hopes for MASHED at this point, when it’s won so much recognition on the festival circuit but has yet to be distributed?

Big dreams are that a well-known streaming platform would take it, right? And develop bigger episodes off the episodes we've already shot. But, since the beginning, my whole mission has always been to find a way to combine medicine, policy, advocacy, and art, because that's how real change happens.

So I’d love for MASHED to be part of a bigger hub, a place where people can talk about vaginismus, and experience art about it, and get care when they’re ready for it.

It has always been in my heart to host it in a health space, where people dealing with these types of conditions could see it. But there’s still this layer of shame and fear associated with these issues. And my series involves all kinds of sex with all kinds of people, and it also involves drug and substance use and masturbation and certain levels of vulgarity. These things aren't vulgar on their own, but I will say the series has elements of vulgarity in it. So a health organization would have to be quite brave and willing to take this on — just like they expect their patients to be…

Do you feel like you’re done telling your story of vaginismus?

This is a story I'm meant to tell in many different forms, not just by a film. So I'm now back in school to become a sex therapist. I'm also looking to put together an exhibition of multidisciplinary art. I have a potential documentary film in the works.

Yeah, it’s like, I’ve found my home…in my vagina (laughs).

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Nicole Zeman
Nicole Zeman

Nikki Zeman is the Head of Content & Community at Origin — a dream job that allows her to create eye-opening content about pelvic and sexual health. Before Origin, Nikki worked at Cosmpolitan, Women's Health, and Parents Magazine as an editor, health journalist, and advice columnist.

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