The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sex in Films

Because several folks have specifically commented that they aren't fans of sex in movies, (and therefore wonder just a bit why I like it, even wondering if I'm "overcompensating") I thought I'd address that. Most simply, I enjoy, and enjoy depictions of, all the pleasurable animal aspects of life, as well as the intellectual aspects, and the spiritual ones. The whole thing, right up the chakras. Fighting, mating, eating, falling in love, self-expression, whatever. I like watching people drive fast cars expertly, and teaching babies to walk.

I find attractive male and female bodies aesthetically pleasing, a form of living art. And watching two beautiful people couple is delicious. Now, that said, I've never liked porn much: sex devoid of context is meaningless to me. I'd be just as bored by fight scenes without a surrounding story: just choreography.

Interestingly, there are similar rules: a fight scene can't just stop the plot for athletic choreography. There must be something at stake, and ideally, the scene must explore or reveal a character. Ideally. The best Rocky films did that: twelve rounds of boxing that turn the plot and reveal character. Anyone EVER seen a love/sex scene in a Hollywood movie that lasted as long as the fight scene in any Rocky movie? Ever? I haven't. Now, why in the world should it be more offensive to see two people making love than two people beating the living hell out of each other?

Frankly, the only reason I can think of is that deep down inside, you were taught that sex is "dirty", "nasty" and so forth. "Bumping uglies," "fuck you" as the ultimate insult (instead of the highest complement!) "screwing someone" as a negative, "filthy movies" gutter talk" and on, and on and on. We get a gigantic amount of reinforcement for sex as a negative. Violence in film is ten times more tolerated, and while I have a theory as to why, it still strikes me as pretty sick.

Why do I think society is more cautious about showing sex than it is displaying violence? Because every child WILL eventually have sex. Few of us will kill. The only question about sex is "when," not "if." Children are physically mature long before they are emotionally or financially prepared for the responsibilities of adult relationships. We need to slow them down.

I further suspect that societies get a lot of their power by putting toll booths on the sexual highway. You have to be "approved" by parents, church, state before you can express your sexuality. If they can convince you of this, force you to finish school, have a stable job, be presentable to parents and so forth, you can support the next generation, pay your taxes, and continue society as it currently exists. I think there are REAL disadvantages to boys and girls screwing before they are emotionally mature--both for them, and for society as a whole.

But what this means is that the easiest way to control sex is to try to anchor enough pain to it to balance the fantastic amount of pleasure. Literally, Hellfire is the punishment. Shunning. Sometimes death.

All this does, of course, is often make it more forbidden and delicious instead of a natural pleasurable human function, capable of being as expressive as dance. Moreso. No human activity expresses as much about human beings as quickly as sex: smell, touch, taste, sight, hearing, all going at once. The baud rate of communication during sex is fantastically high.

We enjoy "eavesdropping" on people's private, intimate conversations in film, so saying "it's too intimate" strikes me as avoiding the real question. Why, unless sex is dirty, or wrong, should there be any greater taboo for adults to watch it than to watch dancing, eating, or any other basic social or personal function? We discuss basic body functions in G-rated movies: poop and pee and vomit and eating. What is the problem with sex...unless it is in some way dirty? We watch people kill each other with incredibly graphic prosthetics and CGI--but you'll never see a vagina or erect penis in a film. A little pubic hair, sure. But that's about it. (Yeah, there are very rare instances of a flash of pink, but you know what I'm saying.)

I don't have real hang-ups about sex. Well, I have some kinky friends who think I'm very, very vanilla. I can live with that. But my drives are fairly simply, and direct. I love sex, and I love making love even more, and have zero guilt about it. I like my own body, and am not intimidated by beautiful bodies onscreen. I honestly don't see what the problem is...unless there is something intrinsically evil about sex. And since there is a huge amount of reinforcement for that attitude (there are, so far as I can see, no positive references to sex in the entire New Testament. There are NEGATIVE ones, but no positive ones. Now, the Old Testament rocks in this regard) But since we are in a Christian culture, I honestly think that a lot of the negatives have seeped in.

I remember talking to one very Christian lady about "The Last Temptation of Christ" and the premise of "The Da Vinci Code." In my mind, if Christ ate and slept (and apparently approved of wine), he had basic body functions, and I failed to see what all the uproar was that he might have been sexual, or lived in a sanctified marriage. She was absolutely horrified. "I don't want to think about my Lord screwing some bitch" she almost screamed. What? I backed away from THAT conversation. Minefield. Minefield. Danger, Will Robinson.

So...I would love to hear from people about this. I am most especially interested in your opinino if you are in a healthy, active sexual relationship (and therefore not resentful), think sex intrinsically neutral at worst (and therefore not dealing with guilt and disgust), and find yourself physically attractive when naked (and therefore not jealous, or fearful your partner might be more attracted to what's on the screen than what is in your bedroom). Please, take away any of my automatic suspicions about the kinds of people who are offended by sex onscreen, and help me understand this.

Why exactly is sex onscreen more objectionable than a car chase, fight scene, or whatever? Or watching people eat? If you mean "unmotivated sex" or "abusive sex" or something, well sure...but if sex isn't evil, and you aren't intimidated, and you are happy in your own sex life..what exactly is the problem? What exactly is confusing to you about why healthy adults would enjoy watching depictions of other adults making love? The number of times someone has said: "well, you don't watch people go to the bathroom" is telling in two ways: first, they are in denial. I've seen people peeing in G-rated films. Second, equating sex with producing filthy and near-poisonous body waste like feces tells me that they have a MASSIVE aversion.

If I'm wrong here, can you help me understand what's going on?
Today I did Steve Maxwell's "300 Kettlebell Workout." Dear God. Amazing, brutal...and I used a smaller KB, and took rest breaks. Twenty-six minutes of brutal fun. This guy is a monster, and HE only used a 16 KB bell. Now, yes, he was talking instruction while doing it, but still sweating like a horse and blowing like a steam-shovel. I used a 12 Kb, and Tananarive used an 8. Lethal. Really comprehensive, and brilliantly designed. A few days back, someone mentioned Maxwell's joint mobility work. I'm sure it's excellent, but it is my belief that he "borrowed" a good deal of it from my dear friend Scott Sonnon. If you like Maxwell, check Scott out at


Steve Perry said...

I've had readers tell me they skipped over the sex scenes in some of my racier novels. Others who tell me they love 'em -- my characters tend to laugh a lot when they are fooling around.

If it's part of the story, leaving it out lessens the tale. If it isn't part of the story, showing it does the same thing. Doesn't mean that every picture needs to be NC-17, but it does mean that options should be on the table.

In a discussion I've been having elsewhere, because you don't show people using the the toilet on the Death Star doesn't mean they never need to go. If the story needs a scene in the shower, then you write it. I once had Princess Leia sitting naked in a bathroom and I got all kinds of flak over that one, but it was a necessary scene.

Robin Burchett said...

Hi all.
Steve, I fit the basically happy/healthy criteria you specified, and i love sex in films. I keep it away from my boys because, at 11, 9 & 5, they have a window of time to just be kids. Our culture encourages too much adultness too soon.

Before having kids, I thought it was perverse that a parent would let their kids watch fighting but not lovemaking - this seemed a recipe for creating monsters. But my kids literally leave the room or hide their eyes when Disney characters kiss. Their bodies know it's not appropriate for them at this age, and I see no need to desensitize them to that with constant media images.

It's a fine line, determining what is appropriate, but kids generally make it clear, if they're allowed to. My kids know the facts of life, and ask questions, and there always comes a point in the conversation when they say 'that's enough' and change the subject.

My eldest was with us for the birth of the youngest, and thought that was the coolest thing in the world, but was really grossed out when he found out recently that his parents have had sex more than three times...

Pagan Topologist said...

I also like sex and lovemaking depicted in art, whether film, literature, or whatever. I also don't get why anyone wouldn't like it, except fopr children, and as the previous poster noted, they tend to avoid it anyway. Unless being poly counts as kink, I am also quite vanilla in my preferences.

Christian M. Howell said...

As an aspiring writer, I can say that I have yet to add an actual sex scene to a movie. I think I don't like sex scenes in movies because they always seem misogynist.
Women are the center of attraction IN ANY SEX SCENE, but rarely given top billing.
Or it may be that it is too conflicting. Should I become aroused in the movie theater or should I pretend that it's art and has no actual "erotic basis?"

Should I be taken out of the story thinking about so and so's tits (that's usually what happens) or should I regard it as a necessary display of a character's "O face" to further reveal character?

Perhaps a bit too Freudian for my tastes.

I am working on a script that has sexual content (A WHOLE LOT), though I design it with clever camera angles and edits so that it's more ambiguous than sweaty.

I just can't ever find a story reason for having a full-blown sex scene. I would be interested to see why, for example, it was necessary in The Departed for both cops to have explicit sex scenes.

Sex is not love, it's not companionship, it's not revealing of "social personality( I know very few people who are overtly sexual in social circumstances)."

Let's examine perhaps the most explicit sex scene in recent memory, Monster's Ball.

At the time this happens, Halle had been crying for about an hour and seemed to feel that she needed sex to be closer to Billy Bob? I don't know. It looked like the same thing he did to hookers. Just a use of a body. No reveal other than to say he's like every other man.

I would be interested if anyone could truly analyze a sex scene to show its relevance to forwarding the story or revealing character.

The act itself has no "poignant" meaning. The reason for the act would have more impact than the act itself.

Nudity also fits into this as it can't reveal character other than "a free-spirited nature." The most famous shower scene(Psycho) has perhaps a glimpse of a nipple and provided for a visual - the blood running down the drain, her struggle to rise, the breaking of the curtain.

Steven Barnes said...

Without the sex scenes in, say, "Body Heat" the movie would fall apart. We need to know why William Hurt is willing to throw his life away, and the forebrain shut-down of his attraction does that fine.
For that matter, Fatal Attraction.
On a more positive side, "Titanic" needed the same heat to convince me that Jack would die for his love. Scenes of love in the Zeferelli "Romeo and Juliet." On the playful side, Riggs and his new lady in "Lethal Weapon II" were necessary to set up his grief and rage. PG-13 scene in "Iron Man" to establish the disposible nature of Stark's relationships. The romantic sex in "Mission Impossible 2" between Cruise and Newton sets up the horror of her sexual liason with her terrorist boyfriend. The love scene in Terminator sets up the "We loved a lifetime's worth" line.
Sex in "Pretty Woman" goes from clinical to personal.
There is no more lack of characterization in sex scenes than in dialog or action scenes. When done well, they show us human beings at their most vulnerable and connected. Done poorly, of course, they're anything else.
By the way, Christian--"directing your script" is the hallmark of the amateur. Directors will throw out everything you say and do it their way. And studios will throw your script away, knowing they aren't working with a pro. Be careful about calling shots.

Steven Barnes said...

And another question: regarding the "O" face. I've seen people die a hundred times more often onscreen than I've seen them come. Considering that the ratio of coming to dying is thousands to one, what in the hell is THAT about? If there is anything more intimate than the moment of your death, I can't figure it out. So I have to believe that there is actual aversion going on here. Not in you personally--I don't know you and won't try to mind-read. But culturally, yes.

Josh Jasper said...

One reason to include sex in movies is *because* of the powerful reaction it gets. People most certainly want to see it, even if they won't admit to it, and it can be used to provoke a reaction.

Art is about provoking reactions. Art is not always going to make you happy, or comfortable throughout it's arc. Art that makes you uncomfortable in a meaningful way is quite possibly more important than art that makes you comfortable.

And there's a difference between "I don't like sex in films" and "all films are made worse if you have sex in them."

There are great books with no depictions of sex or sexual content in them whatsoever. There are great films with a depiction of sex. There's something for everyone.

Steve, Blair and Tananarive's Tennyson Hardwick novel was pretty graphic in it's sexuality. I was OK with that. parts of it were enjoyable, parts arousing, and parts were distracting from the main story. There was a section in which the narrator described a sex scene, and in the middle of it, started telling the reader about technique. I found it jarring. The rest of the sex scenes in the book were pretty well done though.

Dan Gambiera said...

An awful lot of that has to do with the MPAA. The documentary "This Film Not Yet Rated" (available free and legally online) goes into the subject in some detail.

Briefly stated, pleasure, particularly "excessive" female pleasure is likely to get dinged by this very secretive unaccountable body's ratings board. Long sex scenes, ones that are too engaging, and anything out of a very whitebread inoffensive "ordinary" are the (non-erotic) kiss of death.

Violence is fine. Murder, maiming, cannibalism, torture, and death in the Costco package are fine. Orgasms, pleasure, arousal, even puppets doing the nasty under sheets are not fine.

Dan Moran said...

It's instructive to look at other cultures. If the whole world had our reponses to sex, you could assume there was some "natural state" that humans gravitate toward. But they don't. Some cultures are more liberal/permissive, others more conservative/restrictive ...

It's not an accident that the societies where sex is the most open and least controversial are those where women have power.

IMO most of the problems people have with sex in the U.S., as it relates to entertainment, are learned. There are good and reasonable restrictions on what children can see and do -- that's what parents are for, to make sure those restrictions aren't violated. But that's the parent's decision, not society's. If a movie's rated 'R' because they said 'fuck' twice, I don't care; my kids have seen George Carlin and they don't have hangups over language. If a movie's rated 'R' for boobs and butts, I don't care; nudity doesn't bother me.

Actual sex, yeah, now I care. Meaningful degrees of violence, yeah, I care about that too. But the lines I draw are different from those my parents drew, and I think healthier.

The lines I draw for myself? I don't watch much porn any more, but that's because it's gotten boring, not because I think there's anything inherently wrong with it. If I had the sex drive today I had at 25, I might still watch porn once or twice a week.

In real terms I'm much likelier to draw lines over violence than over sex. The likes of Saw ... yech. That a society can get upset about a blow job in a movie but be OK with people being graphically tortured to death in popular entertainment bespeaks an unbalanced society.

Though not as unbalanced as it used to be. Even small progress is better than regression.

Steven Barnes said...

Well, if you're referring to "Team America", I agree that puppets defacating on each other deserves an NC-17. That's definitely over MY line. While I think it's hysterical, if I was a parent used to ordinary "R" and took my teenager to that, I'd be pretty outraged.

Chavo said...

I've always thought that the American Sex Fear is really odd, esp. as it relates to our (aparent)love of violence.

I tend to think that throughout a large part of our existence as wjhat we would all recognize as humans, we actually saw people we knew making love. It's a by product of communal housing and tribal living. Certainly it was heard. The religious freak-outs about sex then further segregate it, as do multi-room dwellings for most families, the move away from farm life (think about suburban boys watchign dogs fuck...this doesn't seem like it would get a raised eyebrow, let alone a laugh in a life lived with animals.

I think maybe the fear of sex is the fear of being animals. So maybe the questions is do you think of yourself as truly different from other animals?

RE: Maxell & Sonnon- I actually just began working though FlowFit- nice little piece of work! The Maxwell Joint stuff contains a lot of basics, some from yoga, some things I have seen in Systema & Sambo, BJJ, wrestling. Scott & Steve have similliar backrounds as far as the grappling goes- I am not suprised to see similliar things from them. It would be strange if it was otherwise.

Christian M. Howell said...

I disagree. I bet I could rewrite Body Heat so that sex is not necessary.

The greatest noir "femme fatale" movies had no sex. You won't convince me of that.

A far as your assumption that I put in "director's notes," you couldn't be farther from the truth.

For example,

Jason bursts into the bathroom and finds Melissa pressed between two men.
One leans against the sink with his hands on her shoulders.
The other man has his head pressed into her back with his hands caressing her legs under her large terrycloth robe.

What am I describing?

I just haven't sold yet. I have gotten reads and requests for more scripts. I had only been serious about this for a few months when I got my first read and additional script request.

As I say the reason for the sex is MUCH MORE POWERFUL THAT THE SEX ITSELF.

You said it yourself (Body Heat) as we could give the reason, show caresses and then cut to the cigarette (well, not in my script cause my characters don't smoke).

Anything else is blatant pandering.

Of course, this is my opinion, which if I recall, is like an asshole.

So when you see a sex scene, do you become aroused? Are you glad they only show the woman's ass or would you like them to give equal time to the man's ass? Do you think that flaccid or erect penises should be prominently displayed? If not, why?

This is just a question and is in no way related to preference. I try to analyze everything as a pure scientist, with no thought of morals or mores.

My analysis shows that there is no cinematic value in an explicit sex scene. Only

Christian M. Howell said...

And just to show I'm not "puritanical" how many people have had sex in a Port Authority staircase or a construction site or very nearly in a dance club?

I'm currently attempting to give head in a club bathroom. Now that's HOT! I wouldn't film it though as I don't want people watching me even simulate sex.

And according to previous responses, girl on girl is the right message to send to our daughters?

How many of you would want to see your daughter in say "The Postman Always Rings Twice" or "Monster's Ball?"

Why do women like Sarah Jessica Parker refuse to do nude scenes?

Why does every actress who does explicit sex scenes (JLo, Natasha Henstridge, Selma Hayek, etc.) always fall from grace after a few?

Halle hasn't been in a worthwhile movie ("Things We Lost" kind of blew) since Monster's Ball - not that it was some great cinematic achievement.

I think it goes back to what you (Steve) said previously about cultural groups (to paraphrase: who cares about the other group).

Josh Jasper said...

Christian - The greatest noir "femme fatale" movies had no sex. You won't convince me of that.

You've never seen "The Big Sleep"? You know, the one with the nymphomaniac as a plot device?

Look, your idea of "the greatest" is not something I need to change, but you're not going to change mine either.

Josh Jasper said...

And we've not even gotten into the HUGE romance novel industry, and it's attached "Supernatural Romance" industry, which is remarkably graphic in it's best sellers, and written by, and for women.

Women sure like reading explicit sex scenes. Dunno about watching it on screen.

Steven Barnes said...

Very interesting about sexual repression and women's freedom. I think you're right that there's a correlation.
Christian: yes, you COULD rewrite body heat to remove the sex, but why? I'm getting the sense from your personal stories that you think sex is "nasty". If I'm wrong, please tell me--no offense meant.
Actresses who perform nude often fall from grace because, while sex is tittilating and arousing, we have a sense that it is "dirty." They definitely are then seen as "whores" rather than fully sexual partners in life.
Am I turned on by watching a man's bare ass on-screen? No, but I would if I were gay. Now, if there's a woman's ass there too, great! I certainly wouldn't begrudge a woman the right to look at a man's ass, though. Sauce for the goose.
Christian: I would assume the scene is a sex scene. Could be rape or violence, however. Doesn't feel over-directed, though. I'd need more context to know more.

mjholt said...

Most movie sex scenes are boring or boorish, and I think that is why people are uncomfortable. There will be people who are uncomfortable no matter what, but that is the Bell Curve at work.

You mentioned Body Heat, that really is an exceptional movie, but not the exception that proves the point about sex scenes. The eating scene in Tom Jones is very sexual and witty.

Your comments of Will Smith beg the question of whether or not Smith will do or will not do sex scenes. That needs to be considered.

Steven Barnes said...

Women like Sarah Jessica Parker don't do nude scenes because of their own reasons: I don't know them. In some countries, very serious actresses do them all the time. In America, not so often, although many Oscar-Winning actresses have. Again, I think it's because a majority of the population, on some level, considers sex "nasty"--and is both hypnotized and repulsed by it. And I think that attitude is sick.
Erect penises? If the movie calls for it. "In the Realm of the Senses" was absolutely devastating, and would have been less so without the hard-core footage. However, the audience for hard core and the audience for serious drama doesn't overlap much. You'd go broke trying to bridge them. "Brown Bunny," anyone? Anyone?

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

I'm currently attempting to give head in a club bathroom.

If I were currently doing that, I sure wouldn't be typing comments on this blog at the same time :-).

On sex scenes, I think that sometimes leaving the sex implied works as well as (or even better than) showing it; for example, in Brassed Off, there's a scene where a woman invites a man up "for coffee," he says, "I don't drink coffee," she says, "I don't have any," and then they cut to him walking away from her apartment in very good spirits. Works for that particular movie. Other times, actually showing the sex scene is what works best; it depends on what you want to convey.

Similarly, sometimes a more chaste romance suits a particular character and story. Peter Parker starts his story arc as a nerdy teenager; it's appropriate that the Spiderman movies show stuff like the upside down kiss, but don't have actual hot bedroom scenes with him and MJ. Tony Stark is older and more of a playboy, so it's appropriate that he gets the PG-13 bedroom scene (which, besides setting up his disposable attitude towards women, sets up Pepper Potts' attitude and makes it clear that she doesn't want to be another one of those disposable women).

I think I don't like sex scenes in movies because they always seem misogynist.

I don't find sex scenes per se misogynist; actually I think quite a lot of them aren't, but it bothers me to see movies in which the men are treated as full human beings, and the women just seem to be there to show their physical attributes and sleep with the men. But that's not so much about how explicit it is as about other stuff. Like: Do women go into combat in skimpy clothes and high heels, while men are fight ready, or are women allowed to have common sense, and fight in shoes that won't cripple them, then put on the heels to go clubbing or something? Or, are there a whole bunch of different male characters doing interesting things, but just one woman character whose only preoccupation is the lead male character? Or do I have to watch a lot of "dumb but sexy" female characters, especially ones that are the only woman in the movie? Even very sexually unexplicit movies can be annoying with the "dumb but sexy" thing.

Where I draw the line is that I don't want the actors to actually have to do things that I personally wouldn't be comfortable doing myself even if I could get a hypothetical Oscar for it. So that does rule out stuff that's sufficiently hard core, but not nudity, and not your standard R-rated simulated sex scene (let alone a PG-13 one).

Dan Moran said...

And just to show I'm not "puritanical" how many people have had sex in a Port Authority staircase or a construction site or very nearly in a dance club?

On this blog? I'm going with 90% ...

Marty S said...

Steve: In the real world we see violence all the time in public. We see it sports, in schools and playgrounds. How often have you seen sex in public. People don't often feel romantic and take off their clothes and have sex in a public park with an audience watching. I think this translates for many people into what they expect or want to see in movies. They view sex in a movie as sex in a public place.

Brian Dunbar said...

Now, why in the world should it be more offensive to see two people making love than two people beating the living hell out of each other?

You got me. I agree with you that watching nice-looking athletic people do athletic things with grace is pleasing.

It depends on the movie and who I'm watching it with. I watch a lot of films with my kids - one of whom is way too young to watch people having sex. He's aware of what sex is - his dog has puppies and he got to watch it all from procreation to birth to finding good homes for the pups. He's just - my opinion of course - too young to watch.

So any movie with sex scenes is one he can't watch. Ditto too-graphic violence. And that's time I can't share with him. So I tend to 'vote' my dollars to films that we can watch together.

Yet - while I like 'new' movies that are showing it all, I like the old movies that wink and nod at the sex and violence in a way that's hard to pin down

Ah! Watch Gene Kelly and n Cyd Charisse in 'Singin' in the Rain' - there is a lot of smokin' passion going on there. It's intense - but my kiddo can watch it and get enthralled in the dance while the adults can watch it and understand the subtle (and not so subtle) subtext.

Maybe it's the subtle bits that I like. Interesting question ..

Frankly, the only reason I can think of is that deep down inside, you were taught that sex is "dirty", "nasty" and so forth.

And there is some of that as well. A lot of that, actually. But I've been aware since I was 17 that it's a silly issue - but it's difficult to wash out social conditioning shoved into you by your parents.

If it was up to me there would be no official codes - let the theaters show what they will: I sure don't care what other people watch or what they don't.

The need of some people to dictate what everyone else can watch mystifies me.

Christian M. Howell said...

Christian: yes, you COULD rewrite body heat to remove the sex, but why? I'm getting the sense from your personal stories that you think sex is "nasty". If I'm wrong, please tell me--no offense meant.
Actresses who perform nude often fall from grace because, while sex is tittilating and arousing, we have a sense that it is "dirty." They definitely are then seen as "whores" rather than fully sexual partners in life.
Am I turned on by watching a man's bare ass on-screen? No, but I would if I were gay. Now, if there's a woman's ass there too, great! I certainly wouldn't begrudge a woman the right to look at a man's ass, though. Sauce for the goose.
Christian: I would assume the scene is a sex scene. Could be rape or violence, however. Doesn't feel over-directed, though. I'd need more context to know more.

That scene describes what in common parlance is known as a "DP."

I guess that scene does have a place as it gets her boyfriend to break up with her, sending her further down her spiral.

I didn't mean, do you think you are or would be aroused. I meant since women may want to see a man's privates, would it be a valid addition?

Again, I don't think sex is dirty. I LOVE SEX. I just don't like EXPLICIT sex scenes in mainstream movies.

It takes me out of the story. I guess it's a "who cares, show the tits again" thing.

I guess I won't talk about the porn I have on my hard drive.

It's mainly an agree to disagree thing. It's just my opinion and I wouldn't try to begrudge anyone their cinematic pleasures.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

On this blog? I'm going with 90% ...

Well, not sex in a Port Authority staircase ...

I've had sex in a war zone, though; does that count for something?

I just don't like EXPLICIT sex scenes in mainstream movies.

How explicit are we talking, here?

I guess I won't talk about the porn I have on my hard drive.

Now, see, here's where I'm in the "I don't get the point" camp. PG-13 or R-rated level sex scenes in movies with actors playing characters I care about - sign me up to watch. Porn, I'll give a pass.

Steven Barnes said...

"Your comments of Will Smith beg the question of whether or not Smith will do or will not do sex scenes. That needs to be considered."
I already have, and there's a bigger question: why NO black actors do it. Each will have his own (publicly) stated reason, but private conversations are different. When Denzel actually said that he didn't do love scenes because white guys wouldn't dig it, he got accused of racism. So now, he lies. My guess is that Will Smith would never tell the truth publicly, but that he knows he has to avoid it. I have zero reason to believe that black actors are any different from white ones. The same percentage of them should want to do love scenes. Smith's words or actions regarding an individual movie or career are nowhere near as telling as the overall statistics concerning hundreds of films.

salina said...

well, in part my aversion to the more explicit and graphic scenes are most likely attributed to my thoughts of sex as "dirty" and "evil" outside the confines of marriage. I learned that in the church, lollol, NOT from my home, lol. This followed me even into adulthood; I remember the absolute HORROR when my dad and I ended up having a movie night one XMas break from college. OHMYGOD, I wanted to die as I sat shrinking in my seat watching "Fatal Attraction" with my dad sitting there next to me. That was traumatizing on SO many levels. And then there was the "She's Gotta Have It" experience, with an aunt, that was the ONE Spike Lee Movie I hadn't seen, and thought It'd be a great intro for my grandmother and father, as I was so excited about "Do the Right Thing" and "School Daze". I get nauseous even thinking ABOUT it these many years later... I don't know that I've seen enough movies with sex scenes to speak but I will anyway. lol I've OFTEN felt that there's a dramatic (Here it goes...) difference between those found in Black film and those with no or few people of color. The former seem to be more wanton, graphic, and less ...uh...ummm...erotic I guess. Even in, maybe it was called "damage"?, the scene(s) though explicit, still had a backstory, and a little more of a romantic, passionate feel, less of a "Fk factor". Perhaps that is me being delusional and having the EXPECTATION though; I'm going to think on this some more.

Steven Barnes said...

Can anyone list love/sex scenes in movies that WEREN'T misogynistic? I mean, they can't all be. Frankly, in my opinion sex scenes in gay porn would DEFINITELY be considered misogynistic if you substituted a woman for the receiving partner. It's not about women--it's about the way men relate to their sexuality. Maybe that's even worse, I don't know.

salina said...

Krush Groove! The Scene with Sheila E. and Blair Underwood was LOVELY!

Steven Barnes said...

Most people don't see shootings and stabbings publicly very much at all. And we sure as hell don't see torture. I don't think that's it.
If death is the "gold standard" of violence, and actual penetrative sex is the "gold standard" of sexuality, I see a LOT more casual PDA than I see violence in public: kissing, hugging, grinding on the dance floor, etc. I can't buy that we're really that much more used to violence. Further, the guys I've known who HAVE been exposed to lethal violence in the street (or at war) don't tend to watch violent movies much.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Can anyone list love/sex scenes in movies that WEREN'T misogynistic?

1) Shakespeare in Love
2) Desert Hearts
3) the scene with Juliette Binoche near the beginning of Blue, right after she's widowed
4) Jodie Foster sleeping with that minister guy in Contact
5) Helena Bonham-Carter's make out scene in the elevator in Wings of a Dove

Lots more, really.

Bennett said...

I'm glad that you don't see a whole great deal of sexual activity in movies, though not for prudish reasons. Rather the opposite, to be honest.

When you view anything on a screen, if it's done evocatively, it will bring out an emotional response. Someone's watching grandma pass away? You cry. Monty Python doing a silly walk? You laugh. Mr and Mrs. Smith rekindle their marriage in the kitchen... Well, you get the idea.

But we see certain things enough, and we become desensitized. I don't bat an eye any longer when Ol' Yeller dies. And after films like, say, Sin City and 300, violence isn't altogether impressive to me any longer.

That's what I think a lot of people who fret about violence in films are really worried about. It isn't that it encourages kids to be violent, it's that it educates them to regard it as something illusory, without consequences.

But violence is easy, in that it's the most overt, direct, literal form of conflict. Writing a scene where all the conflict is in subtext or clever turns of phrase requires intelligence. Writing explosions pretty much lets you hand it off to the pyro and choreography crews, and just punctuate with a few urbane one-liners if need be. Thus we see quite a bit of it.

But you can't be that juvenile with sex, or it's simply pornography. And that's what a lot of the overt violence in entertainment is. It's at the same artistic(?) level as hardcore porn.

So to tell the truth, I'm just as happy not to see it on screen to be cheapened. Because like violence, it's an easy trigger. Simply because violence brings out our emotional response to life and death, the highest need. And sex is right there under it. And I'd just as soon not become desensitized to something that I enjoy so much.

Sorry, not sure if this is the best way to express what has turned out to be two interlinked objections, but it's my two cents worth

Dan Moran said...

Non-misogynistic & hot:

Don Juan Demarco -- A perfect little jewel of a movie.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being -- the main male character is a little misogynistic, but the movie and sex scenes aren't.
Thelma and Louise -- Geena Davis w/boy toy Pitt
Body Heat & Big Easy - Ellen Barkin is as sexy as Kathleen Turner when it comes right down to it.
About Last Night -- Rob Lowe is almost as pretty as Demi Moore.
Tequila Sunrise -- Michelle Pfeiffer and Mel Gibson.

Honorable mention

Wild Things -- might be misogynistic. But hot.
Last Tango has always worked for me -- but definitely misogyny at work.

The Hunger and Personal Best -- both lesbian scenes. Smoking, though.

Marty S said...

Steve: While we don't often see violence at he level of stabbings and shootings(I have when I was a kid) we hear about them all the time on the news. We also follow wars and terrorist attacks on the news. We don't get a lot of sex stories except rapes which equal violence on the news. So I still think my argument that most people are use to thinking of violence as public and sex as private is valid. By the way I totally understand where you are coming from. I watch a lot of Detective/CSI type TV shows and it really irritates me every time they have a scene at a strip club and all the strippers are dressed more conservatively than some women at the beach.

Steven Barnes said...

Bennet--Thank you!!
Dan and Lynn--thank you both. If I'm producer on a "Tennyson" movie, I intend to hire a female sex expert to help choreograph the love scenes.
Marty S.--are you kidding? The tabloids are FILLED with who's screwing who, who's cheating, who has a sex tape, who was spotted making out, who got caught in a prostitution scandal, etc. etc. Haven't you been noticing?

Nancy Lebovitz said...

There seems to be a consensus in this thread that children should be kept away from sex.

I'm pretty sure that isn't the human default. Stone age people had to keep children where they could be defended and wouldn't necessarily have predator-proof houses.

Afaik, separate sleeping space for children and adults is a pretty modern luxury.

This is not a recommendation for any particular child-raising practice, just a note that what's locally obvious may not be the absolute truth.

Steve Perry said...

Personal Best. The Fox. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Great love scenes in all of them.

Love scenes aren't misogynistic. Sex, as part of the expression of love? Wonderful.

Sex scenes with people who don't really care about each other can be less than joyful.

There is a difference, and some filmmakers miss it, as do some writers, and some viewers and readers.

If you think the scene between the Sundance Kid (Redford) and Etta Place (Ross) is misogynistic because it has him pointing a gun at her, you need to get your carotid arteries cleaned out. That's one of the great movie reversals of all time.

Steven Barnes said...

A guess--

the longer you can postpone your children having sex, the longer and more complex you can make their training "neotonous" period, and the more complex the society.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I wasn't talking about when kids start sex, I was talking about kids not seeing adults having sex.

Steve Perry said...

What I have a problem with is parent who think it is perfect okay to let their kids watch mindless violence on the tube or in a movie theater, or to play Grand Theft Auto on their computer, but quail at the sight of a bare breast and think watching a loving couple engage in R- or PG-13 rated sex is going to fuck them up more than the violence.

Our puritan roots bleed though, and I would much rather that my kids saw sex on screen than chop-and-slash. The latter was one of the few things we forbid them, and of course, my daughter sneaked around and watched all of that she could because we did ...

We have a screwed-up value system in middle-class America that a bare tit on TV gets a fine, but a pile of bodies in Iraq does not.

a slow walker said...

Dan Gambiera got at some of the issue when he mentioned that the MPAA gives movies more restrictive ratings if they show female pleasure. The result of that is a bunch of movies where women don't seem to be enjoying the sex--at least to a female viewer, it doesn't look as though they are. I imagine these things look different to men. That could be a reason why someone would say that most sex scenes are misogynistic.

The biggest problems might come not from viewers being fundamentally uncomfortable with watching sex depicted, but from women watching film sex and hoping that no one she ever sleeps with gets an idea from it.

A male friend of mine once described the frustration of trying to write sex scenes by saying that the writers he liked as a teenager, Henry Miller, the Beats, etc. would write vividly and convincingly until they got to a sex scene. Then the male character would have sex "at" the woman. While I would not necessarily call all those scenes misogynistic, I would say that they don't work for a lot of women. Sometimes they take me out of the story because they seem a bit off the mark.

I think scenes that look hot to men often look annoying or downright unappealing to women, even to two people who have a good sex life together. I can see not wanting teenagers to watch American movie sex scenes, but not because of prudishness. It's because it could lead girls to really low expectations about their sex lives.

I hope that's a fair response to your post, which is an interesting one.

Marty S said...

Steve: Didn't think about the tabloids, never read one, rarely even looked at their headlines. Had the impression they were mostly just gossip.