As the glowing reviews for Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone's Poor Things came in from the 2023 Venice Film Festival, I dreaded the inevitable social media discourse I knew was about to happen.
When news of a movie with sex scenes drops, suddenly, there's a very loud debate on whether or not we should have sex in film and TV at all. This puritanical, censorship-driven conversation is one I would usually ignore, but it seems as if it is gaining steam with every new release.
So, I think it's time we state the obvious for once and for all...
It does not matter if sex scenes move the plot forward. They are added by the director and writer, they are there for adults or sometimes even just for vibes. They are a singular part of a vast artistic medium, and if you don't like them, look away.
Sex scenes are coming back to movies in a big way. Get over it.
Movies and TV Are Not Just Plot'9 1/2 Weeks'
Credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co
The typical refrain we hear online is that sex does not advance the plot, so why should it be in film and TV shows?
The plot is not why we watch movies and TV shows. Plot is just the stuff that happens, but it's not the soul of entertainment. If you were going to watch something that only had a plot, then why not just read the synopsis of a movie or TV show? Why experience it?
The reason is that we come to film and TV not just for entertainment, but to feel something.
Film and TV are our greatest artistic mediums. They are empathy machines that bring us into characters' lives and focus us on our own reactions to what's happening on screen.
Sex scenes have a lot of uses in these mediums. They can arouse us, disturb us, tease us, make us happy, and make us sad. They can do whatever the director and writer work out together. And if they're made ethically, then why are we trying to completely cut them out? What possible use could there be from stopping this stuff?
When I go to an art museum, I stand in front of the paintings and sculptures that I feel move or interest me. If I don't like it, I keep walking. That's what I would suggest people who do not enjoy or want to see sex scenes should do.
Change the channel. See something else. But cutting out the ability for an artist's true expression is antithetical to art.
Sex Scenes are Back
When discussing the sex scenes in his new movie, Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos said, “It was a very intrinsic part of the novel itself, her freedom in everything, including sexuality."
He continues, saying, “It was very important for me to not make a film that was going to be prude because that would be completely betraying the main character. We had to be confident Emma [Stone] had to have no shame about her body, nudity, engaging in those scenes, and she understood that right away.”
Sex scenes have been a hot topic (pun intended) on film and TV over recent years. The rise of the role of the intimacy coordinator made it easier to discuss ethics, pressure, and even taste on film sets.
In a world where movies for adults are disappearing at a rapid pace, where everything gets PG-13 sanitized to be shipped overseas to prop up blockbuster budgets, sex scenes became a lighthouse, a signal that a project is meant for adults and was set apart from typical tentpole fair.
We need sex scenes in movies and TV because we need to make sure we still are making these things for adults. We need them because we have brilliant minds making things they think require them. That should be good enough.
And if it's not... we can go back to the original point.
Sometimes Sex Does Advance Plot - Along with Many Other Things
'When Harry Met Sally...'
Credit: Columbia Pictures
Sex scenes in movies serve various purposes. It can be integral to the plot, it can expand the character, can show power dynamics, and do many more things.
Let's go over a few:
- Character Development: Sex scenes can be used to explore the emotional and psychological aspects of characters. They can provide insight into their desires, vulnerabilities, and relationships, helping the audience to better understand and empathize with them. Think about a TV show like Masters of Sex, where each person is defined by their relationship with sexuality and their continual exploration of the subject.
- Plot Advancement: In some cases, sex scenes can be essential for advancing the plot or resolving conflicts. They may be used to show how characters' relationships evolve or change over time. Like in Lust, Caution, we understand the passion for sex to be directly correlated with a spy's information and closeness to their subject. As it becomes hotter, we know she's in too deep.
- Realism: Sex is a part of human life, and movies often aim to depict various aspects of the human experience. Think about how the sex scene changes in When Harry Met Sally..., as those two characters realize they are in love and want to be together.
- Artistic Expression: Filmmakers may use sex scenes as a form of artistic expression. They can be a way to convey complex emotions, explore themes, or create a specific mood or atmosphere within the film. Sex in a movie like Nymphomaniac explores Lars Von Trier's own inclinations and point of view on society.
- Social Commentary: Some films use sex scenes to comment on societal issues, such as sexuality, gender dynamics, or power dynamics. Think about the sex in Brokeback Mountain, which directly confronted society's hangups about homosexuality and helped provoke important conversations that brought us closer to equality.
- Sensuality: In erotic genres, like romantic or erotic dramas, sex scenes are a central element of the storytelling because they're there to just make people horny. Think about 50 Shades of Grey, which existed purely to arouse and tease people. It's okay to go to movies to feel this way.
It's important to note that not all movies include explicit sex scenes, and the degree of explicitness can vary widely. Filmmakers make choices based on their artistic goals.
But if we force these stories into a box we're neutering expression in a way that makes life feel much more bland and boring.
As an audience, our engagement with sex scenes should be thoughtful and part of the broader cultural conversation.
I assume these scenes and perspectives will evolve over time. And I hope the conversation stays civil throughout it. But censorship is never the answer in any form.
Let me know what you think.
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