Then & Now: Sex In Film

Photo Credit: JoBlo

Rory Murray, Staff Writer |

Most people out there have probably seen a movie that contains a non-explicit sex scene. The camera pans away to the curtains just as the characters begin to do the dirty, or perhaps the shot only shows their bodies intertwined from the shoulders up, but as far as the viewer is concerned they are having sex (or had sex). The majority of mature adults would have no issue watching this, but would be up in arms about a film that depicted explicit “hardcore” sex on the big screen.

Sex can happen in one of two ways in film; often, sex scenes are simulated and no actual sexual contact occurs. In this situation, the act of sex is simply implied through the actor’s or actress’ movements and the use of clever camera angles. There are also times that unsimulated sex occurs, where the actors are engaging in real oral or penetrative sex that may or may not be explicitly shown.

A simulated sex scene in a movie can often be very difficult to shoot—it is both physically and emotionally demanding for the actors, as well as the crew shooting the scene. Before shooting the sex scene in the 2014 blockbuster “Gone Girl,” actress Rosamund Pike practiced the scene using a Dora the Explorer doll (though I’m not sure how) and requested that she and Neil Patrick Harris spend two hours alone on set to prepare for filming the disturbing scene.

Another important idea a filmmaker must keep in mind is subtlety, as they aren’t shooting pornography. During the famous tent scene in “Brokeback Mountain,” we see the two cowboys start to engage in their secret lovemaking, but just before the implied sex between them is about to start, the scene cuts to the pair goofing around and smiling shirtless outside of the tent.

Of course not every movie is that subtle—sometimes it is all about the sex. The plot of the coming of age film “American Pie” is completely centered around adolescent males making a pact to lose their virginity before they graduate high school. Those who take the time to watch this comedy probably aren’t in it for the amazing acting or story, but instead for the chance to see a freed titty and live out the fantasy that they’ll lose their virginities too.

Unsimulated sex scenes were restricted by both the law as well as the industry standards of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC), but starting in the late 1960’s, mainstream cinemas began pushing the envelope as to what was acceptable. The first film to make this push was “Blue Movie” by Andy Warhol in 1969, which featured an unsimulated sex scene that was very controversial for its time. Andy Warhol argued that the movie was not obscene; it was instead an artistic statement about sexual frustration and was depicting an act that the majority of the population experiences but no one wants to talk about.

Photo Credit: Black Raven Posters

“Blue Movie” may have started the trend of erotic films in Hollywood, but its impact couldn’t compare to the 1972 motion picture “Deep Throat.” The film was about a frustrated woman trying to find sexual pleasure, but was unable to because her clitoris was somehow located in her throat. The film was a pop-culture phenomenon, as average joes lined up to see it and weren’t ashamed of doing so. The film advocated for the sexual freedom of women and their right to seek pleasure just as men do. The actress in the film, Linda Boreman, wrote in her first two autobiographies that she enjoyed the experience and found it sexually liberating, but she later claimed that she was threatened and forced to perform the sexual acts depicted in the film. Despite this controversy, many still enjoy the film to this day.

Sex in erotic films has come a long way since “Deep Throat,” exploring topics such as bondage and BDSM as in the Fifty Shades series. “Fifty Shades of Grey” is an erotic film based on the sadomasochistic relationship between Christian Grey and young college graduate Anastasia Steele, but all of the sex acts depicted in the movie are simulated. The movie portrays sexual acts that many would consider taboo, such as a scene where Anastasia is painfully whipped by Christian. The film received mixed reviews from critics, though people lined up to indulge anyways.

It seems like no matter where you look, sex is all around us, because let’s face it: sex sells. All kinds of sex will appear in all kinds of film as long as producers are continually assured that human’s curiosity in regards to the sexual experience is enough to sell movie tickets and pack cinemas. A steamy sex scene can make or break a movie, whether or not the particular act of sex is your cup of tea.

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