Sex On Film: Necessary Or Superfluous?

Tim Ovenden

Whether you’re singular or a mingler this Valentine’s Day, Tim Ovenden propounds you read on. A question will be asked: sex scenes – yay or no way? One thing’s clear, this could get racy.

Picture the scene. You’re sat around the box with the fam tucking into a hot, new drama. It’s an engaging watch and good fun is being had by all, when suddenly two characters start kissing. ‘Get your kegs off,’ someone might say. Then off the onscreen kegs fly, so you all hastily avert your eyes and wait for this uncomfortable pothole to be over.

Sex is thrown in for a quick, cheap thrill to keep the audience invested

Maybe it’s just me – call me a party pooper if you will – but I feel a lot of sex scenes in shows and movies are completely unnecessary. In most cases, every scene should have the intention of pushing the story forward or providing character growth, yet most sex scenes seem to grind a show / movie to an absolute halt and ruin the pacing. It’s as if sex is thrown in for a quick, cheap thrill to keep the audience invested. Well, that trick doesn’t work on me.

For a moment let me remind you of Game of Thrones (GoT). Dig deep into those memory banks as this might be the first time GoT has been brought up in open discourse since 2019. To think the zeitgeist-defining show of the 2010s would be erased from public consciousness almost instantaneously at its finale is laughable, but alas, here we are.

Where was I? Oh yes, sex on screen. The first four seasons of GoT feature such an abundance of sex that they feel pornographic at times. The term ‘sexposition’ was even coined due to GoT’s frequent use of exposition-heavy sex scenes. The idea was that sex sells, making the dull-but-necessary world-building ‘bearable.’ I disagree. One, it’s distracting, and two, it made GoT less accessible and harder to recommend (and not one to watch with the family). Seasons after the fourth saw significantly less gratuitous nudity while audience figures grew and grew, despite considerably waning quality of writing. Would GoT have become the behemoth it did if it maintained all the tasteless sex? Who knows.

There’s also the problem of sexism when regarding nudity in media. The aforementioned GoT featured over 60 cases of female nudity in the first four seasons, yet the instances of male nudity could be counted on one hand. A more topical show, that is equally sexual and relevant for this piece, is Euphoria. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it, but I have heard it features some much-needed nude male representation. Music to my ears.

Sex Education is incredibly important and should be showed in schools

Openness of sexuality and sexual expression in media can help to educate people who may live more sheltered or inexperienced lives. For that reason, I think a show like Sex Education is essential viewing (especially for teenagers) because of its open discussions and clever integration of issues like coming out. I don’t know what the state of the education system is currently, but I was never taught in school about homosexuality. For so long, ‘gay’ was just a derogatory word students dished about in the corridors. Hence, I believe Sex Education is incredibly important and should be showed in schools.

To me, the key differences between a necessary and superfluous sex scene are evident when comparing The Handmaiden and Blue is the Warmest Colour – both incidentally about a lesbian romance filmed by a male director. The former uses its lewd scenes as character driven moments and key acts that progress the story forward. Moreover, these scenes were shot with a skeleton crew composed of women (even the director was absent) to make the actresses feel safe and comfortable. In contrast, much has been said about the poor and unpleasant working conditions on the set of Blue is the Warmest Colour and the scenes are so gratuitous and extended that it feels like the director just wanted to film two women getting off for three hours.

So, there’s my two cents. I managed to write a piece on excessive sex in movies without once mentioning Gaspar Noé, look at me go. What was it all for and what have we learnt here today? Whilst excessive sex scenes that don’t progress the narrative are unnecessary, this doesn’t mean sex should be banned from film. Quite the opposite. Like Sex Education does, sex and the surrounding topics should be brought up and discussed normally to remove any stigma, and hopefully encourage healthy relationships with sex.

Tim Ovenden

Featured Image courtesy of Womanizer Toys via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article image 1 courtesy of gameofthrones via instagram.com. No changes made to this image. 

In-article image(s) 2 courtesy of sexeducation via instagram.com. No changes made to these images. 

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