Hollywood Sex Scenes vs. Porn: So What if They’re (Kind of) Different?

* CONTENT ADVISORY: This topic requires a certain level of frankness that may be inappropriate for some readers. While I have taken great pains to avoid titillation, reader discretion is still advised. *

Last week, we looked at the four main ways in which motion picture sex scenes and pornography are different. Now I want to show how these factors actually prove to condemn Hollywood’s methods rather than excuse them.

Argument #1: There is often a difference in production values. Motion pictures are a form of art, whereas porn is unabashed titillation.

Hollywood’s mash-up of blatant sexuality (nudity and sex scenes) and aesthetics only serves to make its displays of sex more alluring to the viewer. As supposed works of art, Hollywood films are concerned with giving their audiences pleasure through beauty. That’s what aesthetics are all about.

What is ultimately more alluring: a sex scene with bad lighting, poor audio quality, and shoddy production work, or a sex scene with good composition, stellar audio, and overall high production values (drawing you into the scene even further)? Through its use of aesthetics, Hollywood makes illicit sex more attractive to a wider audience. It makes sin look more beautiful and desirable than porn ever could.

Argument #2: There is often a difference in intent behind the production of porn and motion pictures. Movies are aesthetic and emotional; porn is strictly erotic.

The intent of Hollywood filmmakers matters little when they’re using inherently faulty methods. The wrong thing (using sexually tantalizing footage) for the right reason (communicating a moral message) is still the wrong thing. In practically every other area of life, Christians agree that the end doesn’t justify the means. As I’ve pointed out earlier, an immoral method cannot be used to produce a moral message. It’s the cinematic equivalent of “Do as I say, not as I do.” In other words, it’s hypocritical.

Besides, we need to take Hollywood’s declaration of innocent intent with a boulder of salt. Filmmakers might say they’re not intending to be tantalizing, but they aren’t stupid. They know sex sells and they often insert sexual material to procure an audience.

Let me give just one example. In a particular movie (which I won’t name), there is a scene in which the actress has to crawl through a pipe. As she does so, the audience can easily see beyond her sagging neckline. In the DVD commentary during this scene, the director says, “To teenage boys everywhere: you’re welcome” (or something along those lines). Yes, filmmakers know what they are doing when they use sexual imagery in their movies.

Argument #3: There is often—or, practically always—a difference in explicitness. Where Hollywood sometimes uses slight of hand, porn leaves nothing to the imagination.

Porn may indeed be more explicit than much of Hollywood fare, but what does that prove? Is it excusable for motion pictures to portray sex scenes and nudity simply because other mediums are more depraved? The comparison itself is damning.

We should be comparing our movie watching habits to the standards of Scripture, not to the standards of the lowest common denominator. And yet the excuse I hear often is, “Well, the scene wasn’t nearly as bad as such and such.” When did “such and such”—not the Bible—become the default standard for Christian morality?

I’m reminded of a quote by John White in his book Eros Defiled:

I know that experts used to distinguish light from heavy petting, and heavy petting from intercourse, but is there any moral difference between two naked people in bed petting to orgasm and another two having intercourse? Is the one act a fraction of an ounce less sinful than the other?
     Is it perhaps more righteous to pet with clothes on? If so, which is worse, to pet with clothes off or to have intercourse with clothes on?
     You may accuse me of being crude. Far from it. If we pursue the argument far enough, we will see that an approach to the morality of premarital [or extramarital] sex that is based on the details of behavior (kissing, dressing or undressing, touching, holding, looking) and parts of the body (fingers, hair, arms, breasts, lips, genitals) can satisfy only a Pharisee.

If porn is inexcusable in its explicitness (as all—or at least most—Christians would attest), it’s hard to argue that Hollywood is a marked improvement, much less a champion of chastity. It would be like arguing that 200° Fahrenheit is colder than 300° Fahrenheit. While technically true, it’s inconsequential when considering human safety.

Argument #4: There is often a difference in the sex acts themselves. Films show people acting (i.e., pretending), whereas porn shows actual intercourse.

Frankly, it’s laughable for Christians to argue that there’s a difference in the eyes of God between two actors publicly faking intercourse and two actors publicly engaged in intercourse. Even compared to the blatant obscenity of porn, is it really morally superior for two actors to gyrate in faux sexual climax—just so long as the man’s privates stay outside of his co-star?

You may be offended by the comparison, and indeed you should be. But where does that sense of moral outrage go when you pay to watch a film in which two (or more) actors pretend to experience copulation?

Is pretending to have sex with your neighbor’s wife for the camera (which is socially acceptable) any better than just fantasizing about having sex with your neighbor’s wife (which is Scripturally condemnable)? Do we really want to make those kinds of distinctions? To paraphrase John White, that smells suspiciously antinomian and Pharisaic all at the same time.

Sure, there are differences between the porn and motion picture industries. But at least the porn industry is transparent about its motives and methods. Hollywood’s social acceptability—even among professing Christians—rests largely on superficial notions of moral superiority.

It’s like a man who can jump three feet condemning another man for jumping only two feet and ten inches. When the goal is Pluto, the point is moot. The righteousness of Hollywood’s use of sex and nudity is nothing more than reality-denying self-righteousness. Aligning ourselves with that standard is aligning ourselves on the side of Pharisaic nitpicking.

And we haven’t even yet talked about how porn and motion pictures are similar!

photo credit: nkpl via photopin cc

Comments

Cap Stewart said…
CONTENT ADVISORY: This topic requires a certain level of frankness that may be inappropriate for some readers. While I have taken great pains to avoid titillation, reader discretion is still advised.

Last week, we looked at the four main ways in which motion picture sex scenes and pornography are different.

[This obligatory comment is designed to make Facebook recognize my article’s content. Thanks for your understanding.]
Greg Smith said…
I don't even know where to start. You are the man I never thought I'd meet, who it appears has the same views here that I do. AND realizes how rare they've become. You are also better mannered than I am. I am still growing in that area.
Cap Stewart said…
Thank you, Greg! God is definitely softening my heart and helping me to put truth and love in their proper place: truth as the means and love as the end.