If the Sex is “Fake,” Is it Still Sexual?

We’ve gotten it into our heads that the sexuality on display in sex scenes isn’t “real.” Since intercourse (usually) doesn’t take place1; and since the costars are (sometimes) not in an off-screen relationship, and therefore wouldn’t participate in such actions otherwise; and because film sets are (occasionally) sparsely populated during intimate scenes in an attempt to maintain professionalism, such actions shouldn’t be labeled as sexual.

Let me share a simple illustration that helps us clear away the fog. In a recent Facebook discussion, I saw one lady make an astute observation (which I have only slightly edited):

If you come upon your wife and she’s covered in “blood” and writhing on the ground while someone stands over her with a bloody sword, and then she sees you and says, “Oh, we’re just cosplaying and this is raspberry syrup,” you’d laugh and say, “Wow, that was realistic.” Whereas if she were naked with some guy and they were swapping spit and rubbing up on each other, and she sees you and says, “Oh, we were just cosplaying a scene from Game of Thrones”—it’s an entirely different matter. Yes?

Yes it is. And the parallel she draws between violence and sexuality is helpful. Pretending to have sex with someone in front of the camera is quite different from pretending to shoot someone in front of the camera. An on-screen shooting is not real—not the bullet, not the wound, not the blood (if any is shown). The actor isn’t harmed in any way. There’s even an off-screen mat to catch the gun “victim” when he falls down.

On the other hand, a naked actor is still a real human being who is naked. Her (or his) nakedness and her sexual interaction with her costar are not special effects. When sexual organs are either on display or actively engaged—even if the act of intercourse itself is simulated—the proceedings are very real, and very sexual.

It could be argued that not all activities involving sexual organs are inherently sexual. That is true. Doctor examinations, emergency medical attention (CPR, etc.), autopsies—these experiences could be perverted into sexual situations, but they are not inherently so.

But we’re not talking about giving medical attention or solving a crime, are we? We’re talking about “swapping spit” and “rubbing up on each other”—stuff strangers, friends, and married people don’t just walk around doing to others (for good reasons).

The argument might be made that sex scenes aren’t sexual because the actors aren’t sexually aroused during the process. While it is often true that some actors—especially women—don’t find the filming of sex scenes arousing or enjoyable, what does that prove? Is sexual arousal, or lack therefore, the determining factor for whether an act is sexual or not? In acts such as prostitution, rape, and pedophilia, sexual arousal is most decidedly not a universally experienced component, but that doesn’t eliminate their sexual nature.

Later on in this blog series, I will attempt to show that actors—especially men—often do experience sexual arousal during the filming of intimate scenes. Their natural biological response is sexual because the situation is sexual. I don’t mean to imply that tantalization and sexual arousal are synonymous with lust. I only mean to show what I’ve heard many people deny: that mainstream sex scenes are devoid of eros and are therefore asexual.

What about the level of professionalism involved in sex scenes? A film set is more professional than a porn set, I’ll grant you that. But that’s damning with faint praise. It’s an argument I’ve heard too many times: “It’s not as bad as…” The person using this argument is using a standard with which to compare the sex scene, and the standard has nothing to do with Scripture. It has to do with the lowest common denominator. Of course it’s going to look better than that!

As far as I can tell, Scripture makes no prohibition against playing pretend. Acting the part of an antagonist doesn’t necessitate violating God’s law to love your neighbor. Pretending to shoot or kill someone doesn’t necessitate violating God’s laws prohibiting revenge or murder. Pretending to be married to someone doesn’t necessitate violating God’s laws against adultery. Heck, playing a character who has or does or will carry out devious sexual acts doesn’t necessitate violating God’s requirements for purity.

What God’s law does prohibit is sexually acting out with someone other than your spouse. Or, to be more specific, it prohibits sexual intercourse outside marriage. And lest we think that we’re safe so long as we avoid blatant adultery or fornication, the Bible prohibits sexual lust that involves only internal actions (Pr. 6:25; Matt. 5:28), equating them with the act of adultery itself.

With that in mind, do we really want to draw the line of sexual purity right at copulation? Do we really want to say that foreplay, which naturally and intrinsically precedes sexual intercourse, can be employed without even a hint of sexuality? That the only really sacred part of sex is the act of penetration itself, and that everything up to that point is (potential) fodder for public consumption? Are we content with such a blasé view of one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind?

Where is the pure and holy and satisfying fun in that?

Previous entry: When Art Imitates Pornography
Next entry: “But Professional Actors Aren’t Sexually Affected”


1 I say “usually” because of the rare occasion (like with the film Lust, Caution) where it’s rumored that actors might have had intercourse during the filming of a sex scene. In fac, we will see in a future installment of this series that it is more common for actors to engage in actual sex for the camera than one might expect.

Comments

Cap Stewart said…
We’ve gotten it into our heads that the sexuality on display in sex scenes isn’t “real.” Since intercourse (usually) doesn’t take place; and since the costars are (sometimes) not in an off-screen relationship, and therefore wouldn’t participate in such actions otherwise; and because film sets are (occasionally) sparsely populated during intimate scenes in an attempt to maintain professionalism, such actions shouldn’t be labeled as sexual.

[This obligatory comment is designed to make Facebook recognize my article’s content. Thanks for your understanding.]
Greg Smith said…
You probably do realize that you will be almost totally alone in today's church on this?
https://community.focusonthefamily.com/b/pluggedin/archive/2014/09/24/the-fault-in-our-movie-nights.aspx
Cap Stewart said…
It is a bit lonely, yes. :-) But that's okay.