“Sex Scenes in Movies Don’t Bother Me”

One night, you go to see a movie with a group of friends. In the middle of the movie, the two main characters take their clothes off and have sex. You console yourself with the knowledge that this isn’t why you came to see the movie in the first place.

Truth be told, your heart enjoyed soaking up the sights and sounds of that scene, but you know that’s not something you’re supposed to admit in a group setting—especially since some of your fellow moviegoers also go to your church. To cover up your apparent weakness (no one else seemed to be negatively affected), you talk about how tragic it was for the filmmakers to stain an otherwise good movie with that one scene. Everyone agrees, and no one is the wiser about the struggle in your heart.

Maybe you can identify with the above scenario. Then again, maybe you can’t. Based solely on discussions I’ve had with other believers, it would appear that most people can’t identify with the scenario. Probably the most often expressed explanation I’ve heard is this: “Sex scenes don’t bother me.”

When I hear that statement, my initial urge is to say, “They don’t bother me either. Quite the opposite, actually. That’s the problem.” But when people use the word “bother,” I think they mean “affect”—as in, “Sex scenes in movies don’t have a negative effect on me.”

That statement may be true for some people. I think I can safely say, however, that it isn’t true for others. My guess is that it is more often not true—despite the disproportionate claims I’ve heard to the contrary. Why have I come to this conclusion? Let me list a few reasons.

First, we all instinctively know how stories affect us. Narratives have a capacity to win our hearts and minds unlike the mere explanation of “straight facts and data.” Indeed, stories activate our brains in ways nothing else can. This has always been true of written and spoken stories, but it’s equally—if not more—true about movies as well. Some even argue that movies can, to a surprisingly large degree, actually control your brain.

Paul J. Zak, Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, says this:

Once a story has sustained our attention long enough, we may begin to emotionally resonate with [the] story’s characters. Narratologists call this “transportation,” and you experience this when your palms sweat as James Bond trades blows with a villain on top of a speeding train.

Even with the knowledge that we’re watching actors perform on a set in front of a camera, we often actually feel what the characters are feeling. When a character tells a joke, we laugh. When a character experiences loss and grief, we feel their pain, sometimes by shedding our own tears. When a character is in danger, we feel tense—even to the point of gripping our armrests. When a character is surprised by a sudden noise or appearance, we may even jump and scream ourselves.

And then, inexplicably, we say audiences aren’t affected when a sex scene comes on. One of the most powerful and sensory-intensive experiences known to man is displayed on screen and suddenly we’re detached, unaffected observers? Such a statement seems rooted more in fantasy than reality.

Another consideration is that it’s hard to discern what’s going on in any particular culture—and in our own hearts—when we’re steeped in that culture ourselves. It’s safe to say that ours is a society inundated with sexual imagery. Overt sexuality pervades our movies, TV programs, advertisements, radio stations, music videos, books, theatrical productions—and, of course, the internet itself. In our country today, it’s hard to get through even one day without being exposed to sexual material of some kind.

To be sure, simply being exposed to sexual material in one’s culture isn’t tantamount to sinning—and there’s no way to avoid this exposure completely. Even so, when we exercise little or no restraint in what we allow our eyes to see, a steady sexual barrage has a deadening effect on the soul. That’s one reason why porn addiction is so dangerous: you constantly need to increase the risqué, taboo, or violent content in order to experience sexual arousal.

Could this phenomenon be the reason why so many professing Christians say they aren’t affected by sex scenes? They may actually be telling the truth—but only because they’ve unwittingly been deadened to certain forms of sexual arousal. Their supposed spiritual maturity is actually a sign of spiritual weakness. (I don’t know when it became popular in the church to consider it morally superior not to be stimulated by sexual stimuli.)

Granted, there are some people who seem to have a greater level of immunity to sexual temptation than the rest of us. They can minister to prostitutes and porn stars with less of a chance of falling headlong into sexual sin. Considering how widespread sexual immorality is in America, and even in the church, the existence of people with strong control over their hormones seems to be the exception, not the norm.

If you’re convinced that you are an exception, I have one more consideration for you. Actually, it’s a list of four questions that I would ask you to prayerfully consider. For your own benefit, please don’t rush through this list; pause after each question and ponder the right response.
  1. Do you find yourself automatically (or maybe involuntarily) seeking pleasure or excitement by returning to sex scenes in your mind—even if only for a few seconds at a time?
  2. Do you ever imagine yourself in those scenes with those actors, receiving sexual pleasure from them?
  3. Do you ever seek sexual release by replaying those scenes in your mind and acting out on them in some way?
  4. Do you compare the looks and/or sexual acts of movie characters with those of your spouse, leading to disappointment and frustration?
Your knee-jerk response to these questions may be “No”—and you may actually be telling the truth—but deep down inside, you know the real state of affairs. You might be able to trick everyone, even your spouse, but if you know that your answer to the above questions (or at least a couple of them) is “Yes,” you’re lying to yourself and to everyone else about the effect sex scenes have on your soul.

photo credit: Robert S. Donovan via photopin cc