“But Professional Actors Aren’t Sexually Affected”

* CONTENT ADVISORY: The specificity this topic requires may be inappropriate for some readers. I will quote from (and cite) a couple articles that, due to their explicit nature, I would not recommend visiting.*

While on the set of an independent film, I overheard one of the actresses talk about a sex scene she had done in a theatrical production. Based on her limited understanding of male anatomy, it was obvious she wasn’t a girl given to immorality in her everyday life. In fact, she might have even considered herself a Christian (I saw her reading a copy of Left Behind during a lunch break). Whatever the case, the way she described the sex scene made it obvious that her male co-star was sexually aroused by the experience—something he apologized to her for.

Now, I’ve heard it argued that simulated sex scenes in works of art (as opposed to real sex scenes in porn) are devoid of any sense of eros. They’re all business and no pleasure, so to speak. So was the story I heard just an isolated incident?

Hardly. The article ‘My mum’s going to see this’: Actors and actresses reveal secrets of the sex scenes attempts to explore what goes on during the filming of a sex scene “when titillation is not the primary ambition.” [1]

Although all the actors interviewed [for this article] claimed sex scenes were unerotic to film, apocryphal tales of male actors who can’t hide their arousal are as old as cinema. . . . Adds [actress Chloë] Sevigny: “There’s the famous cliché where the boys say, ‘Excuse me if I get hard... [and] excuse me if I don’t.’”

The article continues a little later:

[T]hespian lore is full of tales of actors getting carried away while simulating sex, and also of actors suddenly wishing that the love-making was for real. “Sidney Lumet says in his book on directing that when actors fall for each other it will either be in the rehearsal or the shooting of the love scene,” says [actress Natalie] Dormer.

A perusal through the article reveals that emotions and/or hormones can run high during these scenes, often in negative ways—especially for the women (an issue we’ve dealt with before and will revisit sometime in the future). Sexual arousal can be a very present hindrance in times of filming (so to speak). Not only that, but the filming of a sex scene can lead actors to generate emotional attachments to the point of actually falling in love.

As noted above, men are more susceptible to sexual arousal during sex scenes. Actress Maria Di Angelis concurs:

You have to have a sense of humor about filming these scenes. But the men, especially, have to keep themselves in check. [2]

What do men in particular need to keep in check? The answer is obvious: their libido. This makes sense, seeing as how men are generally more visually oriented then women. And since they also generally tend to treat sex more impersonally, they can more easily get hormonally involved without there being any real relationship between them and their female counterparts.

Maria Di Angelis was involved in the orgy scene in The Wolf of Wall Street. Considering that Martin Scorsese was at the helm, she figured this was as good a time as any to do a nude scene. After the shoot, she overheard two male actors talking about her part in the scene:

“I couldn’t help but get an erection,” one of them said. “It was so hot.”

(When the men realized she had heard them talking about her, they quickly apologized.)

Of course, it’s not always just men who struggle on set. One lady who pretended to have sex with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (in the same scene as above) kept acting like it was real. Angelis, who was present for the incident, said, “She was very—how can I say?—enthusiastic. It wasn’t acting.”

So we see that men and women can’t necessarily just turn off their sexuality when participating in sexually explicit scenarios. It would seem the human psyche short circuits when attempting to separate sexual actions from sexual feelings.

Notice also how the men in the above scenarios acted when they were “caught” responding to their co-stars sexually: they apologized. They were aware that a line of indecency had been crossed, and the instinctual response was to say, “I’m sorry.”

But there’s another problem with saying sex scenes aren’t arousing for actors. It’s found in a short snippet from the article we first looked at:

…films where the actors have real, as opposed to simulated sex, are becoming more common.

You can’t say actors are uninvolved sexually/hormonally if they are actually having intercourse for the camera. In fact, there’s a word for that: pornography.

Sexual arousal = lust?

In their book Every Man’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker define sexual purity this way: it is “receiving no sexual gratification from anything or anyone outside of your husband or wife.” The book itself is problematic (I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it), but I think this definition is helpful in its specificity.

In light of such a definition, it is problematic for you as an actor to agree to star in a film that will require simulated sex. Your subsequent sexual arousal cannot be labeled as a merely innocent biological reaction.

Having said that, let me reiterate something I said last week: sexual arousal is not synonymous with lust. If you’re shopping for groceries, a scantily clad woman struts by, and you find yourself sexually aroused, that in and of itself is not a sin. It is an opportunity to sin, but it is, at that moment, a temptation only. (I know it’s easy in our minds to equate temptation with sin, but the two are far from equal.)

What Scripture forbids is actively giving ourselves an opportunity to sin: “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14); “do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). If you purposefully put yourself in harm’s way, you are being foolish at best and downright sinful at worst. Praying “lead me not into temptation” while willingly putting yourself on the path of temptation is an exercise in futility.

My main point is simply that sex scenes in movies can be, and often are, sexually arousing to actors. We must not pretend otherwise—especially when considering how to best show Christian love to the actors whom we pay to entertain us.

Previous entry: If the Sex is “Fake,” Is it Still Sexual?
Next entry: Turning Sex Into a Spectator Sport

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/my-mums-going-to-see-this-actors-and-actresses-reveal-secrets-of-the-sex-scenes-7658255.html

[2] http://nypost.com/2013/12/23/my-orgy-with-leonardo-dicaprio