Anti-Science, Anti-Pleasure, and Anti-Reality

* 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. *

One scene in the screenplay for The Wolf of Wall Street required Margot Robbie to perform a sexually charged act: to take off a part of her clothing in a way that was…impractical.

“I remember thinking when I read it, ‘That’s just impossible,’” Robbie says. She actually sat down at home and tried it. “I was like, ‘No, I’m right, that is absolutely impossible.’” [1]

On the day that scene was shot, they had to improvise and come up with an alternative course of action. (I guess sometimes even Hollywood can’t make the impossible possible.)

This story illustrates a common trait of sex acts portrayed on film: they aren’t exactly rooted in reality. Porn is, of course, the worst offender. “True to life” is not something you’ll see plastered on the advertising for the latest titillation flick. Often, the sex acts in porn are downright fantastical—not in the “man, that’s great” sense, but in the “man, what alternate universe are they living in?” sense. Pornographic films can present us with sexual trysts that are outlandish. Apart from their tantalizing nature (and sometimes even in spite of it), they’re downright hilarious in their lack of realism.

You know what I’m talking about. A woman waltzes in to a public men’s room with a guy and they spontaneously copulate without anyone interrupting. A man opens the door to a woman’s house, walks right in, and the two go at it with the door wide open. A couple decides to have sex out in public, and the surrounding crowds respond not with horror but with enthusiastic support. Business associates riding in a limo suddenly have rabid intercourse with speed, style, and positioning that are physically impossible. Yes, porn isn’t interested in reality.

Except that the above scenarios are actually specific scenes from recent movies. In fact, if I listed the actors involved in those scenes, you would recognize four big-name Hollywood personalities. When it comes to describing the sex act, it seems that Tinseltown isn’t much more concerned with reality than porn is.

Think, for example, about sexually transmitted diseases, which areone of the most critical health challenges facing the nation today.” The CDC estimates that there are over 2,000 new infections every hour in the United States. The greatest protection from STDs, of course, is complete abstinence, followed by monogamy. Another form of protection is correct and consistent use of male latex condoms.

Porn doesn’t deal with these facts. But what about mainstream movies? How many films show, say, the use of condoms? Stop and think about that. Can you think of any instances?

Several years ago, I read somewhere (and I mentally kick myself for not saving the article) that the number of times “safer sex” has been portrayed in the entire history of cinema can be counted on one hand. That’s less than six presentations of condom use in over 100 years of filmmaking.

That number might need adjusting now, but the truth remains: Hollywood consistently gives us glamorized portrayals of unsafe sex. I won’t pretend to know all the reasons why, but there’s at least one: as acknowledges, “People are always complaining about condoms; they say they’re uncomfortable, kill their erections, or disrupt the intimacy or sensitivity of sex.” It’s harder for filmmakers to make a sex scene engaging when they’re forced to stumble through the unromantic process of breaking out the latex. It’s something of a mood killer.

STDs are rarely involved in cinematic plotlines that involve sexually promiscuous characters. Other than lewd comments or jokes, the dangerous reality of unprotected and non-monogamous sex is almost universally ignored. Practically no one uses condoms or ever contracts a sexually transmitted disease. How realistic is that?

Cinematic sex scenes are also unrealistic in that they present immorality as the most exciting and satisfying form of intercourse. To an incredibly large degree, sex acts portrayed in films are between unmarried persons. I guess it could be argued that movies are just portraying how most people live their lives. After all, sex outside marriage is common in our society.

The problem with that argument is not that it’s false but that it’s only part of the truth. Sex outside marriage isn’t simply acknowledged in our entertainment (movies, TV shows, magazines, books, video games, etc.)—it is also celebrated. In the movies, immorality in general, and fornication in particular, is almost unanimously portrayed as acceptable, if not laudable.

Hollywood isn’t just portraying reality. It’s putting a stamp of approval on immorality. Of all forms of sex, the film industry respects marital lovemaking the least of all, often downplaying it through the use of derogatory humor. This despite the fact that marriage-based, others-centered sex is the most satisfying of all. Sex scenes in movies don’t match scientifically-proven reality.

We’ve already touched on the unreality of certain sexual scenarios in film. These alternate reality situations extend also to the ways in which men and women are portrayed. As a general principle, men and women view sex differently: men are more experience-focused, whereas women are more relationship-focused. There are exceptions to the rule, of course. Some women can be more sexually aggressive now than they were a couple decades ago, and porn use among women (something once considered a “man’s problem”) is on the rise.

Nevertheless, if you’ve had any experience in a long-term relationship with a member of the opposite sex, you’re more aware of the distinct differences between men and women. In contrast to this, women in sex scenes are often written to act just like men do: with a crazed libido focused almost exclusively on external experiences. Such scenarios are tantalizing for guys (which is one reason why porn is filled with them), but it’s not rooted in reality.

Speaking of personal experience in marriage, I remember a conversation in which one of my pastors emphatically stated how fake cinematic sex was. Not being married at the time, I wondered how fake it could actually be. I mean, sex is sex, right? Hollywood couldn’t get it that wrong.

Now that I’m married, I see more clearly what he was talking about. Cinema sex isn’t just a perversion, although it is that. It’s a mirage. A rip-off. A fantasy version of sex that doesn’t exist. As we’ve mentioned before, it sets up a standard for us to emulate, but it’s a standard that is impossible to meet. In that sense, sex scenes in movies are very much like porn.

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[1] (I’m not directly linking to the article because of some risqué content.)