When Actors Enjoy Simulated Sex, What Does That Prove?

A Hollywood set is a professional work environment. Whenever a sex scene is filmed, the atmosphere is far from erotic. It’s only as real as two actors pretending to argue, or two actors pretending to fight to the death. Because the sex is only simulated, it can’t really be counted as sexual—and certainly not as actual sex.

So the argument goes. It’s an argument I’ve addressed before (here and here). Last week, we looked at the first of five problems with the “sex scenes aren’t real sex” logic. Now let’s look at problems two and three.
2. It’s Not True

This second point comes into greater focus after taking into account what we learned from Mindy Kaling earlier: there are actors who find sexual enjoyment and/or arousal during scenes of simulated intimacy. That alone points to the sexual nature, not only of the finished product of filming these scenes, but the actual filming of these scenes.

Think about the alternative. If we maintain that these scenes of simulating sex acts are not sexual, then we’re saying actors who are sexually affected by them are uniquely perverted. That is, they are in some twisted way getting sexually stimulated in a situation devoid of actual sexual activity. Like those aroused by mannequins or corpses or the sight of blood, these actors are demonstrating a sub-par moral disposition, something “normal” people wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be bothered by.

Are we prepared to make such accusations? If not—and I hope we are not—then we must admit that these actors are regular people like us, and that their minds and bodies are responding in regular ways to what regularly constitutes as sexual stimuli (amorous kissing, undressing, fondling, etc.). No, it may not involve actual penetration, but the lack of penetration does not automatically siphon out any hint of sexuality.

3. It’s Reductionist

To slightly alter one of the hypothetical scenarios I used last week, imagine a teenager picking up his girlfriend for a date and saying the following to her parents: “For clarification, when you told your daughter you don’t want her to have sex, what kinds of acts were you referring to?” This young man’s quest for a definition of sex reveals a heart of prurience, not prudence. It illustrates how those who attempt to narrow the definition of sex are often trying to take advantage of it.

Listen to what John White says in his book Eros Defiled:

It is true that the further you proceed with physical contact the nearer you come to coitus. But defining coitus in terms of penetration and orgasm has as much moral significance and as much logical difficulty as trying to define a beard by the number of hairs on a chin. (p. 52)

Speaking of hairs, we need to split some more in order to make all the proper distinctions. For example, what about the difference between penetration and orgasm? Do both need to be present in order for us to count an act as sexual? What about penetration without orgasm? What about orgasm without penetration? Are either of these inherently nonsexual on their own?

Consider the excerpt below from a 2012 article involving a famous actress who was interviewed anonymously, using the pseudonym Betty. While acting out a sex scene, Betty experienced her costar ejaculating on her:

I had to surreptitiously wipe myself off with the sheet. Fortunately, I liked the guy. I found it a little flattering and a little creepy. We never talked about it, so I can’t tell you if it was Method acting on his part or if he just found me pretty, but I suspect I’m not the only actress who’s had this experience. But I can tell you that twenty years later, when I run into him, my first thought is, There’s the guy that had on-camera sex with my abdomen.[1]

Filming this sex scene did not involve “actual penetrative sex” (to once again borrow the phrase from Mindy Kaling). As such, it technically falls into the “nonsexual” category. But do you see how arbitrary and foolish these distinctions are? To quote John White again,

[An] approach to the morality of…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. A look can be as sensual as a touch, and a finger brushed lightly over a cheek as erotic as a penetration.

The truth is that sex is so much greater than just the physical act of penetration. It involves a wide scope of factors: physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual. Jesus broadened our perspective on sex when moving an action into the “adultery” category that didn’t even involve physical contact (see Matthew 5:27-28).

A wiser perspective on sex requires a wider, healthier, more holistic definition of sex. It involves, as Paeter Frandsen says, “the entire spectrum of fixation on each other’s bodies. This fixation on the body of another, or presenting oneself for that kind of fixation, is part of the sexual experience intended for marriage.”

I have read how filmmakers resent having sex scenes from their movies posted on porn sites. The reason they give is that it rips the scene out of the context of the movie, thus changing the effect of the scene. Since that is the logical framework within which they wish to argue, let us conclude this article by stepping into that framework for just a minute.

Consider what we have been talking about: that a healthy understanding of the sex act is holistic. It can’t be reduced to mere penetration. Penetration is where sex culminates, not where it begins. A climax (of any type) is the apex of a trajectory, not the beginning of a trajectory. Thus, a holistic view of sexual intercourse requires that we recognize it as a spectrum of experiences: various actions and reactions, various initiatives and responses.

Now, filmmakers who attempt to isolate segments of this spectrum are taking sex acts out of their proper context and then labeling them as “non-sexual.” They are ripping the “sexual experience intended for marriage” out of its created order and using it for their own ends. In short, they are doing to Gods gift of sex what they claim porn sites are doing to their movies.

Next week, we will conclude our discussion on this topic by addressing two more points.

Previous entry: “But Simulated Sex isn’t Real Sex”
Next entry: The Fault in Our Stars’ Simulated Sex

[1] http://www.vulture.com/2012/03/shooting-a-sex-scene-polone.html

photo credit: Josh Jensen via flickr, CC