The Fault in Our (Movie) Stars’ Simulated Sex

In the last few weeks, we’ve been examining the claim that simulated sex scenes are not real sex. Some argue that, because mainstream movie sets are tightly controlled and highly contained, these scenes cannot be categorized as sexual in nature. As I heard one person put it, “Even when filming sex scenes, film sets are the least erotic places on earth.”

Thus far, we have looked at three problems with that line of reasoning. Let’s complete this blog series by examining two more problems.

4. Sometimes the Sex Isn’t Simulated

I said earlier that a typical sex scene in a film, TV show, or stage play doesn’t involve actual penetrative sex. I used the word “typical” for a reason: there are atypical mainstream forms of entertainment where actual sex does take place on set. I won’t link to them, but there are plenty of lists of which films show actors (or body doubles) engaging in bona fide copulation.

Furthermore, to quote a 2012 article from The Independent, “films where the actors have real, as opposed to simulated sex, are becoming more common.” [1] I don’t know what constitutes as “more common,” and I don’t know if such a trend is statistically verifiable. But suffice it to say it’s not unheard of for “actual penetrative sex” to be a part of some mainstream sex scenes.

The fact that there are lists of unsimulated sex acts in the first place is also revealing: it shows how it is not obvious to a viewing audience which sex acts are “real” and which are “fake.” The finished products of both can look indistinguishable. And if they can be indistinguishable in their realism, why are we making such a concerted effort to say they are vastly distinguishable?

I have also read articles where filmmakers defend their use of unsimulated sex acts while at the same time attempting to distance their work from the category of pornography. Their work is not the same as porn, they say, because they are trying to tell a story, whereas pornography is only trying to titillate. But the line between the two (filmed sex acts to tell a comprehensive story and make money vs. filmed sex acts to titillate and make money) is still rather thin.

Are we tempted at all to say that penetrative sex is actually acceptable (or possibly acceptable) even in mainstream entertainment—as long as it is done in the name of art? If so, why are we, like Mindy Kaling and many others in the entertainment industry, trying to make a clear distinction between “real” onscreen sex and “fake” onscreen sex to begin with? If it’s all good as long as it’s for the sake of art, why not dispense with trying to make any other distinctions at all?

5. Art isn’t God

When a murder scene is filmed, one of the actors isn’t sent to the morgue and the other isn’t sent to jail. When slapstick shenanigans are filmed, actors don’t walk away with broken bones (in most cases, at least).

But when actors walk away from a sex scene, they do so having sexually acted out: certain body parts were touched in ways that would normally be allowed only by a real lover; certain body parts may have even been exposed, not only to the actor’s scene partner, but to the crew and, finally and ultimately, to the world at large. We can’t shrug that off, or defend it, simply because it isn’t officially categorized as pornography. That is setting the bar incredibly low.

Just because someone simulates sex in front of a film camera for the sake of art, it doesn’t suddenly make non-penetrative sex apropos. Art is an amazing and wonderful treasure to any culture, and yet it does not hold authority over sexuality. Art has no priestly power to indiscriminately sanction sexual acts as non-sexual. Art doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t sex. That is not its function.

As I have pointed out earlier, when we allow art to deem “unsexual” that which in any other context is sexual, we are displaying an appearance—if not the reality—of idolatry. We are relinquishing the reins to an ultimate authority that is, in reality, not ultimate. We are ignoring the Apostle Paul’s admonition that we should not be controlled by anything—even if that control is cloaked in the language of “rights” and “freedom” and “autonomy” (see 1 Corinthians 6:12).

Art is a wonderful tool, but it is a horrible false god. All false gods are, even if they are intrinsically good. If we follow the trail of the motivation (or “need”) for sex scenes back to the source of “it’s for the sake of the story,” what does that say about our allegiance? If the story made you do it, who is controlling you? Is the tool controlling the craftsperson? That’s not freedom. That’s slavery.

Why Does this Matter?

It is appropriate to end this short blog series with a reminder. The reason why I am focusing so much time on whether or not sex scenes are verifiably sexual is not a simple indulgence in nitpicking. The sexual nature of sex scenes is a critical component to my larger and more important argument.

That larger and more important argument is that we are talking about peoplenot just abstract concepts of artistry. The men and women who perform for us are worthy of dignity and respect. They are not public property to dispense with however we see fit. The violation of their privacy, dignity, and sexuality should not be deemed acceptable.

Yet, as a culture, we are content to pay and praise men and women to commit public sex acts for our entertainment. And we are disguising this grotesque practice by labeling it as nonsexual. It’s only acting. It’s not real. The Emperor may look naked, but he really does have clothes on.

Brothers and sisters, art deserves better than that. Men and women created in the image of God deserve better than that. And the God who commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves deserves better than that.

Previous entry: When Actors Enjoy Simulated Sex, What Does That Prove?


photo credit: Telefónica in Deutschland via flickr, CC (This photo has been cropped)