Are sex scenes ever necessary?

People have sex. It’s normal for people to have sex. So it’s not shocking we see it on the big screen. Sex scenes are uncomfortable viewing on a Sunday night watching a film with your Mum, but otherwise – it’s just sex. If writers and directors chose to hide it they’d perpetuate the view that sex = shameful, an outdated idea society is rightly moving past.

Sex scenes come bound in tension and not just the saucy kind. In light of the #MeToo movement it is more pressing than ever to acknowledge the potential for exploitation of actors and actresses. There are relevant and important conversations surrounding gratuitous nudity, particularly of women, that should be heard within the film community. In the event of discomfort, sex scenes aren’t sex scenes anymore, they’re exploitation. The problem is not with sex but with its context. Scenes that add to story and explore character are welcome. Otherwise not. We all agree on that.

We can’t talk sex scenes without addressing the whip-wielding elephant in the room: Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not to everyone’s taste but it shows an approach to sex that is considered taboo in conversation. Billionaire Christian Grey’s collection of toys is out of most people’s price range but for some, it’s the only insight they get. The film acts as an adult education and learning is never a bad thing. It’s scenes teach viewers that people have different kinds of sex, and that’s ok.

Fifty Shades is explicitly explicit; it knows what it is. But if that’s too much, consider the last few years in film. Titles that used sex to complement storytelling rather than compensate for limited writing have been, rightly, critically acclaimed. Think Carol, Call Me By Your Name, and their depiction of sex between same-sex couples. Call Me By Your Name uses warm hues to show longing and lust in scenes that are not fetishised but explore a homosexual relationship. The sex in Carol serves a purpose; it isn’t intended to be salacious but reflective. Scenes like this aren’t new, but their immediate box office popularity shows changing attitudes and increasing inclusivity.

There are sex scenes in films because people have sex. Some people have no sex – also ok. It’s really that simple. These scenes are necessary, not because viewers need to relate to characters, but because it helps us better understand each other. Some people do that? Cool.


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