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10 problematic movies about sex

Katya Shaposhnikova

The world is inevitably changing - and so are our views on sex and relationships. If 20 years ago didn’t know what objectification or sexism are, today we can’t help but see questionable moments in pop culture and media and not consider them normal anymore. They’re problematic. So, let us recall some of the most outdated films about sex.

"9½ Weeks", Adrian Lyne, 1985

For some reason, Adrian Lyne's film is considered an erotic melodrama. Most likely because of the famous scene with the laying out of food on Kim Basinger's body. In fact, this is the story of a young woman brought to a nervous breakdown and PTSD. The character of Mickey Rourke with the surname Gray (the most common for films of this genre) is just a classic example of a narcissist. Remember the scene where he stops the park carousel and leaves the girl hanging high in the air with no hope of salvation? The film was served to us as a "story of love and passion". Believe me, it’s much better to read the autobiographical book by Elizabeth McNeil, on the basis of which the script was written. 

"Bitter Moon", Roman Polanski, 1992

Polanski has always been against monogamy, at least in his work. "Bitter Moon" is an analysis of open relationships with a BDSM bias, however, the film reflects only one point of view — the male. A woman serves as an object for the embodiment of both the fantasy "about a whore" VS the fantasy "about a saint" — a classic sexist dichotomy. Emmanuelle Seigner is deliberately sexy, but she doesn’t forget to show the features of a "saint" while caring for her sick husband. The heroine of Kristin Scott Thomas is emphatically aristocratic and cold, embodying the cliche of a "good girl". When the characters have sex with each other in the finale, it shocks their husbands so much that it leads to a tragic denouement. Because cliche images must exist according to the laws of the men who created them. Eyeroll!

"Two Moon Junction", Zalman King, 1988

The first thing that strikes the modern viewer in King's film is the positioning of the relationship between the characters of Sherilyn Fenn and Richard Tyson as "forbidden". Only because they come from different social statuses. Yes, the problems of misalliance are a frequent topic in drama and cinema, but in 1988 it already looks a little inadequate. A young rich girl uses social stereotypes instilled in her by her own family to embody her own fantasies. And again, the sexist discourse "Madonna is a whore" sounds, especially in the scene where the girl swaps underwear with a stripper she accidentally meets. A woman is assigned either the role of a prostitute, which for some reason is associated with the working class or the role of a noble virgin from the bourgeoisie.

"Last Tango in Paris", Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972

In 2013, after the death of the leading actress Maria Schneider, Bernardo Bertolucci admitted that the scene of violence was filmed without her consent. The "butter episode" was absent from the original script, and for some reason, turns out only the men on set knew. Let me remind you that at the time of filming, Schneider was 19, and her partner Brando was 48 years old. Surprisingly, Schneider stated this back in 2007, saying out loud that the supremacy of men in the film industry leads to sad consequences. However, the public drew attention to this incident only after the statement of Bertolucci himself. I wonder why?...

"Showgirls", Paul Verhoeven, 1995

The fact that the film received a nomination for The Golden Raspberry in 13 categories speaks volumes. The story of a young stripper trying to break through to the top of show business could look quite standard, if not for a few scenes. For example, in the scene in the pool with Kyle McLachlan: an acrobatic exercise physiologically impossible in real life is given out for unsurpassed erotic skill. No real woman is capable of having fun in such conditions, but Elizabeth Barkley’s character is not a woman, but, as always, that very cliche for dreaming men. The perfect geisha serving the male gaze.

"Sixteen Candles", John Hughes, 1984

In the 1980s, many youth comedies were filmed about how teenagers enter adulthood. If we review them now, we will be amazed at how different the world was. Sexual harassment, sexism, and objectification flourished, and society accepted this as the norm. In "Sixteen Candles", the hero puts his girlfriend, who has passed out due to alcohol, into a friend's car with the words: "Have fun!." It’s implied that he will have sex with an unconscious girl and that it’s somehow joking material. In the XXI century, even a hint of sex without consent looks like a crime, let alone laughing at the situation.

By the way, here is some material on this topic: active consent and consent in a relationship.

"Caligula", Tinto Brass, 1979

Despite the presence of Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren, Tinto Brass's film essentially serves as a catalog of Penthouse models. The plot, which interprets historical events quite freely, is constantly interrupted by long sex scenes in which ideal models of erotic magazines demonstrate a variety of sexual techniques. In the future, Brass will abandon the idea of "sex for sex's sake" and will pay more attention to drama. But in Caligula, alas, the sex scenes look like plot patches. The director is not to blame for this — apparently, uncut sex scenes appeared there without his knowledge. Read about it in our compilation "11 best sex scenes".

"American Beauty", Thomas Newman, 1999

Kevin Spacey's character dreams of having sex with his daughter's underage classmate, justifying such an urge by a midlife crisis. When the girl agrees, it turns out that this is her first time, and he "nobly" refuses to communicate with her. That is if it was the second one, then without a twinge of conscience, it would be possible to have sex with a girl under the age of 18. The situation doesn’t look romantic or noble at all. The fact that Spacey himself got accused of sexual harassment of minors later on surely doesn’t make the film look better.

"Private Lessons", Alan Myerson, 1981

Another film about a relationship with a minor, in which no crime was seen in the 1980s. An attractive governess performed by Sylvia Kristel is hired specifically to teach a 15-year-old schoolboy the science of sex. The training scenes were even put on the poster and cover of the videotape, and no one saw anything reprehensible in this. Now the whole movie looks like something wild and impossible. And the question is not hypocrisy at all, but the certainty that this kind of relationship just screams “crime!”.

"Color of Night", Richard Rush, 1994

Let's start with the fact that the choice of Bruce Willis is not the best decision of the casting director for an erotic thriller. In this picture, you can examine the main character so in detail that there’s no time to admire Jane March. At the same time, not every woman has an active sympathy for him, let's be honest, his type is peculiar. Rush's film deservedly received the Golden Raspberry: the declared second "Basic Instinct" didn’t come out of it. But in addition to the scenario flaws, there is the demonization of a woman and the infantilization of an adult man, which wouldn’t work in our time. An insidious seductress who’s impossible-to-resist, and a passive, "seduced" adult male psychiatrist - it looks like outright misogyny.

Fun facts:

  • At the start of the XX century, Argentina was the world center of the erotic film industry.
  • Initially, adult films were shown only in brothels and only to clients.
  • Every second, 30 million users view erotic content on the Internet.
  • According to a study by the University of Montreal, most men watch erotica for the first time at the age of 10.
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