These days, in both television and film there are countless sex scenes. Of course some are more explicit than others but still they are there. From the scenes you find on ABC Spark shows (like The Bold Type or Good Trouble) where people are vocal about possible inexperience, being clear about their boundaries and women (regardless of who they’re having sex with) aren’t denied their pleasure. To the more explicit sex scenes you find on HBO (like True Blood or Game of Thrones).
Then in the “straight” sex scenes, women have usually been centered as givers of pleasure and not receivers. And if they do express pleasure it’s an orgasm that occurs within seconds. These women are usually white, thin and able-bodied. Constantly having women who look like that as the epitome of sexual desirability furthers the upholding of white stereotypical beauty standards. The problematic aspect isn’t simply in the women being solely pleasure givers, it’s also in the idea that if you don’t fall into those beauty standards - you aren’t worthy of being pleased.
Even while living in a time of more progressive writing in television and film, there are still sex scenes that paint a strange picture about sex. There should be more direct conversations regarding consent and so on. Instead there are more scenes based in fantasy. Everything is smooth sailing and or at least one person (when the situation involves two people) is experienced. This is even in the case of queer sex scenes and how they can play out.
For example, the infamous Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013), atumultuous sapphic love story, has some of the most strange and inaccurate depictions of sex between two cis women. The scenes are very much for the male gaze and even Julie Maroh, the author of the source material, has described the sex scenes as ridiculous. Then a more recent example is Booksmart (2019), a quality teen comedy and its brief sex scene between Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Hope (Diana Silvers) where Amy didn’t even know she was fingering Hope anally. As if she didn’t know about her own anatomy prior to sexual activity. Despite being a virgin, someone should be able to tell the difference between said areas. It’s one of the low points of what’s considered a critically acclaimed movie.
Of course not every sex scene will be magical (Tara and Willow in Buffy season six episode 7), raw and vulnerable (Emily and Naomi in Skins series 3 episode 6), passionate (Elena and Stefan in The Vampire Diaries season 1 episode 10) or a steamy stimulation (Root and Shaw in Person of Interest season 5 episode 4). Those are some examples of good sex scenes, all highlighting different scenarios and individual experiences. And overall there should be more like those, including scenes where where love isn’t a deciding factor to having sex, consent isn’t blurry, people don’t look like perfect packages, awkward movements or sounds, sexual incompatibility and how to address that.
People have absorbed glamorized ideas about sex and lose themselves in those ideas. They start to think that sex must lead to broken items on the floor, declarations of love or intense music playing in the background. When the reality is that sex can be messy, not pleasurable, boring, strange and can lead to sticky life situations (pregnancy, STIs or STDs ect). Rather than people trying to reenact a fictional sex scene (don’t get me started on the problematic allure of Fifty Shades especially), they should try to find out what they actually enjoy. This is if they’re sexually active or interested in sex at all for that matter.
The writers and directors have a responsibility when it comes to how they depict sexual content. Problematic sex scenes should be approached and presented as such. They need to know that sex isn’t about the pleasure of just one person (such as instances with cis men and women having sex), blurry consent, wanting to be with someone forever or having a physical connection last more than one evening. Sex can mean and be all sorts of things for different people. And there should never be an issue for pop culture and the content that drives it to depict sexual content that’s inclusive all around.
Vanessa Maki is a blk feminist, writer/author & visual artist. Her work has appeared in or will appear in places such as Black Youth Project, The Beat, Pink Advocate, Hello Giggles & many others. For more, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @theblackbuffy.