Why is Sex So Unrealistic in TV and Movies?

I wasn’t allowed to watch Sex and the City when I was a kid for obvious reasons. SOMEHOW, I always managed to sneak in twenty minutes here and there, and it was glorious. SATC was incredibly scandalous for me back then. Samantha always made jokes about oral sex, Charlotte struggled with a boyfriend who could only get it on in public, Miranda balanced having a baby and a fruitful sex life, and Carrie basically summed everything up with these huge, ideological questions and concerns about sex, like “Men who are too good looking are never good in bed because they never had to be.” Basically, SATC fed me all these sexual myths, and these were later supplemented by movies like The Notebook or Crossroads. Way, way later in life, when I actually started having sex, I discovered the sex I always pictured in my head was actually nothing like the sex I was having.

Ever since I lost my virginity, I wondered why sex was such a lie. In movies, there is no foreplay. Everyone usually knows what they’re doing, and no one EVER pees afterward.

With a few exceptions, fictional sex is usually quite smooth. In The Notebook, Noah carries a soaking Allie up the stairs with his pants down without tripping, and they do it after making out for like a couple seconds. Britney Spears’ character orgasms the first time she has sex in Crossroads. True Blood’s Sookie gets it on with Bill Compton in a graveyard, seconds after discovering he wasn’t dead.

Or, remember when Nick and Norah do the deed in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist? Albeit, it’s a really adorable scene. Nick and Norah are having sex for the first time, and this is captured by a sound set, instead of being filmed. Basically, we just hear giggling and whispering. Nick is having technical problems with Norah’s pants, and Norah exclaims, “Ah! Your hands are cold,” but then those tiny barriers fade away and Norah orgasms in three seconds (this is illustrated by the sound waves). I mean, come on guys. No. Absolutely not.

And I already KNOW 50 Shades of Grey is going to be one huge eye-roll, because in the books (I read them for research purposes, okay?!) Anastasia literally orgasms whenever Christian tells her to orgasm. All he has to say command is, “Come on baby,” and she orgasms. Ana orgasms even when she’s trying not to orgasm. She, like, fights it. She thinks, “Oh no, not again,” but it happens anyway. That’s not how it (usually) goes —it’s definitely more of a conscious effort for women. Now I’m NOT saying multiple orgasms can’t be achieved (they can), but it’s not like an on-off switch, and every woman’s body is different.

I worry that these so-not-actually-how-it-happens sex scenes set us up for failure, or at least disappointment, in our own nascent sexual experiences. I asked my friends about their first times and what TV  and movies had led them to expect. One friend told me that movies taught her that your first time was going to be this hyper-romantic experience, that your souls will automatically feel intertwined. But in reality, she and her boyfriend were just nervous. Really, really nervous. They didn’t know what to do with their bodies, so they just kind of fumbled. Another friend told me it was disastrous. “Because, in the movies, the guys just do everything, and everything is good and perfect.” Not so much in real life.

Sex is weird; most movies and television shows make it seem very effortless, and it’s not. TV and movies don’t convey the massive responsibility you really hold to not get pregnant and not get a disease (unless it’s a movie like Knocked Up, which is all about having sex and accidentally getting pregnant). You need to figure out a form of protection. You need to make sure foreplay happens. You need to communicate with your partners, and let them know what you like. You need to be OK with being a little selfish, and also very giving. You need to figure out what’s right for you, and it takes time. Fictional sex doesn’t show us that but it makes a big deal of showing us something else, something seamlessly choreographed and easy and natural-seeming, when in fact sex can feel anything but natural.

Even Girls, which is so praised for its rawness and realism, doesn’t actually show Hannah and Adam discussing contraception. When Shoshanna starts playing the field, she never seems to ask for foreplay—she’s just always ready to do it.

Stuart Heritage, who writes for The Guardian, states that realistic sex is a rarity in Hollywood because, “If sex on screen were in any way representative of what sex is like in real life, it’d be miserable to watch. Films would need to come with sick bags and disclaimers warning viewers against scenes that may cause shame and guilt.”

But that’s like saying there’s no value, entertainment, or sexiness in IRL sex, when I think there really is. I think people would want to see more sexual realism, because it can be funny, and it can be sweet, sweeter than “Hollywood” sex. And I don’t believe exposure to honestly depicted sex would make us feel shameful; in fact, maybe we would resonate more, and help us identify with the characters.

For instance, in the opening scene of Bridesmaidswe’re privy to a totally hilarious, accurately-depicted sex scene. Annie is doing it with her casual boyfriend/hook-up buddy she’s in love with, and it’s a Grade A mess. They’re going way too fast, and then they slow down, and then they turn over and he’s blowing hair in her face and it’s just amazing. But it’s amazing because I feel like we’ve all maybe been there. We’ve all experienced not-so-coordinated sex, sex that doesn’t feel organic.

Blue Valentine also captures real sex. The whole thing probably happens a few minutes too fast, but it’s way more honest, vivid, and truthful. But it’s a really emotional scene that shows two people connect on a physical level; it’s believable, but it’s also really wonderful.

So when will we finally have more realistic sex represented in mainstream entertainment? Is Heritage right? Is real sex too miserable to watch? Are we too afraid to show human sexual fallibility without it being some exaggerated joke?

Here’s what I wish people making TV and movie decisions would understand: A fairy tale is a fairy tale, but sex doesn’t always have to be a piece of cake. It doesn’t always need to be clean and perfect. Fictional sex should make room for flaws, for discomfort, and for awkwardness. Isn’t imperfection way more interesting, anyway?

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