This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter.
Sex and media go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s nothing new that advertisers, entertainment organizations and even journalists use sex to garner more viewers, sell more things and ultimately make their products more interesting to you. Unfortunately, we also have lots of hang-ups when it comes to seeing sex in the media. Not only are we not supposed to enjoy it (morally, we should probably just close our eyes or walk out of the theater) but we are lacking in positive and accurate representations of sexuality in mainstream media.
One movie that has been raising eyebrows over the past several months is Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color. The movie is an adaptation of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel La vie d’Adèle.
One of the reasons the film has created so much controversy is because it has a few steamy scenes that pushed the comfort levels of many viewers. The sex scenes show two young French women exploring their new relationship in a very explicit way. Some people, including Maroh, have compared the work to pornography.
But the film also has lots of fans. Not to mention, the jury at the Cannes Film Festival awarded the director and two main stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos the Palme d’Or (the highest prize).
So what makes a good sex scene in a movie? Most of what I’ve seen in movies and TV shows is ignorant of how people reach orgasm and experience pleasure. Basically, they inspire me to do my job as a sex educator. Sex scenes in movies are so unrealistic, especially when it comes to portraying female sexuality and orgasm. Have you ever noticed how the characters gently fall onto the bed, start kissing and humping (they don’t even reach for the lube!) and then a few seconds later, the woman is moaning and climaxing.
Obviously, directors and producers have to keep in mind the rating their movie will receive from the Motion Picture Association of America. Blue Is the Warmest Color garnered an NC-17 rating for the sex scenes, which show bare breasts, butts and prosthetic molds of vaginas.
When I watched the movie, I noticed a few good things about sex scenes that are rare in other movies. The films showed the two women using their hands, mouths and other body parts to stimulate each other. They also had one of the scenes take almost 10 minutes, which I think sets a more realistic example of how many people need time to be warmed up. I’ve read objections to the length of the scene, but I’m thinking that if explosions and fight scenes can go on for more than 10 minutes, I’m ok with a sex scene that long.
The negative aspects of the scene are that they obviously came from a heterosexual male’s perspective. The scenes show something similar to what you might find in mainstream lesbian porn, which is generally made for and by hetero men. In my opinion, a good sex scene is going to be unique to the story. I also want to see films that illustrate what people actually do in the bedroom. That said, outside of manufactured porn, we don’t generally see other people have sex, so that basis for comparison is flimsy.
Hunter Riley is a Santa Fe native living and working in Albuquerque. She is the store manager of Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center.