The fear of sex

Throughout Americas history there has always been a fear of sex which can be clearly seen in the film industry. Sex, more so in the past, was a topic in which a person does not doubleIndemnityKissspeak of, a subject that was taboo in any social setting. It was thought of as a topic that would corrupt society and therefore limitations were placed on what film producers could and couldn’t do when depicting relationships. Married couples were often shown sleeping on different beds, and any implications of sex were considered scandalous. Scenes such as that in Double Indemnity where Phyllis come out covered only in a blanket, or the scene ended shortly after a kiss which leave the rest to the audiences imagination were seen as pushing the limit. In the film noir films we have viewed in class anybody having a relationship with a woman can almost certainly be expected to die. This holds true whether the women is a femme fatal as Phyllis in Double Indemnity, Gilda in Gilda, and Elsa from Lady from shanghai or a wholesome woman such as Polly from D.O.A. Men who fall for these women all end up dead or in a non idealistic situation. I believe that by doing this the intended message to the audience is that women and relationships will lead to your downfall. Movies such as these are meant to promote purity, because of the fear that sex will corrupt the minds of society. Although the portrayal of sex in films has come a long way from the film noir period the fear of sex and portrayal of sex as negative is still visible today. Modern films will show acts of sex but they do so in a way that still carries on the message thfriday-the-13th-photo1at sex and relationships will lead to your down fall. In most horror films those shown having sex will die shortly after, the typical lone survivor will be the virgin of the group. A perfect example of this would be Friday the 13th (2009) where basically everyone dies in aright before, during, or after committing a sexual act. This theme of the virgin surviving exposes Americas still existent fear of sex. Although I do not have a problem with the production of films today I find it interesting how America projects sex in films as negative but allow other things which may have a greater impact on society such as crime and violence. I believe violence in movies is something that also has a great chance of corrupting the minds I would say even greater then sex and find it interesting that America has never made as big a deal about it.

13 thoughts on “The fear of sex

  1. I agree somewhat with your point, the way sex is portrayed in horror films, but I think when we compare the portrayal of sex in general in movies today to the way it was portrayed back then, we see almost a complete 180, in that today REALLY anything goes, and this change of mentality happened over a relatively short period of time, which is kind of crazy.

  2. I think this is a very interesting post. Although I agree to some extent with Miriam that modern movies allow a lot more, I think that sex is still portrayed in a negative light. Although sex might be more openly displayed in current films, the ratings attached to the movies suggest that there is something “bad” about sex. For instance nudity in movies will place an “R” rating or higher on that film, but a movie full of violence and death has the potential to remain in the “PG-13” category. This seems to send a message that sex is worse than death. So, although direct relationships between sex and negative consequences is less apparent in modern film, I think sex is definitely something society is still very uncomfortable with.

  3. There’s a well known trilogy of very dense, theoretical books by French philosopher Michel Foucault called the History of Sexulaity which advance a couple of interesting ideas that fit this discussion rather well.

    One is what Foucault refers to as the “repressive hypothesis,” which is a widely held belief that since the 19th century, western culture has been characterized by a repression of human sexuality, giving way to the sort of attitudes toward sex and sexuality that Gilbert brings up in his post. Foucault critiques this idea and suggests that this will to repression has actually made sexuality central to who we are and has proliferated discussions like these.

    Another idea, one which is closely related is what Foucault refers to as the “speaker’s benefit.” The idea here is that because sex is regarded a taboo subject, we can feel that we are somehow transgressing and challenging cultural norms by speaking about it openly. In other words, we can see ourselves as enlightened, progressive, free and unrepressed when we challenge taboos and discuss sex — “we’re talking about sex! Aren’t we so very revolutionary!”

  4. I must say that I too agree with this. I find that today horror movies in a way have taken the role of fairy tales, where there is a message that is sent to the audience. Both horror movies and old fairy tales have in common the way they use fear to provide a moral to their audience. In the past children listening to a fairy tale will hear of other children that are naughty, getting eaten by witches because of their poor behavior. I feel that today viewers watching a movie like Friday the Thirteenth will see teenagers having sex and then in the next scene being brutally murdered. This to me sends the message that if you are a naughty teenager and go around having sex, this will be your fate. I feel this links negative feelings with sex and only makes society less comfortable with it. My question is, is this done on purpose to try to scare and prevent teenagers from having sex?

    • Andrew, I don’t think the directors of slasher movie (well, the director of Friday the 13th, at least) direct with a pro-abstinence agenda in mind. Teenagers are still going to have sex regardless of what happens in an 80s slasher movie, but I agree with Gilbert when I think the overall effect is that our society’s overall moral stance towards sex is only reinforced by these films.

      And why is it that these kids experience la grande mort after la petite mort? I possess little insight into the human psyche much less my own, but as I said, I don’t think the director is aspiring to make his film an exemplar of how not to behave. Hmm– well, think about it this way: if Tom and Jane were working in the soup kitchen, providing food for the homeless, and then found themselves getting brutally murdered in the next scene… would that be any better? Hypothetically, if you restructured the background of the main events of the film such that Tom and Jane were morally upstanding people– then depicted them working in a soup kitchen for a scene– then depicted them being brutally murdered in the next scene, how would you feel?

      Personally, I would prefer to see Tom and Jane having sex, and only because the alternative I proposed doesn’t make for a good movie. Society has already conditioned me to perceive blatant sex in my media as taboo, so the inclusion of a sex scene in the first place serves to indicate to me that its participants are decadent (this perspective of mine only applies to sex scenes in slasher movies). When Tom and Jane, I’ll feel unsettled, but not as unsettled as I would’ve felt if Tom and Jane were moral members of the community. Plus, the promise of a nude scene or a sex scene is what accounts for part of the reason why one may decide to watch a slasher movie.

      To me, it boils down to: “well, what kind of person would I rather have die in a slasher film?” If it’s just morally upstanding people dying for serving food to the homeless, I’m going to feel more unsettled than the other alternatives, sure– but I won’t be fulfilled. If good, innocent boys and girls fell to the ax left and right in a slasher film, not even the death of the killer could keep me from enjoying the movie. If it’s just morally bankrupt people dying after committing their foul acts, in the end I wouldn’t be very much unsettled at all, I’d just end up rooting for the killer (or watch Death Wish/Dirty Harry). If people in the moral gray area, kids who have sex, die, I’ll only be partially unsettled but partially thinking that they– deserved? (trying to think of a less strong word) it.

      This may not make sense.

  5. I think the negative connotation given to sex in many films is done on purpose. It seems like the deal with many films is that they are trying to give off some kind of a moral message and sex seems to be the best way to do this. However, I do agree with Miriam’s point that current films have evolved way past this kind of negative impression of sex. While there are always a few examples to the contrary, for the most part I feel like sex is just another facet of films that is almost expected these days. The ratings system that you bring up Whitney seem to be kind of arbitrary in my opinion because ratings assigned to movies seem so consistent compared to each other so that never really made sense to me.

    • I agree with Chamandeep. In movies these days, sex or some kind of sexual appeal seems required to capture the attention of American audiences. The phrase “sex sells” comes to mind. Although the movies may not be of much substance like the older movies, movies with attractive people or that involve risque scenes make the most bucks in the industry. I feel that filmmakers who want to make it big in movies without using sex, will have to use a jackhammer to break the pre-conceived notions/instinctive pull that sex has on audiences.

  6. In terms of the older films– noirs, especially– I love the fact that sex simply wasn’t allowed; it was a good thing that America feared sex back then! You get such wonderful innuendo, such clever techniques by filmmakers to conceal any overt sexual references. In The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cat and Frank’s sexual tension in the first half of the film is reflected in the simple action of Frank lighting Cat’s cigarette, and the resolution of that tension is depicted in romps through the beach. Isn’t that genius?

    There are some films from back then which simply wouldn’t work under today’s looser standards. Detour for example; I keep hearing that Ann Savage’s character isn’t pretty in class but land o’ goshen– I thought that her and Al’s sexual tension in the hotel scenes was so thick that I could practically strangle it with a telephone cord. I was waiting for that tension to resolve itself and in doing so, I was becoming an Al Jr. in terms of my emotional state. If Detour was a film made in 2010, the tension would have been resolved right out of the gas station, but the tension hangs over Al and Ann Savage’s character’s interactions and doesn’t subside until Ann Savage’s character dies. And the film is made richer for it.

  7. Personally, I feel that as time has progressed the population has been polarized in reference to sexual freedom. Perhaps in reaction to the extreme restrictions previously placed on sexual content, there has been a pushing of the envelope, so to speak, in terms of what can be explicitly done and stated in mainstream film. At the same time there will be those groups who adamantly denounce sexual content. There seems to be less and less middle ground. The question I would like to pose to the forum is whether the increasingly loose restrictions are a positive or negative trend?

  8. I believe Ravendra poses a good question, one that i did not really consider while writing the blog. i personally do not have a problem with the lower amounts of restrictions placed on the portrayal of sexual content on cinema. The only problem I would say that this poses is corrupting the minds of Americas youth, but movies which contain this strong sexual content are usually rated r, and in many cases, as stated in the blog, sex is viewed in a negative light or to have consequences which lowers the chance of this happening. The increasingly loose restrictions seem to have provided for more interesting movies and in some ways seems to allow the audience to feel closer to the characters presented. I could see this becoming a bigger problem if the trend continues but as it stands I believe the change was for the better.

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