Depictions of Hooking Up in Pop Culture Aren’t Always Realistic
Hollywood has this reputation of being slightly less than accurate when it comes to all the ways sex and love are represented in theaters and on television.
From the sheer recklessness of out-of-touch scripts paired with equally out-of-touch actors, scenes that are meant to be realistic and — dare we say — progressive often come across as the exact opposite. Not every project can handle casual sex with the same groundbreaking lens as shows like Sex and the City (even though it still had more than its fair share of problematic moments and characters), which openly discussed taboo topics like STIs, condoms, and sex with men in fedoras from a female lens.
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Dr. Kate Balestrieri is licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist and founder of Modern Intimacy who’s about as fed up of the tired trops and stereotypes concerning casual sex in media as the rest of us. We sat down with her to talk about some of the worst offenders on TV and in movies, along with some ways real life people can have casual sex without being tricked into thinking their soul is headed to eternal damnation.
Here are some of the many, many, many things the media gets wrong about casual sex:
Sexual dysfunction is treated like a joke
AS SEEN IN: The double premature ejaculation scene from American Pie or in Seinfeld where George tries to open a condom, losing it in the process.
Sexual dysfunction of any kind is way too often misrepresented for the purpose of either a) dramaticizing sex scenes or b) comic relief. Premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction can be a real bummer for those who suffer from it, making films that make fun of these issues more of an obnoxious kick when someone’s already down.
“These [scenes] leave viewers feeling even more socially or sexually marginalized,” starts Balestrieri. “When what people see on screen does not match what is realistic with partners in real life, many people assume it’s because of something different about them, failing to understand the ways in which sex on screen is sanitized, glamorized or otherwise Hollywood washed.”
The race to climax is unrealistic
AS SEEN IN: Monster’s Ball, particularly the scene where Academy Award-winner Halle Berry and Academy Award attendee Billy Bob Thornton have very porn-y sex for the first time.
The pool sex sequence from Showgirls is arguably one of the cringiest moments in media. Not only do you get to watch two emotionally stunted character have sex with each other in a pool (which can be very dangerous, by the way), but they do it with such animalistic ferocity that you can’t help but ask yourself how anyone could manage to cum from that kind of activity.
“Unrealistic races to orgasm, climaxing in a matter of seconds is also problematic, for a few Reasons,” says Balestrieri, “many people knowingly and unknowingly source mainstream media and porn as their main outlets for sex education. Very rare is there a sex scene that demonstrates the varying paces of arousal for each partner, or the likelihood that if both partners orgasm, it is not always at the same time. In fact, that is a rare occurrence. The false idea that people will reach orgasm quickly, effortlessly, and without fail every time, may lead viewers to believe that something is wrong with them or their partner, if they do not experience simultaneous bliss.”
Movie sex focuses way too much on penetrative sex
AS SEEN IN: The “butter” scene from Last Tango in Paris
Pour one out for the partners of those high-powered Hollywood execs who think P-in-V is the only kind of sex out there. With the exception of a handful of movies with slightly more realistic sex scenes (e.g. Blue Is the Warmest Colour), movie sex is pretty much confined to penetrative sex and penetrative sex only.
With an inordinate amount of focus placed specifically on penis-to-vagina sex, uninformed viewers are left ill-equipped to understand the robust and plentiful landscape of sexual pleasure.
The male lens is the only way we see sex
AS SEEN IN: Basically any movie that’s come out the last 100 years where women are portrayed solely in a sexual manner. For educational purposes, let’s say Wedding Crashers or The 40-Year Old Virgin.
The misrepresentation of women, people of color, or basically anyone who wasn’t born a white man is obviously a massive problem in Hollywood. Things are getting better, but most of the sex scenes we see these days are from the point-of-view of a guy.
“Sex scenes tend to be curated, shot, and edited in a way that centers around the male gaze and straight, cisgender, male-centric pleasure,” states Balestrieri, who goes on to explain how the male-centric lens often — intentionally or unintentionally — “promotes objectification and fetishization of bodies, instead of creating an eroticized depiction of the whole person, and character.”
Take Wonder Woman: a superhero and fighter of crime, but ultimately made sexy for the sake of being sexy.
“Wonder Woman was imagined fighting crime and ridding the world of unsavory characters in a bustier,” adds Balestrieri, “In real life, she would have had a full protective gear that covered her shoulders, chest and legs more aptly.”
No one ever uses protection
AS SEEN IN: Match Point, specifically the scene where Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers make sweet love in the rain. Do you think this scene would be as fiery and sexually-charged with a shot of Meyers fumbling with a wet condom wrapper? No way.
One of the biggest thorn in the sides of safe sex warriors who also happen to have a terrible fear of STIs: no one ever slips on a condom.
“You will rarely see a casual sex scene in a movie or on TV where they leave a bar to hookup and remember to pull out their Trojan condoms — normalizing and glamorizing unprotected sex,” says Balestrieri.
When birth control does make an appearance, such as in the movie Knocked Up, it’s a plot device where the condom either breaks or slips off, leading to a hilarious unexpected pregnancy.
“Having an STI is not a deal breaker for casual sex,” notes Balestrieri, “but not discussing it can leave you or a partner with a bad taste in your/their mouth or a lifelong medical condition that wasn’t part of the plan. Regular use of condoms is a great way to reduce the spread of STIs and the risk of unwanted pregnancy.”
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