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Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Dr. Virginia Johnson in Showtime's Masters of Sex
Every so often, I'll watch Korean dramas. Some are pretty good, and many times seeing the cultural differences is very interesting. For example, a recent series named Emergency Couple takes many of its cues from Grey's Anatomy. But it's what Grey's Anatomy would be if Shonda Rhimes took all of the sex out of the show. One big difference between Korean and American TV is displays of affection. Even in Korean romantic comedies, it's almost to a 1950s sitcom level of showing married couples with twin beds. There might be a hug between the two leads to signify affection. But sex is hardly ever implied, let alone shown. It's even rare to see couples kiss. And if they do kiss, it's a peck on the mouth instead of a passionate, open mouth smooch. Compare that to the season finale of ABC's Scandal, which had one of the characters being bent over a meeting table, and that was after her male partner had already spit on her neck and licked it up.

Last week, some of the recent developments in HBO's flagship series led to criticisms of it. The cast of Showtime's Masters of Sex differentiated the depiction of sex in their series with HBO's Game of Thrones by implying the sex in Game of Thrones is gratuitous and degrading toward women. That was coupled with the creator of the History Channel's Vikings calling Game of Thrones "soft porn" in an interview with TIME, and Dave Itzkoff's column in the New York Times about "rising unease" with the way sex, and the violence that surrounds it, is handled in the series. This type of commentary being directed at the show is not new. And defenders of Game of Thrones, as well as George R. R. Martin himself, have argued the series is set in an inherently misogynistic society and time, and it would be disingenuous to the themes of the story to sugarcoat either the sex or violence. It's also worth noting that there have probably been more columns written concerned and upset about images of breasts and shaved female genitalia in Game of Thrones than any complaining about the scenes of people being beheaded, castrated and brutally murdered.

So, in search of a topic for this week's column, I thought about how sex is presented in TV shows and movies, and whether there's a right way of doing it? Is there anything wrong with a TV show or movie being titillating just to be titillating? And maybe there isn't a correct, universal way, and the particulars of each story demands it being handled in a different way each time. Usually when this issue is discussed, it leads into arguments over objectification, sexism, patriarchy, gender roles, body image, etc., as well as any deeper cultural messages and significance to the attitudes reflected in the works. With that in mind, what does Hollywood get right about sex, and what does it get horribly wrong?

More analysis below the fold.

"There are two kinds of sex, classical and baroque. Classical sex is romantic, profound, serious, emotional, moral, mysterious, spontaneous, abandoned, focused on a particular person, and stereotypically feminine. Baroque sex is pop, playful, funny, experimental, conscious, deliberate, amoral, anonymous, focused on sensation for sensation's sake, and stereotypically masculine. The classical mentality taken to an extreme is sentimental and finally puritanical; the baroque mentality taken to an extreme is pornographic and finally obscene. Ideally, a sexual relation ought to create a satisfying tension between the two modes (a baroque idea, particularly if the tension is ironic) or else blend them so well that the distinction disappears (a classical aspiration)." Ellen Willis
The first "adult" films with graphic sex scenes I can remember seeing was Emmanuelle and The Story of Lady Chatterley late at night on Cinemax (aka Skinemax) as a teenager. Even though I was young and impressionable, and as much as I may have wanted to believe it, I don't think my takeaway from the films at the time was that sexually frustrated women go on tours of the countryside and have sex with everything that has a heartbeat. But both movies are indicative of why sex works in porn, and doesn't always function well in stories that need to build a narrative.

If a sex scene is present in a story, it's either there to arouse and be masturbation material, it's an important moment for the characters, or in some cases both aspects can be true at the same time. For a porno, the sex works because that's what a porn film is about. It's there to present a sex fantasy with the sex being the main show. It doesn't matter that the scenario or even the sex itself may be unrealistic. But for a movie that needs to tell a story beyond sex, sex scenes are usually a double-edged sword. It will definitely draw eyes and titillate, but the problem is that whatever momentum a story has just stops for a two-to-five-minute scene of actors pretending to screw each other. And if it's done badly, the sex adds nothing to the story, feels like a distraction and becomes the very definition of gratuitous.

Apparently Kyle MacLachlan's penis is somewhere on his chest given that Elizabeth Berkley grinds his upper torso during an infamous scene from 1995's Showgirls
I told some female friends I was writing something on this topic, and asked their opinion. Their responses were pretty uniform in that to them sex scenes are usually shown through a male gaze. The scenes are centered on a woman's (or women's) actions. But conversely, they felt most sex scenes are more concerned with a male's enjoyment (even when the scene is supposed to be between two lesbians), and whether or not the action ultimately serves that enjoyment.

So my argument would be that there's nothing wrong with watching sex that titillates. But if it's being done in service of a story, there are some traps the depicted sex should avoid if at all possible.

  • Women that like sex are scary and weird: Late last year, The CW series Reign cut a scene from the pilot of a woman masturbating. However, in the very same episode, there was a mildly graphic sex scene and a beheading. When it was announced that The CW was cutting the scene, there was a little debate over whether it says something about how different we look at sex with a partner versus sex with your hand or a dildo? Or was it because a woman was masturbating? Usually when masturbation is depicted on TV or in film, it's as a joke. It's a young male that's hiding it from his mother, girlfriend or wife, and high jinks then ensue. But in the past, there have been more than a few instances where female pleasure is judged differently than male satisfaction. For instance, the movie Boys Don't Cry almost received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA because a scene depicting a female orgasm went on too long. Also, ever notice the trait usually shared by femme fatale killers in thrillers and mysteries? They're sexually aggressive and like to have sex. And who survives in thrillers and horror movies with a male killer? The pretty girl who doesn't have sex. Freud would have a field day with the dichotomy of a desire for a "virgin whore."
  • Men always like having sex, and if they don't there's something "wrong": This gets into sort of ingrained gender roles, but men are usually depicted as the "aggressive" party in any relationship or sexual act (e.g. Fifty Shades of Grey). While there is truth in television to this kind of notion, with many women attracted to cocksure, confident men, the trick comes in with not making the female characters submissive and fragile compared to the men. And where things can go completely off the rails is with how TV and movies depict men who don't like sex. If a guy refuses sex from a pretty girl in a story, you can bet that he's going to be a gay character nine times out of ten. It is almost always used in a "coming out" story. If in the off chance it's not a coming out story, it will probably signal the guy has a fetish or is disturbed in some way.
Things on True Blood may make no sense whatsoever, but there was a glimpse of Alexander Skarsgård's penis
  • Male full frontal penis is an automatic NC-17, and rare even on cable: In 2012's The Sessions, the professional sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt is seen completely nude during the movie. However, John Hawkes' character is not. The reason for that is the MPAA has a tendency to give NC-17s to films where an actor's penis is visible. And there's no way in hell the penis can be erect either. 2003's The Cooler received an NC-17 from the MPAA because William H. Macy and actress Maria Bello's genitals were visible for less than second during a sex scene. The disparity is also present on pay-television, where it's rare to see a man totally nude.

From Michael O'Connell at The Hollywood Reporter, 'Orange Is the New Black's' Jenji Kohan Details Her Frustrating Negotiations to Get Actors Naked:
On top of navigating nudity reluctance, Kohan mentioned the contractual limitations that arise when clothing-free scenes come up. "Very often, there's a very specific rider," she said, "only side boob or only this cheek. … The extras, God bless them, are the ones that have it all out there -- and it's only an extra $10 a day for full nudity."

Netflix, she added, is thus far not giving her many boundaries -- though there was one. "We have some male frontal nudity this season," she said, "but I don't think it's going to be erect."

As for her late Showtime comedy, Weeds, Kohan described another penis-related obstacle: a scene in which one actress had to handle a sex toy. "We could show the dildo and we could show the lube," she said, "but we couldn't show her applying the lube to the dildo."

  • Singles have dirty, wild, sweaty sex, while couples in relationships are boring: If the characters are a couple with "true love," their sex will be sweet, slow, probably in the missionary position and the very essence of romantic. If it's two singles having a night of fun, they will rip each other's clothes off and can't wait to get to a bed and fuck. They will have sex in the closest available place, like a public bathroom, and do it while bent in all sorts of contortionists ways. Because God knows that nothing sets the mood for sex like the aromas and smells you find in bar or club's toilet. Finally, Hollywood almost always depicts married couples as have boring sex. Because if a film or TV show is showing married people sex, they're usually setting up a reason for why one of the partners is tempted to stray and get single person "fuck me silly" sex.
  • Gays and lesbians almost always fall into straight gender roles: If two gay men or two lesbians enter a relationship, they will be differentiated by stereotypical masculine and feminine traits. And this is usually done even though among straight couples the dichotomy doesn't always exist. Although it's slowly changing, you are more likely to see two women kiss or have sex in a movie or TV show than two men. Back in the early aughts with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon had to fight with Warner Bros. to get a kiss between Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson). And even after the network relented, there were stipulations on how it could be shot and depicted. Interestingly, the further back from the present you go, the more often than not you'll see gay men usually depicted as hypersexual and more camp flamboyant in film. Gay characters of the past have no ability to discern among other men whatsoever, and decadently want to have as much sex as possible. On the flip side, the further back in time one goes, the more "butch" lesbians become, as well as asexual. The most troubling aspect of that asexuality is the implication in more than a few films that all a lesbian needs is sex from the right man in order to "fix" things.
Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) didn't kiss each other the entire first season of Modern Family
  • Characters with a fetish are defined by that fetish: If a character is into kink, then his or her life revolves around that kink to an obsessive extent. More likely than not, the BDSM is a sign that either the character has secrets, is unhappy or a lunatic.
  • Beautiful people have sex, or at least beautiful women do: Since most actors are attractive people to begin with, that sort of makes this fait accompli to begin with. However, you are much more likely to see a beautiful woman with an awkward plain/old looking man than an awkward plain/old looking female with a beautiful man. At a press conference earlier this year for the new season of HBO's Girls, Lena Dunham was asked why her character was nude so much on the show and seen in unconventional and awkward sex scenes. Both Dunham and executive producer Judd Apatow bristled at the question, since if Girls was fronted by Zooey Deschanel (The New Girl) or Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory) or Kat Dennings (Two Broke Girls), would a reporter be asking a question about why the actress was nude so much in the show?
  • No prep or lube required: Both men and women have no problem performing oral sex on complete strangers they just met, and have no idea how clean or where the genitals may have been. And in a don't try this at home move, at the very most spitting on a penis is all the lube people need to have anal sex in films. Also, most sex scene show couples in incredibly uncomfortable positions akin to a game of Twister. Because if you're going to show sex, the sex can't be dull. If condoms are shown it's for comedic effect (i.e. the guy can't find a condom or get it on) or to set up the condom's failure. And all couples climax at the same time, unless the point of the sex is to show one character's selfishness. Otherwise, one character gets their enjoyment, while the other is left wanting (or faking it) in order to set up their eventual move to someone else.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (46+ / 0-)
    "Learning to have sex from watching porn is about as effective as learning to drive from watching car chase movies. And unfortunately, that’s what our sex education system forces people to do. Rather than helping people learn how to make authentic sexual choices, communicate with a partner, set boundaries or identify their needs, desires, and goals, we withhold information and then shame them for making mistakes." —Charlie Glickman
  •  My grandfather, born in 1914, and my (16+ / 0-)

    grandmother, born in 1920, had the sqeekiest bed in the neighborhood.

    Actual people have sex, even those that were born in the last century. Some of them, like my grandparents and my parents, were "straight" about the facts.

    I am so glad I didn't grow up with "ick" about sex.

    SPES MEA IN DEO EST.

    by commonmass on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:03:38 PM PDT

  •  And furthermore, my dear grandmother, with (13+ / 0-)

    the hushed tone of a New England lady, would inquire of me when I was younger:

    Now, Billy Darling, how is your love life?
    Gross as that may sound, liberation from the bondage of sexual sin and ignoring or sexual realities is the most liberating thing.

    I am a gay man. My grandparents didn't have a problem with that at all.

    SPES MEA IN DEO EST.

    by commonmass on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:07:40 PM PDT

  •  Kink Falls Into Two Categories (5+ / 0-)

    Especially BDSM and all related things. It's either depicted as a window into a person's mental illness or it's played for laughs. No one has a healthy relationship if they're kinky because the choice is being a nut or a goofball.

    And as the song and dance begins, the children play at home with needles, needles and pins.

    by The Lone Apple on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:14:53 PM PDT

  •  We enjoy movies made during the Hayes' code (13+ / 0-)

    (esp. noir) and the way the clever innuendo or double entendre is inserted (pun intended), make the film that much more enjoyable.  When the star-crossed lovers do finally get to it, it's so much better when it's in our imaginations after the train whistle, window shutting, curtains blowing or waves crashing. Often, less IS more.

    You all laugh because I'm different; I laugh because you're all the same

    by sajiocity on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:16:18 PM PDT

  •  American Reunion (American Pie series) disputes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, Matt Z
    Male full frontal penis is an automatic NC-17, and rare even on cable:

    Never underestimate stupid. Stupid is how reTHUGlicans win!

    by Mannie on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:16:21 PM PDT

    •  It's An Automatic NC-17 If In A Sexual Context (4+ / 0-)

      In American Reunion, Jason Biggs is nude in the kitchen and you see his penis through a see-through lid of a pot as he tries to hide it from his wife and others.

      On the other hand, Shame received an NC-17 because you see Michael Fassbender's penis in a sexual context.

      •  Yeah (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Doctor RJ, RadGal70, Matt Z, mapamp, Mannie

        Several R-rated comedies display quick shots of flaccid penis for comedic effect (Walk Hard, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Hangover).  There have also been uses in dramatic situations where a male actor is simply naked.  But in a sexual context?  Not if the MPAA has anything to say about.

        But that's nothing compared to the almost total prohibition on female pubic hair in R-rated movies (Maria Bello's brief reveal in History of Violence almost got that movie an NC-17...not the gruesome violence mind you, just female pubic hair that will do it).

      •  Hey, I don't remember that! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mannie

        All I remember is him walking through the living room in all his natural glory.

        I guess I have to rent that movie again, eh?

  •  There's a cliché scene of a couple (5+ / 0-)

    so excited, so aroused that within seconds of closing the door they rip each other clothes off, buttons are popping, and belts are flung off. Then there's the grabbing and rushing to get it over with. It's like the they are on the clock and only have seconds to perform or their arousal will die. How enjoyable can that be?

  •  As my wife might say: (6+ / 0-)

    "You got a problem with Alexander Skarsgård's penis?

    That's your problem, not mine."

  •  I'm completely sick of the prudity... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, Liberal Thinking, Mannie

    I've watched both, MoS and GoT and MoS is no better (or worse).  

  •  Rape is not sex, although it makes use of it n/t (0+ / 0-)
  •  The prudery and perversion of American (10+ / 0-)

    society is nicely summed up by this from your diary:

    It's also worth noting that there have probably been more columns written concerned and upset about images of breasts and shaved female genitalia in Game of Thrones than any complaining about the scenes of people being beheaded, castrated and brutally murdered.

    I am one of the 8% who refuses to validate HRC's cynical decision to consign thousands of innocent Iraqis to death in order to score political points at home. Per kos, then, I am a "hater." So be it.

    by WisePiper on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:25:53 PM PDT

  •  Whats the difference (5+ / 0-)

    Whats the difference between erotic and Kinky

    Erotic = using a feather

    Kinky = Using the whole damn chicken.

    I personlly, dont do erotic. Ive gotten kinky.

    "Ward, I think you were a little hard on The Beaver last night." -June Cleaver

    by rageagnstmach on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:26:42 PM PDT

  •  I've always been called a 'prude' (7+ / 0-)

    because I just don't like 'sex' scenes.

    I enjoy a good love story once in awhile, but they are not my main choice of films.

    I like the action- car chases, a good mystery who dun it.  And even in those movies, they have to throw in a sex scene because- well they already have
    theR rating-so why not.

    And yes- my husband always jokes about how glamorous the people are.  "Who does it like that?" he always says.  

    And when they are cuddling afterward- I want to know- where is her other arm?  Because mine is always cramped and falling asleep.

    Growing old is inevitable...Growing up is purely optional

    by grannycarol on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:27:10 PM PDT

    •  I don't like most sex scenes in movies or tv (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      grannycarol, Mannie

      I have to agree with you on that. I don't mind it if it actually furthers the story. However, if it's just there to be gratuitous sex, I'm completely uninterested. I find that it's very rare that it is used to add to the story line.

      •  Dialogue during intercourse (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        grannycarol, Mannie, oortdust

        I've lost count of the number of times in shows like Game of Thrones and Mad Men where two characters have indepth conversations during the throes of passion, like they were having coffee or in a business meeting.  And on these two series, it happens nearly every episode.

        Really?  Who does that IRL?

        NOBODY.

        Please stop.  It's just stupid.

  •  I made the suggestion recently (13+ / 0-)

    that a writer or director could try something new and controversial in sex scenes:  consent.

    There seems to be an unwritten rule that sex scenes (and relationships for that matter) have to start with the woman saying "no," and the man then overcoming her resistance (verbally or otherwise).  Occasionally this leads to writers and directors twisting themselves into pretzels trying to explain how a scene that clearly portrayed her not consenting was still "not really rape."  It was controversial when General Hospital did it in 1980, yet we still see this trope over & over.

    I realize that storytelling has to have some form of conflict (thus the tired rom-com tropes of the annoying guy winning the woman over, for instance).  It doesn't follow that the conflict must take the form of "no means yes."  I'm not opposed to portraying rape, but I hate to see it trivialized this way.

    And yes, I realize it's fiction.  But I have to wonder: if someone can rationalize away a fictional rape because it wasn't a stranger in the bushes with a knife, what happens when that person sits on a jury for an acquaintance rape case?  Or there's a date rape among their circle of friends, like with Alyssa Royse's infamous apologia for her rapist friend?

    Seriously, just for the novelty, they could try portraying sex scenes where both parties (or all seven parties, whatever) say yes.  It's ok to do that.  They might even find it's incredibly hot.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:29:29 PM PDT

  •  I can't remember the last time a sex scene on a TV (8+ / 0-)

    series seemed to "develop a character" for me.

    Instead, I find that sex seems to be the lazy way to a story line.  I imagine the writers saying, "OK which major character has sex with someone this week?" and coming up with a story line to justify their goal.

    Further, one of two things almost always happens.  If it's a major character and a guest star, the guest star is either going to get killed or have to leave for some reason.  If it's two major characters, then their relationship will fail within a few episodes unless the entire point of the series has been 'our two main characters start out hating each other but eventually fall in love'.  Both of these story lines are beyond tedious.

    Almost no series characters have on-going relationships.  It's almost like the teenage bands where the guys aren't supposed to have girl friends so the fans can make believe they're "available".  The few series where the characters do have long relationships mostly have frequent plots where the spouse is danger and it's up to the other character to save them.  This story line is beyond tedious, too.

    So I generally find myself fast-forwarding through the supposedly-hot sex scenes on TV series, which of course don't really show any sex.  I suppose I'm expected to "use my imagination".  Instead, I find my fantasies are mostly that the character will learn something, or god-forbid, change in some way that lasts beyond that episode.

    I'm reading more books lately.

    •  What you're commenting on (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Progrocks, JG in MD, Mannie

      is one of the inherent problems of television.

      Imagine you're a producer for a TV show. You have five main characters and a half a dozen recurring characters. NONE of them can have a relationship unless the REASON the character there is to BE another character's partner. And then they pretty much have to be a happy monogamous couple because they are both on contract for X years.

      So you bring in guest stars for love interests. But you can't put them under contract the same way as your stars. In many cases you can't rely on them AT ALL. They all want to be working actors with their own series or movies to do. They're not going to hang by the phone hoping for a call to be X's girlfriend again six episodes later. And they very well might have a six month shooting commitment just when you need them, or even be on a competing show. The irony is that, if YOUR show is popular and successful, your guest stars are more likely to be unavailable next time, BECAUSE THEY WERE ON YOUR SHOW.

      Series television is different from most entertainment for lots of reasons. This is just one of them.

      As for characters "learning something," again, that's the problem with series television. Either you have long story arcs that usually can't be sustained, or you "re-set" at the end of every show such that the next show stands alone without the baggage carried over from the last, at least to one degree or another. Sure you can have running story lines, but they can't change the dynamic of the show. Too much is invested in keeping what audiences like the SAME.

      Audiences tend to respond badly to change; they start watching a show because they like the show, if they wanted to watch another show, they'd watch another show. Changing your show significantly in the middle invites the audience to go somewhere else.

      And what happens if you commit to one guest star for a six or eight show run and that character Q scores like congress'  popularity? You HAVE to pay the actor, you're committed to the arc, but every show drives away audience because no one likes them.

      Remember, 90% of everything is crap. Most television is crap. But you can't blame television for the inherent issues of series story telling.

    •  Lena (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      missississy

      I can. It was the first episode of Girls. Her sex scene definitely developed her character for me because it told me a lot about her relationship with the "man" in her life.

      It's possible, but it takes a genius like Dunham to do it.

  •  About the male gaze thing (11+ / 0-)

    Someone observed that if an erotic book or magazine shows a naked person on the cover, it's almost always a woman, even if the ostensible audience is straight women.  They suggested that part of this is that in our culture, men are taught that sex is about desiring, and women are taught that it's about being desired.  

    The other piece is that we equate being naked with being vulnerable/powerless (thus the issues mentioned in the article with stars being skittish about nudity).  Clothed is powerful, naked is powerless (yes I'm sure someone can find an exception somewhere, but in general it holds true).  So when music videos and TV shows barrage us with naked or near-naked women while the men stay dressed, there's a definite feeling of power imbalance.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:40:39 PM PDT

    •  I've been pointing this out for years (6+ / 0-)

      the man will have a long sleeve shirt, a vest, a tie and a jacket, long pants, boots, possibly with spurs.  The woman will be wearing the closest thing they can get to a bikini.  Shorts or a very short skirt and a tank top at the most.  Or a really short fur coat with bare legs.  It's so obvious and prevalent that it is clear that they do it very purposefully.  

      And the women never eat.  They cook, they drink, but you never see a woman chewing, unless it is to show how gauche she is.  And probably that she is fat.  

      Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Gabby Giffords.

      by Leftleaner on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:51:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't really want to watch sex scenes (11+ / 0-)

    Nor do I like graphic violence. It seems that we are supposed to enjoy watching people either getting it on or bleeding all over the screen or else we are repressed.  I don't think I'm particularly prudish, but why do I have to watch soft porn to prove it?  The old build up and fade to black with satisfied looks in the morning shows the same thing without making everyone either horny or embarrassed or both.  

    And just because rape was more common in the old days (maybe) that doesn't mean we need to watch women get raped constantly on television.  I don't watch Game of Thrones, but I suspect they don't show reality in many other ways, so why is it specifically sex that has to be so 'reality-based'.  Do they show women with 13 kids because there was no birth control, and a third of them dying in childbirth?  I doubt it.  For that matter, do they have real people, instead of gorgeous beauty queens and kings for every role?  Of course not.  I enjoy watching British shows because they actually have real people playing the parts, not Barbie dolls.

    Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Gabby Giffords.

    by Leftleaner on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:46:15 PM PDT

    •  Yes! (6+ / 0-)
      I don't think I'm particularly prudish, but why do I have to watch soft porn to prove it?  The old build up and fade to black with satisfied looks in the morning shows the same thing without making everyone either horny or embarrassed or both.  
      Plus, my imagination can fill in the blanks after that fade to black so much better than soft porn can.
    •  It does occur to me (9+ / 0-)

      that if they're going to argue "realism," it's only fair that they show the women with unshaved legs, pits, and genitalia.

      I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

      by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:59:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  particularly in a historical setting. (6+ / 0-)

        That struck me in Spartacus too. Lots of nudity but barely a hair exposed. I have no idea if the Romans actually shaved their legs, but it's hard to imagine they'd be fastidious about it, considering the tools at the time.

        You'd think that even in Vikings which didn't have much nudity, you'd still see an occasional unshaven armpit or leg.

        A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.' Douglas Adams

        by dougymi on Mon May 05, 2014 at 08:17:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Nope (7+ / 0-)

          Roman women were shaved, even their heads; they all wore elaborate wigs. At least the upper classes. Men, too. Except for their head hair.

          This was to deter body lice.

          Being shaggy was for slaves and the poor.

          Part of the reason was the way they got clean. Lacking soap, they used oil and a curved, dull blade called a strygil, scraped across the skin like buttering toast. This eventually removed most body hair along with the dirt. What remained was removed with a razor.

          In a lot of ancient cultures, being shaved or hairless was a status symbol. Only the rich could afford the slaves to scrape them and the tonsors to keep them clipped and shaved. And only they could afford the expensive wigs.

          On the other hand, no Vikings didn't shave their legs or pits. But you can hardly expect a modern actress to forego shaving for six weeks to have a lush growth just for a five minute scene, or a five second flash, in your television show.

          •  interesting. Thanks. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Matt Z, oortdust, Mannie

            I knew the Roman era shaved, but I questioned the tools and the resulting cuts and burns. Very interesting about the strygil and quite frankly, I forgot about slaves. Doh!  

            A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.' Douglas Adams

            by dougymi on Mon May 05, 2014 at 10:33:13 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  In the ancient world, removal of body hair was (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            oortdust, Mannie, ArcticStones

            widely practiced. Roman women removed body hair with depilatory chemicals and with resin. They also used a form of tweezers known as a volsella. One Roman satirist described the public baths, including the practice of men having their pubic hair tweezed (and the noises they made.)
              Caesar wrote that the Britons shaved every part of their bodies, including their heads.
              The ancient Egyptians also waged war against pubic hair with razors and dipilatory compounds.
              Removal of armpit hair was also common.
              Notice that sculptures and paintings of nude women from ancient times through the Renaissance generally show them without pubic hair.
               So "Rome" nudes were pretty authentic. "Vikings" not so much.
               "Game of Thrones" takes place in an imaginary world which is not Earth. So authenticity is whatever the author says it is.

    •  Agree (7+ / 0-)

      If I want sex scenes, I can just watch porn, instead of getting the diluted version of it in mainstream entertainment, where 95% of the time, the sex scenes serve absolutely no purpose when it comes to advancing either the story line or character development.  

      Same thing with gratuitous, gory violence -- I don't really need to see blood splashing everywhere to get the idea about what just happened, and again it often seems that the gore and violence are there primarily because they can, not because it serves any real purpose.

      If Democrats proclaim the the Earth is round and Republicans insist it is flat, we will shortly see a column in the Washington Post claiming the the earth is really a semi-circle.

      by TexasTom on Mon May 05, 2014 at 08:20:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You have to remember that (6+ / 0-)

        Under the Hayes Code, they couldn't show blood and gore. People would be shot on film, clap their hands over a part of their body, grimace and fall to the ground. No blood, not even a hole in the clothing.

        In the early days, this was a good thing because, before they had squibs and blood bags, actual marksmen were hired to fire live rounds and MISS, leaving holes in the walls of the set.

        In the 70's directors got more leeway and blood became an option. But the reality is that REAL blood from a shooting is FAR worse than anything you see on most TV shows. People still get shot and shrug it off like it's no big deal.

        I remember Steve Martin in Grand Canyon back in the 80's getting shot in the leg with a .38 during a mugging. He lies there on the ground, blood pouring from his leg, trembling and retching as he pees himself. He then walks with a cane and a limp for the rest of the picture. THAT's what getting shot is like.

        Television may love the shooting and the explosions, but it is ALL ludicrously fake.

    •  GoT is *not* Reality Based (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mannie

      Agreed, it's pretty prudish to complain about the lack of reality in the sex scenes (my complaints about dialogue during sex excepted of course, lol). Aside from zombies and dragons, they have armies of tens of thousands of ex-slaves marching across the barren wilderness with no obvious means of logistical support.

      I mean, what does Daenerys Targaryen's army eat, anyway?  It must be dirt, because that's the only thing that's plentiful.

  •  there is always the Hallmark channel (0+ / 0-)

    for those who want sugar without the spice

    really I think choice is a good thing

    and its much better to show male dominated feudal societies as the horror show they were, rather than the romantic nonsense we show in earlier error flynn type movies

    fact does not require fiction for balance (proudly a DFH)

    by mollyd on Mon May 05, 2014 at 07:47:15 PM PDT

    •  I think we get into pretty murky territory if we (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TexasTom, Matt Z, Mannie

      are trying to defend Game of Thrones on the grounds of historical realism.  It's adolescent fantasy with high production values (ie good acting, writing, filming, props, etc) and a few of the patented HBO signifiers of 'realism', or at least 'complexity'.  But anyone who thinks they're gaining an understanding of actual feudal societies by watching GoT really needs an education.  

      Now that doesn't mean it's a bad show--I think it's plenty entertaining, as a sort of historical-fantasy-opera.  Just like BSG was a wildly entertaining space opera.  With a fraction of the sex and violence...  

  •  Sex and HBO/Showtime: these days when I talk (10+ / 0-)

    with my literature students about television, and mention what I consider the blockbuster 'literature' shows of HBO's golden age--Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Big Love, etc--I'm sometimes surprised, not just that very few young people have actually seen or even heard of these shows, but that many of them are scandalized by the very idea of watching HBO, because Everyone Knows that HBO is just about Sex. And violence.  But mostly sex.   This has caused me occasionally to go back and think about the diarist's excellent question, specifically as it applies to the shows often considered the most 'serious', artistic, well-crafted.  Were they really full of gratuitous sex?  How did I not notice?

    In the case of Deadwood, which I've watched through three times over the years, about 90% of the explicit sex was intended to be squalid, and to further the narrative and texture of a very squalid mining-camp-becoming-town full of morally compromised characters, male and female, who were all the more fascinating for their moral flaws.  One could have a long discussion about the politics of using explicit sexual representation for that purpose, but there it is.

    In The Wire, it seemed to me like the (relatively few) explicit sex scenes were just sort of thrown in, to remind viewers that this was, after all, HBO.  I remember feeling that way at times about Six Feet Under too, though it was at least a bit more motivated there as that show was much more centered on romantic/sexual relationships.  And obviously a show like "Tell Me You Love Me", about sexual therapy, has to have a fair amount of sex in direct furtherance of the main narratives.  I would even say the same about Big Love.

    When "Trueblood" came out I was WTF about nearly all aspects of it, but certainly including the sexuality.  I just figured HBO had decided they really needed to appeal to a below-40 demographic, and this was it.  Hasn't stopped me from watching TB but it's goofy and gratuitous in so many ways that one doesn't know where to start.  I'm glad we have verification that Eric has a penis, though...

    With GoT, we're clearly 5 more steps down the path charted by Trueblood.  I've still watched most of GoT, but there is no aspect of that show that I would attempt to defend (to my students or anyone else) as 'serious' art.  Seriously, I would sooner defend Sons of Anarchy at this point, for less-gratuitous sex and violence.

    Showtime, now--that will have to wait for another comment.      

  •  The less FDA (filmed display of affection) (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, Diana in NoVa, Mannie

    the better. IDA (imagined display...) is much better.

    •  Actually... (6+ / 0-)

      ...I suspect that we could do with more filmed displays of affection, and fewer sex scenes.

      As a gay man, that was one of the things I absolutely hated about the North American version of "Queer As Folk" -- it was filled with steamy sex scenes, but I never really saw just quiet scenes of affection between two men.  I thought it was telling that they thought they could show men having sex together, but not being romantic and affectionate with each other.

      That may have changed after the early seasons, but I'd long quit watching it by then.

      If Democrats proclaim the the Earth is round and Republicans insist it is flat, we will shortly see a column in the Washington Post claiming the the earth is really a semi-circle.

      by TexasTom on Mon May 05, 2014 at 08:24:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's just a problem with the euphemism (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mannie

        PDA (“public display of affection”) that I was parodying.

        To me it's a matter of degree. I would stop fairly short: for example, a lingering gaze or a hand on a shoulder or waist would be in, a “movie kiss” or anything further would be out. But obviously that's just my opinion.

        I'm old enough to remember when that's all there generally was in either books, movies, or television, and it was fine. It was exciting in the beginning when all of the above was becoming more explicit: it was new, it was erotic, what's the downside?

        But now, it seems like boilerplate. In certain genres and venues, a sex scene of some kind is just required. You could almost copy and paste these scenes from one work to another and just change the costumes and names. In other words, they have become extremely boring.

        We have seen how over-the-top violence in movies has become a kind of self-parody, often done more for laughs than for any other reason. I think filmed sex has reached the same point.

  •  I have to agree that most of the (11+ / 0-)

    sex I've seen on TV and in movies is depicted from a male perspective: the always available (unless it's the comedic cliche of the headache) and willing, aggressive and gorgeous woman, ready to have sex fast and furiously with little courtship or conversation beyond snappy insults seems to me to derive solely from male fantasy.
    I also find it disturbing that the naked female body is commonly depicted and doesn't warrant as strict a rating as a naked male body. It makes it seem women's bodies have become almost common public property.
    To repeat the question--what is the purpose of using nudity and/or graphic sex in TV and movies? I can't help thinking it's a manipulative way to attract the young male demographic. That it's manipulative solely for a commercial purpose and not to further any kind of narrative.
    Frankly, as an older woman I find watching other people have sex to be boring as hell, and I resent having female sexuality defined by male standards.
    Ashley Montague on pornography and Fatima Mernissi (Scheherazade Goes West) are interesting reads on this topic.

  •  Glad We're Not Suffering the Restrictions Here (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, Mannie

    At home.

    It seems like an Emmy awaits anyone who breaks one or more of these rules.

    The one I'd like to see broken the most is the last one. The first rule of sex is: lubrication, lubrication, lubrication. (That's actually the second one. The first rule is: use barriers until you're sure.)

    But they both fall in the same category. No one is willing to slow down the action enough even to give a nod to reality. Has anyone ever seen a dental dam on TV? I mean, it's the twenty-first century and all.

  •  Just to say... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, Doctor RJ, Mannie

    On The Vampire Diaries, this one doesn't apply --

    Singles have dirty, wild, sweaty sex, while couples in relationships are boring:

    Damon and Elena, and other couples (who I don't care about as much, LOL) tend to have more of the hot sex.  But especially Damon and Elena.  Those two are the "it" couple of the show and by far have the sexiest, raciest scenes on the show.

    Just one of the reasons I adore this show and think it gets an absolutely horrible rap because it has the temerity of being a "teen" show about vampires on the dreaded CW despite being pretty dang spectacular.

    Sadly, overall, though, I'd have to agree with your list.

    We all made this journey for a reason. -- President Barack Obama (February 10, 2007)

    by arabian on Mon May 05, 2014 at 11:41:58 PM PDT

  •  i detest hollywood sex (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, Doctor RJ, Mannie

    btw, what is the probable ratio of penis jokes to vagina jokes in the media?

  •  hollywood sex is lame (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, Mannie

    they have strange bedsheets.

    yeah, i want to see male full frontal on my television. but our society is so schizo-prudish it'll never happen.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

    by terrypinder on Tue May 06, 2014 at 04:37:09 AM PDT

  •  Apparently, the U.S. is relatively sex-less (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, Pale Jenova, Doctor RJ, Mannie

    At least according to a recent sex survey, only the Japanese have less sex than the average American. Therefore, I tend to think the American obsession with sex and portraying it and what it signifies ad infinitum stems from the fact that too many of us aren't getting any. ;)  

  •  Just to comment about Kdrama (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, Mannie

    I watch a lot of it and initially thought as Doctor RJ did about affection. However, shows like Iris, in a modern setting, blew that out of the water. Seeing US levels of sex is more common in the movies than in the series, and you certainly don't see it in the historical dramas.

    I do really like the Kdrama build up to the relationship. Chuno did this the best. You got to see people really care for each other, and how their affection for someone carried the storyline.

  •  This is a great diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ

    I think the most erotic love scenes I have ever scene were ones where the actual sex was implied.  Few people remember 1995's Daybreak, which featured Cuba Gooding's girlfriend sneaking into an AIDS detention center to have sex with him and being discovered by the guards, but this is one of the most erotic things I have ever seen.  A close second would be the love scene in Blade Runner where Harrison Ford practically rapes Sean Young, although this is problematic in that you have to ask when (or if) she begins to consent.  But here too, the camera cuts away before they actually do it.

    The Stars and Bars and the red swastika banner are both offerings to the same barbaric god.

    by amyzex on Tue May 06, 2014 at 08:46:07 AM PDT

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