Obligatory Sex/Nudity scenes

This isn’t strictly a woman’s issue, but it definitely affects female actors more than male.

It’s the dogmatically held belief in Hollywood that you have to put a sex/nudity scene in any movie not specifically intended for kids under 13. It can be between minor characters, even throwaways – doesn’t matter, so long as the characters are physically attractive. So long as somebody boinks or flashes body parts on screen, that gives the casting agent a chance of casting some young, nubile actress. Then the publicists start a buzz about the fact that this woman’s naked on film, and young men show up for the express purpose of seeing her. They believe that if they can promise the audience some hot young up-and-coming actress naked, a lot of people will come to see the movie who never would have just for the story.

Strangely, Hollywood doesn’t get that it works both ways. I know a lot of women who’ve rented or gone to see every movie where Ewan McGregor gets naked. And yet the obligatory sex and nudity scenes are designed around the featuring of female nudity.

Does female nudity/sex sell tickets? Or DVD’s? So the demographics guys tell us. If you write a great script that’s obviously going to have a PG-13 or R rating anyway, you are instructed to throw in some sex. Anywhere. Between any two characters. Even if you carefully and patiently explain that the whole damn point of the story is that none of these people are getting any, they insist you work in a sex scene. Invent two whole new characters who have no other purpose than to boink, if that’s what it takes.

And we wonder why so much of what winds up on the big screen is crap.

It’s not the directors or writers, generally, who want this stuff – although, once they’ve been properly trained, they come to add in the crap without being told. Writers and directors are taught from day one that you don’t slow down the story for gratuitous anything: sex, violence, cool special effects, pompous speeches, cameos by William Shatner. All of these things draw people out of the movie, unless they’re a really integral part of the story. Like any other element, you have to know how much time to spend with them before the audience starts going out for popcorn.

But the theory is that when sex or boobies come on screen, the whole audience is riveted to it. Or at least the important part of the audience – young men Hollywood thinks it can control via visual stimuli. (Or don’t you think the fascination with missiles and explosions is appealing to the sex drive?)

It’s the stuffed shirts who demand the sex scenes, based on supposed reams of data that supposedly can only be interpreted to mean that audiences won’t go see a good film unless you also interrupt it with a little sideshow of sex. But it’s almost always the female actors who pay, because it’s been deemed NC-17 to show a penis on film, with a few exceptions. And the demo guys are absolutely, thoroughly positive that audiences do not want to see penises on screen the way they want to see breasts on screen. I’m sure this has nothing to do with the demo guys worrying that the featured penises might be more appealing than their own. Goodness, no. I’m sure their fragile male egos aren’t at all worried that their girlfriends and wives would compare them to what they’re seeing on film.

As far as I can tell, no actual data has been collected on whether women want to see full frontal male nudity on film. There’s been discussion. There were rumors a few years ago that Bruce Willis was going to get naked with a camera, and it sounded to me like plenty of women were ready to line up for tickets. But the stuff shirts announced that there wasn’t sufficient interest.

From whom, I wonder? The real audience, or the carefully selected panels they manipulate to get the answers they want to hear?

It’s anecdotal evidence, but do a search for discussion forums where the topic of Ewan McGregor naked comes up, and read what the posters say. Females do want to see attractive guys without clothes. So do gay men. So, where’s Hollywood’s holy creed “We give the audience what they want to see” in this case? Out lunching at a strip club? Apparently, they give the audience what they want the audience to want to see. They’re training us to want to see certain things, not pandering to what audiences really want.


  1. says

    Heh — I’d have to agree here. What’s with the stigma of a guy showing his stuff onscreen?

    It might also be along the lines that, well, if you’re a small-built actor (and unless they get hard, you can’t really tell) you’d have a hard time selling your macho image.

    That and, it’s easier for a woman to puff her breasts up with silicone, while for a man, tweaking their manhood appendage with the same stuff just makes them suck their balls up into their abdomen.

    I think women are considered to have the more “disposable” body images than men are — although the current fashion of men having to be buffed up to a certain level in order to get any sort of job in Hollywood makes me wonder how much longer men are going to be exempt from that attitude.

  2. redbyrd says

    I also wonder if the responses of women to female nudity are different from the responses of men to male nudity. I think women are fairly inured to female nudity, but in talking with several of my straight male friends, they find other men naked actually off-putting. They’re not homophobic, they just find the idea of other men as sex objects profoundly unappealing.

    If this is the case, then the industry reasoning (correctly or incorrectly) may be that gratuituous male nudity will drive away some percentage of their customers, while not providing significantly more attraction to females.

    Not to mention that it’s probably a lot easier to fake female arousal for the camera.. Okay, not having male organs myself, I really don’t know, but I couldn’t blame any guy for being unable to get it up with a giant camera staring at it… talk about performance anxiety.


  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Gategrrl, it DOES seem equality’s more likely to come in the form of men having to meet insane beauty standards too, rather than everyone chilling the hell out already and finding beauty isn’t such a narrow concept.

    Redbyrd, I think you’re exactly right that it would drive away more men than it would bring in women. But why is that? Maybe because we’ve been trained to see women as sex objects, and men haven’t. If everywhere they looked, all they saw were male characters simpering, cat-fighting, hair-twirling and sobbing, maybe they would get used to it and stop making so much fuss when one’s spread across the screen in all his birthday glory. 😉

    It’s scary to me what human beings will learn to put up with, if you just train them properly. Ick.

  4. Anemone Cerridwen says

    Another bump. I found that sex/nudity is negatively correlated with box office in recent films. I really wish I could find people to discuss this intelligently, but no one’s interested. Please? Pretty please?

  5. says

    Just speaking for myself: it’s not that I’m not interested, it’s just that what else is there to say? It’s pathetic. I mean, a glance at the top 20 grossing or most profitable movies of all time, at any time in the past 30 years, reveals very few rated-R movies. These lists are always almost exclusively PG and G movies. The reason is simple: you can take the whole family to a G or PG movie. They can sell something like 1.75 tickets to every ticket an R film can sell.

    Like so many points of logic, this one usually gets left right out when film people are talking about what sells. Screenwriters are constantly told, “Great, except it needs some sex. Don’t care who fucks who, just so long as there’s some fucking.” They say it with such certainty that at first you might assume they know something that negates those top 20 lists being mostly comprised of family and kids’ movies. But they don’t. It’s just classic Orwellian double-think.

  6. says

    Maybe what Hollywood means by “it doesn’t sell” is the part of the sentence that’s left out:

    “Movies without sex in it doesn’t sell…at the awards”.

    How many PG or G rated movies have recently won the cache of an Oscar, etc? (that’s not an animated film, that is)

  7. Anemone Cerridwen says

    My coauthor and I found no correlation between sex/nudity and Oscars (the big awards), plus only a small positive one with the Golden Globes. When MPAA rating was partialled out, it changed to negative significance at the Oscars and neutral at the GGs. The films that do well at the awards tend to be higher in violence rather than sex/nudity. Film critics don’t favour sex either. So who does???

    Interestingly, smoking is positively correlated with awards. Not sure why, but it lends itself to all sorts of speculation.

  8. says

    Interesting point about smoking. For some reason I can’t pin down, I’m not surprised. I keep thinking, “Well, it does look cool on film” and I hope it’s not that simplistic… but why wouldn’t it be? The awards are just a show – everyone who’s anyone gets to vote if they want, and they don’t necessarily even see all the films they’re being asked to vote on. It’s just like government elections, in other words. 😀

    I’ve been asking “who favors sex” from a different angle for years: why do action/sci-fi type TV shows and movies targeting young men always include romance, often without nudity or sex scenes? Romance is supposed to attract female viewers, not male, and yet they always want a little of it in there. So which is it? Are they lying when they say they don’t care if women come or not (in which case the romance angle IS about attracting women viewers)? Or are they lying when they claim young men aren’t interested in romance as well as sex? I personally think it’s asinine to assume there’s a gender discrepancy when it comes to liking romance. Many women can’t stand romance – at least, not as it’s most often done on TV or movies – so it would correlate that at least some boys and young men like romance whether they admit it or not. I wonder.

  9. Anemone Cerridwen says

    I always thought the romance was so that they could have a token female for the women to watch. In the old studio days, they had to have women in the script, but women didn’t hold down jobs like cop or robber or cowboy or indian or spaceship captain or whatever, so one tagged along as a girlfriend. They even added a love interest in in The Most Dangerous Game, making it very silly. And then it just became a habit. (I’ve heard people talk about the “love interest” when analyzing a script as if it’s something technical like the three act structure, too.)

    I hadn’t thought that perhaps men would want romance in the story. Although I do remember one Jet Li film where they talked about how the lone female character was the heart of the film, and it was sentimental. Men fight with each other because of the women they love, or something like that.

  10. says

    I *so* much prefer older movies where they couldn’t show anything directly. Interestingly, from what I’ve read, before The Rules went into effect in Hollywood in the 20s, silent black and white films were openly full of sex, barely dressed women, and sexual themes (although I’m not sure they actually simulated sex like they do in current movies…somehow, I doubt that. I hate films that simulate sex in them).

  11. says

    I always thought the romance was so that they could have a token female for the women to watch.

    Sounds logical, but they claim (A) women prefer to watch men, just like men prefer to watch men (???) and (B) in the case of TV, they don’t want female viewers because their eyeballs are worth less and all that. None of which really holds up to a logic test, but then the status quo is never asked to justify itself logically.

    I *so* much prefer older movies where they couldn’t show anything directly.

    Me, too! And it’s so frustrating trying to explain why to people offline, because they immediately assume one must have hang-ups about sex not to want to watch sex scenes. My immediate issue is actually that simulated sex scenes pull me out of the story because I know what I’m seeing isn’t real. It doesn’t even look real. It’s always so pretty and choreographed, which reminds me it’s pretend, which gets me thinking about how awkward these little dry-humps must be for the actors.

    It was also frustrating to be a screenwriter and constantly hear “Every scene must advance the story” and “throw in some sex.” Sex scenes never advance the story, unless they do something like reveal an important clue about one of the participant’s personalities or something, which is not the sort of inspired writing Hollywood has in mind when they say that. Hell, they’ll even specify which position is in this year – woman on top, up against a wall, etc. Sometimes knowing the characters had sex does advance the story, but we never need to SEE the sex unless there’s something unique about it, which they’re never is.

  12. Bogus Bogusone says

    Technology liberates us..
    Wait for the DVD.
    I really enjoy the freedom to edit on the fly.
    No longer do I have to endure the obligatory stuff.
    And when all I really want is some nudity or sex I can go online.
    There is an almost unlimited selection of male, female, whatever…
    Movie makers should probably start thinking about dumping unnecessary sex, car chases or explosions.

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