Maybe a kiss and fade to black is all we really need to see.
Over the years, the film industry has seen tremendous change since the old Hollywood golden age of black-and-white movies, transatlantic accents, and frequent musical numbers. Modern technology allows for incredible cinematic achievements, and streaming services have changed the way we consume media, generating more competition between studios to obtain and keep an audience’s undivided attention.
Even more of a contrast is the entertainment industry’s treatment of sexuality. Once upon a time, even showing a married couple in the same bed was taboo; however, these days, the average sex scene leaves very little to the imagination.
But it’s not just on the big screen. Shows like Game of Thrones, Orange Is the New Black, and Shameless — all famous for gratuitous nudity — normalized needlessly explicit sex scenes by bringing them into our living room.
It’s safe to say that we’ve come a long way from the days of “they kiss as the screen fades to black,” but what if that’s where we should’ve stayed?
Explicitness Is Pointless and Damaging
As someone with some experience in the entertainment industry, I’ve seen countless jobs that call for toplessness or full-frontal nudity while paying performers very little. But this isn’t surprising for an industry that regards women’s bodies as mere set decoration. We all know that sex sells, so it’s not surprising that young women’s bodies have become Hollywood’s biggest moneymakers. A study performed by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that in the most successful movies of 2016, 25.6% of female roles — speaking or named — were shown nude in some way or another.
In 2016, 25.6% of female roles in movies were shown nude in some way or another.
New actresses hungry for work are promised fame, fortune, and respect for their acting if they disrobe. Nude women’s bodies are used as nothing more than props in an all-too-ordinary, irrelevant strip club scene. Excessive sex scenes are thrown in without adding anything to the plot.
But even worse than being far less than necessary to the story, explicit sex scenes are deeply damaging to the actresses who perform them. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for highly successful performers to say they regret doing nude scenes. Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones has stated her regrets and that the constant pressure from producers to disrobe has followed her from job to job. Salma Hayek has said she was forced into doing an extremely explicit and “senseless” sex scene by none other than Harvey Weinstein. Keira Knightley, who no longer does nudity, has confided that she would get drunk before shooting nude scenes.
Maybe Old Hollywood Had It Right
We tend to think of old Hollywood as horribly outdated — and in many respects, it is. But, at the risk of sounding prudish, the one thing I think they got right? Their sex scenes. I’m talking about the classic “they start kissing passionately before sitting on the bed, when the screen fades to black” type of sex scene, a scene that leaves enough to the imagination, respecting an audience’s intelligence enough to not spell it out for them.
Our constant connection to the internet, quick texting, information, social media, everything, makes us crave anything straightforward and clear-cut because it’s what we’ve become used to. We’re no longer interested in the pleasure of anticipation. We no longer wait by the phone for a call, check the mail for a letter arriving a week after it was written, or can’t see someone unless we’re physically face-to-face. We have everything right at our fingertips.
Respect the audience’s intelligence enough to leave out unnecessary sex scenes.
Our lives have become dependent on instant gratification, and it’s expanded to sex scenes. But maybe sex scenes don’t have to be that way. Maybe leaving them veiled and implied is far more compelling and artistic than we realize. Maybe the power of suggestion is all we really need to further the story. Maybe a simple, tasteful fade to black is the way to go.
The hunger for a “new approach” isn’t, well, new. We’re always looking to see change, innovation, modernity. But change isn’t always what we need. As is the case with sex scenes, sometimes, “old-fashioned” is better.