In a perfect world, all of us would have access to positive, medically-accurate sex education so that we can make informed decisions about sex before having it. Unfortunately, depending on where you live or how you were brought up, that access can be extremely limited. That’s why so many of us have been introduced to sex through TV and movies — which doesn’t always provide a safe, empowering, or realistic perspective.
You might not even realize the influence the big and small screens have had on your view of sex until much later in life. So let’s bust some of these movie-made sex myths wide open, shall we?
1. Sex is between a man and woman.
So let’s get this one out of the way. In the movies I grew up with, most of the sex on screen was between a man and woman. While the depiction of sex has become more inclusive (hello, Euphoria, Pose, and Queer as Folk), it still doesn’t change the fact that most of the sex we see on screen is between a cis man and cis woman.
Spoiler alert: sex is not always between a cis man and a cis woman. It can between any combination of people with varying sexual orientations and/or genders. It also isn’t always necessarily between just two people.
2. Sex is always penis in vagina.
The movies I watched when I was a teen almost always involved penis-in-vagina sex. But just like how sex isn’t always between a cis man and cis woman, sex isn’t always about a penis in a vagina.
Such a narrow definition of sex is exclusionary as it doesn’t take into account sex when a penis or a vagina is not present, as with many LGBTQ couples. It doesn’t take into account the complicated feelings a trans person can have around their genitalia, and it also assumes any sex outside penetration is just foreplay, when really it can be the main event.
Today, we are starting to see a broader definition of sex portrayed, like in HBO’s Girls, when Marnie, one of the show’s main characters, engaged in anal play with her partner Desi. Or when Piper and Alex have sex in Orange is the New Black. The more portrayals of sex we can get, the more inclusive we can be as a society.
3. Women always come.
Sex is also often shown onscreen through a male gaze, which typically includes a close-up of the woman’s face as she’s in the throes of an explosive orgasm brought on by penetrative sex with a male partner (did you ever watch 40 Days and 40 Nights?)
But in real life, this doesn’t always happen. In fact, some women don’t come at all from penetrative sex — whether it’s because of something physiological, emotional, from medication, their partner isn’t paying attention to their needs, or all or none of the above. And that’s okay. Most women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm, and some women can only come when eaten out, or with toys. Even if you discover that you need clitoral stimulation to come, that may change over time. My body and my sexual needs have not remained the same since the moment I became sexually active. They have changed at least a dozen times, and probably will a dozen more.
Orgasms are fun, but don’t always happen when people have sex. And again, that’s 100 percent okay.
4. Wearing black underwear is an indication of consent.
This one is a little more obscure, but if your sexual awakening occurred at any point during the ‘90s, then it’s one you’re familiar with. There’s a scene in the classic ‘90s teen movie 10 Things I Hate About You, where Bianca Stratford,played by Larissa Oleynik, snoops through her sister Kat’s, played by Julia Stiles, underwear drawer and discovers she has a pair of black underwear. This discovery indicates to Bianca that Kat is interested in having sex, because of the color of her underwear.
Seems harmless and almost silly, right? Yet throughout high school, I was surrounded by horny teenage boys who were eager to find out the color of my underwear to gauge how interested I was in having sex with them, and I know I’m not alone.
Wearing lingerie, or a specific color of underwear, might make a person feel sexy, but it should never be seen an indication of consent to have sex. Only when someone provides clear, verbal, and enthusiastic consent should a partner proceed in engaging in sex — not a moment before, no matter what color their underwear is.
5. There are never any awkward moments.
Sex on the big screen is smooth, passionate, and flawless, like when Annette loses her virginity to Sebastian in Cruel Intentions. This sex scene is all close-ups of sweaty bodies and open mouths and it’s equal parts sizzling and seamless. That’s because it’s rehearsed, simulated, and edited down to a handful of breathy shots.
In real life, sex can be messy — especially if it’s your first time. But that’s part of the fun. When you’re truly focused on your partner’s pleasure, and you’re both in the moment, your hair might get pulled, you might fall off the bed, there may be fart noises, and you might even giggle a bit. Just because you don’t see messy sex onscreen doesn’t make it any less sexy.
6. Lube is never needed.
There’s this idea that a woman’s desirability is tied to how wet she gets during sex, and how quickly she can get wet. That’s probably because you never see a bottle of lube pulled out during movie sex scenes. With the absence of lube in sex scenes, it might be surprising to see it in real life.
This is incredibly unfair, because many people with vaginas cannot snap their fingers and turn their parts into a slip ‘n slide whenever they want. A million little things can have us feeling off during sex, and using lube should never be seen as a flaw in a person’s body. Lube adds to the overall enjoyment for both partners regardless if a person is able to get wet naturally or not. And shouldn’t that be what sex is all about?
7. Verbal communication isn’t required.
You never see people talk during sex in the movies. You get as many breathy moans as the R-rating will allow, and the standard, “Yes!” “More!” “Harder!” but beyond that, chit-chat is non-existent.
This isn’t to say that the bedroom is a place for small talk about the weather (unless you and your partner are into that, which is totally cool), but we also shouldn’t be afraid to communicate during the act. If something doesn’t feel good, or even causes pain, speak up. If your partner isn’t pleasuring you the way you know you like to be pleasured, guide them. And if there’s any question at all as to whether you or your partner feels comfortable with what’s happening, talk it out. Verbal communication will only enhance the pleasure you and your partner receive, so don’t be afraid to use your words.
8. Women only come once.
There’s substantial proof that women are actual superheroes, and one of the reasons is that many women can have multiple orgasms without needing a significant break in between, unlike most men. According to a 2016 study by OMGYES, 47% of women have multiple orgasms, and five out of six women have a different technique to reach orgasm #2. You don’t often see women on screen coming multiple times,however, despite our ability to do so.
Perhaps it’s because once her male partner comes, the sex scene ends with both of them sated. That might seem like a natural conclusion to a romantic sex scene, but it perpetuates a problem in our society known as the orgasm gap. A 2017 study conducted by David A. Frederick and published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 95% of heterosexual men said they usually or always orgasmed when sexually intimate, while only 65% of heterosexual women said the same. So even if you’re seeing women coming on screen, you should know that’s far from accurate in real life.
9. Couples always come at the same time.
How often have we seen the matching “O” faces of a couple having sex in a movie? They are so intimately linked that they orgasm at the very same moment. Sure, this is amazing when it happens in real life, but it’s not common. We’re not all made the same way, and we don’t all have the same orgasm triggers. Even if we did, that doesn’t guarantee we’ll have synchronized orgasms. But that’s the beauty of human bodies. Sex is about exploring your partner, learning what makes them feel good, and them doing the same for you. It’s not about reaching the finish line at the same time.
10. Men always want sex.
Men are often portrayed onscreen as sex-crazed, and looking for hookups like a person searching for water in the desert. This portrayal alienates any man who isn’t constantly seeking sex, and makes them question if their libido is “normal.” There’s very little representation of asexual men and women on the big screen, and that needs to change, because a person’s gender should never define their sexual appetite.
11. A woman’s virginity is a prize to be won.
If there’s a hetero movie couple about to have sex, like in Fifty Shades of Grey, and one of them hasn’t had sex yet, nine times out of 10, it’s a woman. And with that, comes the admission that she’s “never done this before” in a demure voice, followed by her male partner pausing to decide to take it slow because it’s her first time and it should be “special.”
I don’t have time to unpack all the problems with this type of scene, but there’s a direct connection to the idea that women should remain “pure” and maintain their virginity until marriage. So when she decides to have sex before marriage, it’s as if she’s bestowing a great gift on her partner.
So whether or not a person has had sex before (no matter their gender) does not and should not reflect their value as a human being. Also, it should not increase their desirability. What we need to see on the big screen is more casual sex between two consenting adults.
12. Rules of consent only apply to women.
While the conversations surrounding consent are long overdue, there’s still a misconception that the rules of consent only apply to women. Consent needs to be given and respected by all parties involved, and any portrayal ignoring those boundaries with men sends an extremely problematic message.
For example, let’s talk about the dynamic between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in the Fifty Shades of Grey movies. Christian is a survivor of abuse, and refuses to let Ana touch his chest, where the scars from said abuse are most prevalent. Christian doesn’t share his trauma with Ana until later in the trilogy, only that she can’t touch his chest. And even though he clearly states that part of him is off-limits, she continues to try touching him there because he won’t tell her why she can’t.
There are tons of other issues with consent to be found in these movies, but this one should not be overlooked. When your partner says, “don’t touch me here,” you need to listen.
13. Women become clingy after sex.
It’s a tale as old as time: Man meets woman, chemistry blooms between them, they play a game of will-they-or-won’t-they, sex is had, and then the woman immediately becomes an emotional, needy mess.
The fact that this trope can commonly be found in rom-coms is even more depressing, because that means it has sneakily become an inevitable part of the happy ending we daydream about having someday.
Sex does not change who a woman is, or how she thinks. It also doesn’t change who a man is, or how he thinks. The only time sex leads to an emotional rollercoaster and a tidal wave of self-doubt is when both parties are unclear on what sex means to them, and don’t communicate their intentions with their partner. Casual sex is fine, and if that’s all you’re looking for, make that clear. If you want more than casual sex, let your partner know. If those things are openly discussed, there’s less possibility for miscommunications to occur.
Everyone deserves a healthy and fulfilling sex life, and in order to attain that, we need easy access to sexual education resources, and more inclusive and accurate depictions of sex in movies. When you’re thinking about becoming sexually active, and you’re in those formative years, movie sex scenes can mold what you think sex is like before you have it. So shouldn’t those scenes represent our interests and needs more accurately?
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