Sex on Screen: Unrealistic depictions of sex in media

Sex on Screen: Unrealistic depictions of sex in media

Read about the author Megan Barnett

As a former Film and TV Student and general lover of of the Big Screen, I have one very big gripe when it comes to movies and programmes: unrealistic sex scenes.

That’s not to say that every time a sex scene crops up in something I’m watching I get out my notebook, analyse every frame and give it a grade at the end of it, but I will often scoff and point out what’s not realistic about what has just been depicted.

I should point out here that I’m largely talking about straight sex scenes. I’ve seen lots of videos and read articles on the unrealistic expectations of lesbian and gay sex in the media, but that is not my area of expertise. Thanks to Orange is the New Black, however, I think lesbian sex has been portrayed more accurately, dispelling the “scissoring” myth porn perpetuates.

One of my biggest gripes is how characters are ready for penetrative sex so quickly. I feel like this can have a damaging impact on people, whatever their age and level of sexual knowledge, as most people require some level of stimulation and lubrication in order to have intercourse.

For women, the natural level of lubrication differs depending on the menstrual cycle, and so while you may be mentally ready for sex, your body needs to catch up a bit first. Furthermore, if your partner is well-endowed or you have a narrow vagina, or a combination of the two, then you’re going to need to use lubricant and go slowly. Otherwise penetration will hurt and could actually cause some damage, such as vaginal tearing, which could lead to an infection.

Lubricant is also vital for anal sex, as the anus is not a self-lubricating organ. People experimenting with anal play who are not “in the know” about lubricant could be putting themselves at risk of a painful experience. Or, like the eponymous Fleabag, they could be left with questions about their own bodies.

If a younger person is getting their sex education from an inaccurate source such as porn, due to a lack of information provided in schools, then they will not be aware that lubricant is important for both male and female sexual health and pleasure.

This could also generate feelings of sexual inadequacy, as a young woman might feel that she is somehow abnormal for being unable to have penetrative sex and the click of her fingers, and her partner might feel like they’re not good enough at stimulating or arousing her.

There are certain medical problems that can be alleviated by using lubricants too. Issues such as vaginismus and vaginal dryness can also affect women at any age, and can also prevent penetration without some assistance.

It would be lovely to get jiggy at the drop of a hat, but for most women, and men for that matter, it’s quite difficult to go from naught to naughty in sixty seconds.

Of course there are scenes around that portrayal more realistic sex, but these are often for comedic effect. I do hold a certain fondness for awkward sex scenes, however, as I feel like these can be relatable. Think The Inbetweeners and Fresh Meat: we’ve all got at least one embarrassing sex story in our book of anecdotes, but these still don’t necessarily portray “real” sex in a normative way.

Another cliche that winds me up is how after sex, the couple slumps back onto the pillows, the duvet covering her chest just so, having climaxed simultaneously. In my view, there is an altogether flippant disregard of both the wet patch and her imminent UTI infection.

Having lived in a house of nine girls at uni, cystitis medication and cranberry juice was always in abundance. I fear that too many women learn the importance of the post-sex pee from experience rather than through education.

Urinating after sex flushes away bacteria from the urethra, helping to prevent UTIs developing. A post-sex pee also gives you a chance to mop up too, which may not be a nice thing to think about but it needs to be done!

I suppose you could say that sex on screen is like an edited version of sex in real life, and of course they are there for entertainment purposes and serve as plot devices, but there is a distinct lack in truly realistic sex scenes out there.

By realistic here, I don’t necessarily mean graphic. You could have a realistic sex scene without any nudity whatsoever if executed correctly. Of course nudity plays a part in real-life sex, but it doesn’t always have a place on TV. However, I think that realistic sex does.

I also think it’s important to have a diverse representation of people having sex, including different ethnicities, ages, genders, sexualities, disabilities and sizes. Recently I watched the Netflix series Easy, a show revolving around sex and relationships. While they had quite a diverse casting, the female characters were all extremely slim. I found this to be quite hypocritical as the male characters were all of varying body types, as if suggesting it’s ok for men but not for women to be a certain size. I definitely think there should have been a fairer representation of female bodies, not for “empowerment” purposes, but just to highlight what different bodies look like, and that larger women can enjoy sex too.

Fair and diverse representation of characters is important as the audience can identify more easily with someone who is like them in some way. It’s also important to present sex scenes as natural, rather than objectifying or demonising those involved. In this way, viewers will be reassured that their sexuality, wants and desires are normal.

In portraying more realistic and diverse sex scenes on TV, people in minority groups and younger people will learn that sex is more than just penetration, can take time and doesn’t have to meet a certain aesthetic to be good.