When I saw Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone’s most recent big-screen project, in advance earlier this year, I had two thoughts: I hope this movie doesn’t get soft-canceled online before it even opens. Man, there was a lot of sex. For the record, I thought the film was fantastic and that its many sex scenes were well-earned. It follows a young lady as she goes from near-incoherence to agency (sexual and otherwise). However, I’ve grown accustomed to the tiresome internet debate around sex scenes, which consistently reduces and simplifies the issue of if, how, and when sex should be utilized to further a narrative on screen. (It should be mentioned that Stone produced Poor Things. As such, even though the current SAG-AFTRA strike may prevent her from commenting on the movie’s intentions, she most likely had some input on its content, especially the sex scenes, which take on greater significance as Stone’s character develops in real life.)

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The opposition to sex scenes in TV shows and movies on the internet is not new. Less sex than ever before is a trend among young people, which is sometimes portrayed as a social evil, but it may just be a reflection of how less pushed those same young people are. (As someone who been in ten terrible one-night dates, I wholeheartedly support this.) But when it comes to sex on film, it bothers me to have to argue for the widely accepted notion that showing sex is not intrinsically bad or harmful for the audience or the performers playing the part. Actors Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos have both been vocal about how exploited they felt while filming Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013), so it’s true that sometimes those scenes have caused harm. However, that seems more of a defense for having intimacy coordinators on set than for outright banning sex scenes.

The Hays Code, which established industry standards for the quantity and kind of sexual content and violence that may be shown on film, came to an end 55 years ago. To be fair, neither is in short supply these days; practically any television network will consistently include firearms and/or barely covered breasts, not to mention full frontal male nudity, which was unusual until lately. A critical mass of sensually depicting sex sequences that capture the vast spectrum of what sex is and may be, however, is still missing. One such example is the underrepresentation of sex that LGBTQ+ audiences are familiar with since straight, cisgender people are still the most likely to be shown in mainstream sex scenes, despite the success of recent queer films like Red, White, and Royal Blue and Bottoms.

I support a filmmaker’s freedom to include sex scenes in their films for obvious, tangentially First Amendment-related reasons, but please do not interpret this as an absolutist position. Although viewers shouldn’t have to interact with an artist’s work, artists should be free to do whatever they want with it. I owe Woody Allen’s most recent movie nothing at all, and anyone who find sex scenes offensive should feel free to stay away from movies and TV shows that incorporate them.

Furthermore, forcing an actor to perform a sex scene they’re not comfortable with or otherwise adversely influencing them to do so should result in the termination of any director or other powerful person on the set, at the very least. However, that is not the same as advocating for the complete cessation of sexual scenes. I become lost in this hypervigilance, which occasionally verges on restricting free speech. Sex is a part of life, and if we attempt to discourage filmmakers from tackling it, we will be losing out on something. It’s not intrinsically more troublesome or harmful to depict than any other aspect of life.

I can still clearly recall the first sexual moment in a film that deeply resonated with me; it was Kaitlyn Dever and Diana Silvers’ connection in Olivia Wilde’s feature debut, Booksmart. I adored how jumbled, disorderly, and decidedly un-hot it was. As a closeted teenage lesbian with little to go on in terms of sex scenes between women (that weren’t rated X, at least), watching Dever’s character struggle to take off her sneakers made me feel better about all the times that my own sex life lacked flawless choreography. I felt especially validated by the notion that queer sex could be awkward, but also worthy and meaningful.

Sex scenes should always be terrible. But admitting that they don’t have to be excellent also has some power, provided that kids are being videotaped by adults providing full, informed permission in a safe workplace. In other words, sexuality may be complex. It ought to be shown by our media.

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