My expectations for dildos were set by a movie.

Specifically American Pie 2.

In a scene where one of the frat boy characters – Stifler – sneaks in to a house to try and find proof that two girls are lesbians (yes, really), he comes across a dildo. In excitement he wildly starts flinging it around shouting “Dildo! Dildo! Dildo!” and, while most people were likely laughing at the scene, all my then young teenage brain could think was “Holy cow, I want it.”

ver since then my dildo hunts have been defined by Stifler’s rather illegal discovery.

I always try and weeble wobble bendy dildos in the same way he did; checking for the springy and almost rodeo-like flailing that the on-set (very not body safe) dildo that I saw so many years ago.

Only a few dildos have ever met the criteria, but I’m excited when they do.

I wouldn’t say that this has ever damaged my perspective of sex or sex toys, though it has left me with unrealistic expectations, akin to hoping that any man one meets looks and acts like Chris Hemsworth in his role as Thor (no spoilers for End Game, please).

When it comes to sex, however, I’m not so sure that I have been left unscathed.

Sex and Movies

Sex in movies is a strange thing.

I’ve you’ve ever watched This Movie Is Not Yet Rated then you know what I mean.

On screen sex is sanitised, fabricated, and highly regulated. You can show certain (often heteronormal) encounters but go in to fetishes, queer encounters, or even realistic depictions of sex and suddenly the red tape starts to amass.

The result being that movies sell us a type of sex (usually from a rather young age) that is so far removed from actual encounters that it’s hard not to feel that disparity when it comes to one’s first encounter, or even encounters that follow from there.

Humans like comparisons. We gain security in being able to connect the unfamiliar with something that can reassure us.

It’s why reviews like mine are so valuable – we offer a perspective of a product that someone might be considering but have no real-world frame of reference for. A well-done and thorough review cannot tell someone how their personal experience will go but it can give them indications of whether or not the product in question has qualities that might appeal to their needs. It’s a good exchange.

But is this also the case with movies?

Movie sex is bland but it’s also enticing. Or, at least, it’s pitched as such. Sex scenes often come with quick cuts from the camera, strong music, and deep breathing and moaning that implied near-instant gratification even from the tamest of interactions…and sometimes from the most problematic ones too.

Heck, just the other day I caught the opening of Look Who’s Talking again and was reminded of just how dated the idea of a boss shamelessly sliding his worker’s skirt up (which then leads to a sex scene) really is. And although the movie is ultimately about how dreadful this particular sleazy business man is as a person (and father figure) it never necessarily tries to say that the sexual interaction at the start of the movie wasn’t meant to depict how sex should be between two individuals (again, two white, hetero individuals too).

No Show, No Tell

But sleaze aside, the whole idea of how sex is shown in movies is so formulaic and standardized that if you’re growing up with it as your main reference point then I’d argue it can leave you with a pretty warped perspective of sex. And, let’s face it – when you’re younger sex ed and open discussions about sex are often so infrequent that movies and TV shows do typically pick up a lot of the slack.

This is why it worries me that so many movies show sex without discomfort for those trying it for the first time.

Why it irks me that so few films have condoms and lube to hand and omit couples discussing their preferences, hard No’s or any apprehensions they have outside of a few initial ‘nerves.’

Why I’m infuriated that kinks are shown as either extremely attractive or utterly absurd and comedic with no nuances in between that underpin the conversations that kink and fetish often illicit.

It’s all brushed over so that two people can stare leerily at each other before the steamy music kicks in and then kissing, pinned against a wall, and sex has commenced.

Granted, some movies and shows are getting better. I am currently watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and (no spoilers) although there are a fair few scenes of multiple people having sex with no lube, no condoms, and pristine makeup (all while in their lingerie), there are also multiple scenes where people discuss apprehensions about sex, the importance of trust in a relationship, the complexity of someone who is a virgin suddenly finding themselves in situations they’d never expect, and how people who might go off with the intention of sex may find themselves in circumstances where those intentions change (with that being okay).

It’s the kind of depiction I wish I saw more in movies or had more of when I was growing up watching shows and I’m grateful for it.

But a show, especially a show about womanhood, dominance, and societal roles conflicting with self, is not a movie and movies usually have much less time to explore their sexual elements. This is kind of to be expected – a movie is about its main plot, not the small role that the sex scene plays in it – but that doesn’t excuse how poorly sex is treated by cinema as a result of this.

If a movie cannot do sex – proper, realistic sex – justice then does it really have a right to be including it at all? Intimacy is one thing, and many movies are enhanced by display of it, but is that intimacy augmented by having a sex scene? Especially if it’s unbelievable? I’m not too sure.

What I do know, however, is that I have grown up with multiple self-insulting thoughts in my head because I couldn’t match up to movie sex at times, and I have had partners or potential partners who have referenced movie scenes specifically when they wanted sex. “Let’s do it like [Insert movie here]” has come up in my sexual exchanges, and I’ve seen it come up in those around me too, providing anecdotal evidence that sex in the cinema might just be presenting some of us with a view of fucking which is absolutely absurd at best and potentially damaging at worst.

I don’t have any solutions or answers as to whether or not sex in movies is always bad or what the quick fix would be for Hollywood, however I think it’s worth us all thinking about and challenging sex scenes in movies which we find to be iconic in our minds.

When you peel away the layers you might be surprised at what is being sold to you and just how it’s impacted your own sexual relations at times.