Sexual education in North American schools is lacklustre to say the least, slowly progressing and occasionally spouting misinformation (it’s supposed to be HOW big?). As a result, many young people first learn about sex and related issues from movies and television, our most trusted educators. This can be valuable, such as a way to normalize the reality of gay couples from an early age in a way that they may not be exposed to otherwise, you know, as opposed to thinking they’re demons from Hell here to convert all the little boys and girls into being sinful sodomites. There are also examples like David Robert Mitchell’s new film, It Follows, which centres around sexually-transmitted horrors other than crabs or herpes (yes, they exist). Let’s hope they don’t see too many of the following, too, because then they might really think you’ll die if you touch someone else anywhere below the shoulder. (DEATHLY SEXY SPOILERS AHEAD)
Teeth (Mitchell Lichtenstein, 2007)
Try to think of a better premise for a film than the following: Girl’s vagina has teeth and will bite off your dick if you try anything she doesn’t like. You can’t and you won’t. This is one of those premises that works despite itself, so that even a badly-made version of it would still be entertaining and worthwhile. There is certainly a way to watch Teeth with a feminist perspective, as many men in her life attempt to be sexually violent toward her and they all get what they deserve, the fulfillment of their greatest psychoanalytic fear: castration (yay!). There is certainly a way to see it as misogynistic, as a warped ad for abstinence and purity and a warning that female sexuality is dangerous. Either way, it is provocatively saying something, and you can’t look away.
Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
Aside from causing death, sex is also used in film to forget about death, which is marginally relatable. In one of cinema’s most infamous sex scenes, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie writhe around in bed in a frenzy of intimate and passionate positions as they attempt to maintain their relationship after the death of their daughter. Don’t Look Now is one of the richest expressions of grief ever put to film, and this sex scene is the ultimate manifestation of that festering and the way it refuses to stop affecting their relationship. Attempting to reclaim that fiery passion, they are left as alone as ever. But at least I have my Netflix account, right?
Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Lars von Trier doesn’t have a sense of humor (Have you seen Nymphomaniac?). Opening his film with a brief prologue in which Handel’s Rinaldo plays as a couple has sex at the same time as their son falls from their window to his death is certainly one way to grab our attention. That and taking a log to Willem Dafoe’s balls. To reveal later on that the mother saw it happening and did nothing is just the best Freudian joke I can think of.
Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)
Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) is not messing around, and she is a nightmare for thinkpiece writers. She falsely cries rape, she sets her husband up for murder. Finally, in one of the most gruesome scenes in recent memory, she slashes Neil Patrick Harris’ throat during sex, not the Oscars (alas), to further her own agenda and return to her husband. Sex is a tool for Amy, just another way to get what she wants and manipulate those she is involved with. Murder is just the natural endpoint.
Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
You just never know whether the baby you’re carrying is the spawn of Satan or not. You just don’t! Just look at Willem Dafoe. You might be pretty sure, but there’s always that nagging feeling. Your partner could have made a deal with some Satanists. It happens. You think you know someone, and bam! You know how you can avoid that? Don’t have sex! You’re welcome.
Scream (Wes Craven, 1996)
Any horror fan knows that if you’re watching a slasher flick and two teenagers are having sex, someone’s about to die. Or someone is greenlighting a sequel. Or ten. Craven subverts the trope, along with many others, when Sidney (Neve Campbell) and Billy (Skeet Ulrich) have sex and are attacked by the masked killer, only to have it be revealed that Billy was part of the whole plan. It’s a joke that works so well because these horror tropes are so well-known that there’s nowhere left to turn except irony (*shudder*).