03/20/2014 09:19 am ET Updated Mar 20, 2014

The Sex Scene Is Dead


It's hard to imagine now, but not so long ago, men were scouring mainstream movies for glimpses of naked flesh. In Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), Goldstein and Rosenberg, the Jewish neighbors, sit around, smoking pot, waiting attentively for a glimpse of Katie Holmes's breasts (the scene in question, from The Gift, is not sexy at all, though that doesn't stop them from trying to get their fix). In Knocked Up (2007), it was still early enough in history that characters could reasonably spend their time finding and listing the various nude scenes of famous actresses. That was only seven years ago, but it may as well have been a hundred. The era of the titillating mainstream sex scene has abruptly ended. Now on-screen sex is either grim or boring.

It was a glorious era, no doubt, that narrow window between the beginning of the sexual revolution and the pornification of culture. Anyone who was an adolescent in the 1990s will remember Henry & June or The Unbearable Lightness of Being, beacons of worldliness and fleshiness. Before then, of course, there was the magnificent sex scene in Don't Look Now, which apparently shocked people. And of course Last Tango in Paris, for millions the beginning of the possibility of straight anal. In hindsight, all of these movies seem ludicrously tame. Sex, Lies, and Videotape may as well have been made by Victorians. Seeing these movies now, the question is, "What was all the fuss about?"

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