What differentiates a good sex scene from a bad, or even just gratuitous one? The NYT got a slew of movie critics to tackle the topic, and their various definitions of bad sex scenes in movies provide an interesting look at how mainstream culture tends to think of sex, in general.
Among the many criticisms of sex scenes, quite a few of the critics point out that bad sex scenes are often seen as voyeuristic and exploitative, doing little to further the development of either the characters or the plot. (Are they having sex because seeing the act will make clear the characters’ underlying objectives, emotions, or reactions? Or are they having sex because the writer thought, “Aaaand, then they have sex.”)
The whole discussion drives home just how good Mad Men is — has there been a gratuitous sex scene in the entire six season run of the show? None that I can think of, and it’s no coincidence that Mad Men writing staff is predominately composed of women. Game of Thrones, however, a show full of sex, violence, and what seems like a never-ending supply of naked female courtesans, has a five person writing staff, only one of which is a woman. Just…saying.
Some snippets from the NY Times debate, below:
“A good sex scene is like a good car chase, shootout, fight or, to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, murder scene. It has to be original, surprising and flawlessly executed, and most of all, it must enhance the characters and story in such a way that the film couldn’t live without it.
A bad sex scene does none of the above.” - Jordan Mintzer
“A bad sex scene divorces eroticism from its characters’ emotions while a good sex scene brings emotion into the physical act.” - Arnold White
“Cinematic portrayals of sex between women have often been seen as voyeuristic and exploitative.” - Elisabeth Ladensen
“It’s becoming more and more common for films and television series to use graphic violence and sex to get noticed. The public rape and sex scenes in the first episode of “Game of Thrones” were painful to watch. HBO intentionally put naked actresses in violent, debasing scenes to show men’s cruelty and the inferiority of women in that world. But the nudity felt gratuitous and embarrassing.” – Martha Coolidge
“Sex on screen can teach us about more than sex. But mainstream Hollywood opts for racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, heteronormative messages.” – Mireille Miller-Young