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Personal Essay: How Film Altered Sexual Consciousness

While humankind is no stranger to getting its freak on (hello, old-timey nudes and even older orgies), today's version of freak has been turned on its head, bent into the weirdest, most uncomfortable of positions, and told to take it. Film, not just the adult industry, has changed our perceptions of sex and what sex should look, feel, and sound like. It feels like we don't even consider all the time and effort put into making those on-camera sex scenes. It's no wonder that what we do in bed seems inadequate.

Through the Lens and Down the Rabbit Hole

In film, many things are simultaneously happening. There are tons of lights with all the right angles. There are directors shouting what does and doesn’t look good, then they hold up their fingers like a frame and just know if it will be successful or not.  There are the actresses and actors — trained professionals — who, most of the time, have already been categorized (by society, et al) as good-looking, attractive, appealing (I use these terms so loosely, y’all).  And then there are the makeup artists, the set designers, the fashion designers, plus the sound effects people and editors. Take after take after take. Getting the right shot. Breaks, retouches, rewinds. Edits, CGIs, body doubles. The work that goes into making fictitious sex scenes takes hours, if not days. And we use that as a gauge with which to measure our own sexual escapades.

We let ourselves fall for it. We want to fall for it. And into the romantic rabbit hole we tumble because, after all, we watch film to get lost, to escape, to feel something other than our reality. But what happens when non-realities begins to hinder the way in which we perceive our actual realities? What happens when we’re much further down the rabbit hole than we ever intended? How do we crawl back up?  

What are Film Non-Realities Doing to us?

Talking about what’s real and not real is a subjective discussion. However, when considering film, we must recognize that almost all of what we see is contrived. This doesn’t make the scenes any less real, per se, but it surely makes them fictitious. The old saying, “you are what you eat” also applies to what we consume with our eyes.  

The more we watch film that portrays unrealistic or fantastical sex, the more we get lost in our own realities of what sex is. We compare every sex scene on the screen to those we have in the bedroom; we scrutinize our own sex lives to death. And in doing so, we criticize ourselves to the point of mental and physical strain. Such behaviors are likely to spawn anxiety and depression, too.

The more we watch film that delivers unrealistic expectations of our bodies and sex lives, the more we will feel like we don’t measure up. Indeed, this is another blow to the woman’s spirit, ego, and body. We might think watching films like an innocent act, but in some ways, we are innocent for thinking that we won’t be phased by them.  

Ain’t Nothing Real, i.e. the Lack of Accuracy

We must realize that the majority of what film projects is a mirage.

It’s all orchestrated. Universally, the images and circumstances are wrong—nothing looks that good in real life. The film industry sells us sterilized and commodified sex.  And the sex shown tends to lean towards one type—vanilla. Although risky, taboo activities have made their way into the mainstream, the mainstream images are generally of a certain style, i.e., fit types, those who have sculpted bodies and above average beauty. The sex is vanilla and most of the people are, too. Sex like this is not inclusive and it’s boring.

Everything is from behind a camera and transmitted through a screen. It’s cold and distant, it’s contrived and fake, and it’s dangerous because it’s not real. Hardly anyone talks about this.  This needs to be talked about because the more we can recognize how film is failing us in the sex department, the more we can become comfortable with our own sex lives by facing the fact that film sex is fake sex and whatever sex we have is OK as long as it’s safe, consensual, and makes us feel good.  

Let’s look at a few details to bring home the point about accuracy.

Couples who shed their clothing without much effort, then get into the most titillating of positions as if some choreographed dance. Everybody looks like they’re having a really good time all the time. Condoms, not even wrappers, are rarely, if ever, shown. This is dangerous.  We need to see real sex scenes with stuff like awkwardness, laughter, and birth control of all kinds.

Where are the variations in size and color? The bodies we see are not like our bodies because real bodies come in all shapes, sizes, color, creed, and character—real bodies are diverse. We see bodies that seem to repeat themselves throughout several films, as if they come from a factory, as if they are not even human.  

Failure to Report Truth  

From dating to sex to flirting, the film industry has laid it on thick. They have sold us a dream and we have fallen for it. Women’s ideas about intimacy are learned via film and if the screen depicts fantastical versions of intimacy, then the film industry is selling lies. Film is a popular medium through which we are entertained, but we are also educating ourselves. If what the film industry shows are cute dates in cute cafés with the insufferably cute guy and his dog, girls will be better off never having seen such lies. For nothing is worse that romanticizing something that is as rare as seeing a shooting star. If you think I might be over exaggerating, think about your dating life, your dating history, your dating reality. Now compare that to what the film industry puts out. Give it a minute to sink in, really ponder it and see the connection.  Do you feel it?  

It’s not just about the sex and dating, though. It’s also about how film pushes archetypes in our faces.  We’re either the virgin or the slut, the bitch or the maiden, the wife or the lover.  Even the princess hype attacks our perceptions of self and body. But we know we can be all of these and sometimes none, sometimes something altogether different. We don’t have to be the über sexy force that storms into a room or the shy, innocent good girl nestled in the corner. Enough with these trite versions of female identity. We are diverse, so diverse and complex that some of ourselves can’t be caught on film.  

We are also super vulnerable. Where are the films that show what happens when the guy lays on the sexual innuendo way too thick on the first date and makes the girl feel uncomfortable? What about the one that goes in for the kiss, but doesn’t let the girl refuse? What about the one who forces himself upstairs for that late night cocktail? Films like these need to exist. The public needs to see scenarios like these to be prepared, to know what can and might happen.  We need to be ready for anything and everything; walking around this world vulnerable from watching romantic comedies is dangerous. More truth means that girls will be better protected, mentally, physically, and emotionally. This matters.    

With the incredulous amount of sex mockery happening, it’s no wonder we feel a little disappointed, even exposed, after real life encounters with partners. We are aiming for perfect dates and bodies and first times and, well, frankly, life doesn’t work on those principles. Life works more on development and patience and learning. But in the film industry, those moments don’t sell, it’s all about the money.

Our sex consciousness is on another level, one that reality cannot compete with (despite how much we try). We are morphing ourselves into simulated sex robots, we are becoming non-human coitus seekers. We let the screen be our guides and in doing so have created internal backlash. We are never satisfied.

Not to mention, all the glorifying of the female body as if it’s an object to be had, to own, to sample. We all know that our bodies are put on the line with each film that does not treat our bodies with respect. With each film that turns us out or puts us down or throws us around, we are defiled. The worst part is that some girls will, as a direct result of film, be lead to believe that her body should be treated like this. So they’ll give over their bodies, they’ll facilitate the patriarchy, the chauvinists, the misogynist, the philanderer, the capitalist (although most of those words are synonymous anyways).

Break Free from Cinema Consciousness that Doesn’t Benefit Women

Clearly film is only one component of the media. There are plenty of magazines and videos that deserve equal criticism, too. We need to look at everything with a discerning eye so as not to fall for the traps and the trappings.     

I want to call attention to film and expose how it relates to our waking consciousness because cinema consciousness gives us false hope. It allows film to dictate our perceptions of reality; then makes us want to search for a similar reality, one that doesn’t exist. Breaking free of cinema consciousness means identifying where film fails us, where it damages our self-worth, and where it give us precarious expectations.

What you ingest influences you. What you consume through your eyes has just as much effect on your being as the food you eat. If you watch unrealistic films about sex and love, you will have unrealistic expectations. If you watch films that minimize the power of women, you will feel powerless or at least enraged. If you watch film that promote sex appeal at any cost, you will feel the drive to be sexy all the time. We are more than bodies and way more than bodies that producers and directors choose to put on film.

So let’s think about altering sex consciousness in film. Women have already taken leaps and embarked upon journeys that are so vital to our survival. And we applaud them. But for those who have the dream to change the lens by which we view ourselves and ourselves in relationship to sex, don’t sleep on a dream. Make moves, make huge cinematographic moves and build your sisters up. We can’t wait to see what you’re going to do, we are ready for you, we support you, we are down for you. Bring on the female gaze, bring on a film industry revolution.  

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Jacklyn Janeksela, MFA, is a freelance writer & a poet.  Her online self, aka that writing life, can be found here.  She works for Culture Designers, Thrillist, Honey Colony, among others; her poetry is tangled on the inter-webs.  Her herbal alchemy meets astrology creative business can be found here at Hermetic Hare. She explores self through poetry, planets, & photography @ female filet.

Photo Credit: Jaymantri, pexels.com

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