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Sex in Film Making

Written by Sally Morwenna

The topic of sexual intercourse in film making is always a delicate one. The reason is quite simple: it is like nudity a human societal taboo. Sadly it is also an area of the business where gaslighting or psychological manipulation and abuse are rampant.

What is Pornography?

We call such media pornographic when it is fully explicit penetrative or oral sexual intercourse, censored adult entertainment if the genitalia are not visible, and erotic films are where the nudity and activity is non-penetrative and  limited to kissing, fondling, squeezing of breasts etc.. This last category is the point where it becomes soft pornography or even non-pornography.

A good definition of pornography is ‘the portrayal of prostitutes in action’. The reason why this is a good definition is that during the film making process the actors and actresses are essentially selling sexual intercourse, albeit to each other for purely purient interests of the audience at the directors whims. Nevertheless they are essentially prostitutes on film at that point.

Is going nude an act of prostitution?

Some ultra conservative or religious thinkers such as Mary Whitehouse in the past or modern anti-Page 3 topless nude photos in newspaper campaigners (often feminists) have argued that even topless or nudity is a form of prostitution. That merely by the act of being nude the woman say is selling her body for money, and thus pornographic. The argument being based upon this: what are they selling? Is it titillation? Is it a smile on a viewers face? Is it more than a smile on a viewers face? Are they selling their body? If so, that would be defined as a form of prostitution under another definition of the word.  One radical religious campaigner declared that ‘women who go nude on film or for still photos, even topless ones are whores’.

As one can see nudity and sex being depicted by camera is a hotly debateable subject with all kinds of views. Some views like the above are clearly extremist, others less so.

In 18th century Britain, long before cameras were invented, artists models were considered the lowest of all female professions. They were often seen a far lower than a local strumpet one might find on a street corner outside a London brothel. This was because the job an artists model was viewed as publicly degrading to her and female kind. She was looked on lower than the lowest whore that could be found, even if she never actually was a prostitute. It seems that merely posing nude to men and being depicted, as art, was seen as far worse than being a prostitute!

“Sadly it is also an area of the business where gaslighting or psychological manipulation and abuse are rampant.”

What is acceptable to standard film making?

Anything that is just erotic for a moment in a film and is not the main purpose of the film is considered quite acceptable as either an over 18 film or an over 15 age film depending on the nature of the content.

After all, nudity and sexual intercourse are natural functions of human mammal species. It’s only religion, culture and society that makes them a taboo on  camera. What are taboos made up of? Thoughts! Thoughts can change over time. What is considered obscene or degrading by one generation is seen as normal by another. Much of human history has created untold damage and hypocrisy by placing sex as a taboo that must be hidden, driving it underground and making it seedy or something abnormal.

Methods used on set

Sex is actually very hard to film in non-pornographic films.  Actors and actresses might not want to do it, so body doubles are often used. The actress and actor must learn how to simulate sexual intercourse, whilst not actually physically doing it, and trying not to get actually really aroused. This is quite hard for both because often they are young, nervous and at the same time are breathing in the hormones released in real sexual intercourse, and seeing, and feeling what is physically real – the touch of skin, the scent, the physique. All of these are precursors to real sexual intercourse. An actor or actress must navigate carefully in order to perform this act. If they cannot do this without bursting out laughing, going into hysterics, giggling or actually forgetting it is acting, and engage in real sex, then there could be a problem for the director and the producers.

Actors and actresses have a right to discuss what is being asked in terms of nudity and the act of simulated sex beforehand, and the right to pull out.  However, if they sign a contract, they are often bound to fulfil this contract and could suffer financial penalties if they don’t.

Some actors and actresses prefer the sex scenes choreographed before. This helps them overcome many of the problems involved, even down to what they are saying or the noises they are making during the act of sex. In some cases these are not acts of love, but portrayal of abuse or even rape. Choreography is thus a useful method.

Other occasions the people involved in the scene will simply work out how to do it between them. This way it is more comfortable to accomplish. This helps the director and makes the shoot a lot smoother.

Nowadays there are also intimacy co-ordinators who work out the scenes. They are usually involved in larger budget films. A typical intimacy co-ordinator will help to choreograph or organise entire simulated orgies. It also allows actors and actresses to express their personal boundaries. For example what areas are the actor is allowed to touch the actress, and in what way, and visa versa.

Often in Hollywood directors like improvisation when it comes to sex scenes. It’s because it looks better. This can cause all kinds of issues but if the actor and actress are professional enough and don’t respect the taboos, then it usually makes a great scene.

Often actors and actresses wear uncomfortable genital coverings like huge band aids or special socks for male genitals. Pillows and other devices are placed between the couple to give the illusion of sex. However, these never look quite right and are often spotted by the audience. The trend now is to follow the continental method of filming and just go with the flow of nudity and sex being quite a normal part of acting. 

Japan’s response

In Japan some actresses have gone even further down the road of acting against the taboos of society. They have intentionally entered the adult film market in what is called AV (adult video). Japan never had an taboos against sex. They however, ended up deciding on a Japanese means of solving the problem of causing offence. Since sex is not very important to a Japanese, they simply censor the genitalia post-edit. This then solves the problem. There are also simulated versions known as ‘Pink films’ and it is hard to tell which is which. The studio then determines if the production is an adult video or a normal release video depending on the level and quantity of sexual intercourse depicted that might be or might not be real.

The most notable Japanese actress to get involved with  portraying quite a lot of sexual intercourse on  censored video is international actress Yoko Shimada, who at the age of 57 to 58 in 2011 made what turned into two adult videos (cat no TEK-032 and 034). These were published by the Muteki a film company specialising in adult films featuring celebrities! Due to the way that film making in Japan is organised, Yoko may have not realised that the filming was going to be split into two films and end up being cut in a way that made two adult entertainment films, with prolonged sexual intercourse scenes, involving 2 different men and 3 scenes, sold on a pornographic website!  Many  rumours have thus circulated about the true nature of these films, much to Yoko’s upset. Once release and contracts were signed there is little she could do about it. They could sell their films as they liked!

Duped into nudity or sex roles

Actresses should thus be aware of what they get involved with, because once releases are signed they have no way back. Unless of course they can prove the contract was worded ambiguously – it never is – then they cannot even do anything about it legally.

There is also the prospect of being deceived into accepting a part, then whilst on set film makers make the woman or man endure extra roles that are not part of what was originally agreed. This might include nude scenes or sex scenes. The human frailty afterwards is to self-justify that what one did for this cash is alright, and that the production company (because throughout the process they will tell her) was ‘very professional’. 

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