If we relied on Hollywood for our sex education, we’d be in trouble. Contraception is rarely addressed, couples seem to magically know what the other wants without any need for communication, and women consistently orgasm during intercourse after about 15 seconds of missionary-style sex. Mainstream films are also overwhelmingly heteronormative and rarely address gender and sexual orientation. In other words, they tend to reinforce some seriously problematic ideas about sex.
Fortunately, there are some exceptions to the rule – movies and television shows that offer a broader spectrum of experiences and challenge viewers to expand their views on sexuality. Here are some of our favourites.
This award-winning original series available only through Amazon Prime is a brilliantly written show devoted to exploring the experiences of Gender and Sexual Minorities (GSM). Centred around the story of a father of three who comes out as trans to their adult children, the story explores the private lives of each member of the family as their father’s transition prompts them each to explore their own gender identity and sexual preferences.
Featuring a remarkable performance by actress Helen Hunt, this film focuses on sex as it intersects with issues of disability and religion. The film follows the real-life story of Mark O’Brian as he sets out on a journalistic assignment to write about sexuality and disability – and in the process lose his virginity through hiring a sex surrogate (the role played by Helen Hunt). The film chronicles Mark's experience and the relationships that unfold as a result.
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Unlike some of the tacky comedies created around the idea of sex addiction, this is a hard-hitting drama about the real-life dangers of sex addiction and the painful process of recovery. Mark Ruffalo offers a stellar performance as the film’s lead character who is navigating his first intimate relationship since entering recovery. The film also explores the personal lives of several of the other members of his 12-step group.
Friends with Benefits
Okay, so this is a totally fluffy romantic comedy, we know. But we wanted to include it because it is one of the only times we have ever seen honest discussions occur in mainstream cinema about likes and dislikes when it comes to partners pleasuring each other. And we appreciate that it features something other than missionary position sex – the staple position of Hollywood films. Lastly, we love that the female lead is vocal when she doesn’t like what is being done for her.
MASTERS OF SEX
This period piece explores the pioneering work of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson. While there’s certainly no shortage of hot sex scenes and comedy, the show delves into some serious topics, including the research ethics of how the studies are conducted, as well as societal views on homosexuality and female sexuality (namely, that the vaginal orgasm is more ‘mature’).
Below are five films we wanted to mention because they each attempt to broach oft ignored areas of sexuality. Unfortunately we felt they each fell short of the mark in fulfilling their potential. That said, they are all light, romantic films, so if you are not in the mood for a serious drama but still want to provoke some interesting conversation around the topic of sex, these could be a good way to go.
Hysteria – A romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator, with an exploration of the ways in which women’s sexual pleasure has historically been patholologized.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – A drama about a group of retirees who move to a retirement facility in India. The film attempts to explore sexuality and sexual orientation, but in staying in the realm of PG it fails to explore these topics in a deeply meaningful way.
Sex After Kids – Just what it sounds like, this film is devoted to exploring the sexuality of parents post-partum. Good concept, but the execution was less than moving.
Magic Mike XXL – A road trip film about male strippers could easily have included homophobic and sexist jokes. Instead, Magic Mike focuses on female pleasure, and showcases more body diversity and people of colour than you'd expect. We don’t want to go too far – there’s plenty to critique – but we appreciate that this film is more than just eye candy.
The Overnight – We haven’t had a chance to see it yet, but we’ve heard great things so we’ve chosen to include it with the caveat that we can’t offer our personal review. Open relationships aren’t typically addressed in mainstream films (and when they are, it’s often to poke fun or criticize) so we’re excited to hear that The Overnight offers a thoughtful, nuanced exploration.
Looking for other ways to explore sexuality and desire? Download our one-page (one-question!) guide to getting what you want in bed.
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Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters and ecosex.ca, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for women seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.