“Cinema’s Sex Acts”

In her essay “Cinema’s Sex Acts” Linda Williamson argues the difference between explicit representations of sex in non-pornographic films and pornography and advocates for “the need for some kind of term to mark the difference from pornography and Hollywood” (15). I agree with her general statement that relative explicitness doesn’t have to be prurient and even if it is by the way, it can still be necessary for the film and valuable for the audience. However, I wonder by what criteria we can be judge the “right” and “wrong” representations of sex, since the practice and experience of sex are themselves so idiosyncratic and arbitrary. It seems, that the only way to go about judging whether a film is pornographic or not, is by evaluating the intentions of the filmmaker and the purpose of the particular sex scene. Whereas pornography is always relatively explicit and its sole purpose is to arouse, explicit sexual scenes in non-pornographic films may be intended to express or highlight some specific emotional state, personality trait or may be necessary for the accuracy of setting. This of course, doesn’t preclude the arousing potential of the sex scene. And why should it? Does someone else’s by-the-way arousal need to necessarily undermine our seriousness when watching a sexually explicit scene? Williams criticizes Dargis’ worry “that someone else—the heterosexual male audience, the director himself, someone other than a woman—might be vicariously enjoying the pleasures the women enjoy” (11). If the film allows its characters to be aroused, provided that it’s not objectifying them in the meantime, can it not celebrate their arousal at the same time, and allow the audience in on it as well? Again, it is more a question of how we look, than of who is looking.

works cited:

Williamson, Linda. “Cinema’s Sex Acts.” Film Quarterly 67.4 (n.d.): 9-25. University of California Press. 2014.



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