The first time I saw porn, I was ten years old, with both of my parents. My father had been watching Starz during the day on a sick day, but as day turns to night, Starz turns from an average movie channel to an adult film channel. When we turned the TV on for our evening episode of whatever my family was watching at that time, the screen filled with sex, and my parents both freaked out. I remained calm, walked up to the television set, and turned it off. I prepared to change the channel manually and immediately when I got the okay to turn the TV back on.
In her introduction of a magazine issue that also contains Linda Williams’s article on sex acts, B. Ruby Rich poses the question, “Why should sex be any harder to credit in movies than murder?” That’s a question I’ve always had when it comes to American film culture. People are fine with letting their kids watch terribly violent films with guns and knives and bombs and other forms of violence, but sex? No, never. That would be horrible.
That’s why I really liked Williams’s article, and I agreed with so many of her points. For one, Williams makes the point that anger at Blue is the Warmest Color should potentially be redirected toward Nymphomaniac if one is concerned about exploitation of the female body. And having seen both films, I understand why she says this, but I am also concerned with people, particularly critics with influence, disregarding a film just because of its explicit sexual content. That is a particularly unnuanced opinion, stemming from a society that is afraid of seeing a naked body on screen, despite the fact that we can all relate to having a body and engaging in sexual acts far more than we can and should relate to the violent acts that we condemn on screen.
I don’t have a problem with sex on screen, and I credit my parents with that because they were willing to show me movies with R ratings when I was a very little kid, which desensitized me in a positive way to explicit content. While my parents freaked out when porn came on screen when I was ten, I was ten, and I was their kid. Sex is often awkward with that parent-child relationship, and that’s a different story.