Why is Hollywood so keen on portraying such misleading and inaccurate depictions of the sexual experience?
We can all agree that Hollywood isn’t known for portraying the most accurate versions of reality. Now, being able to discern between romanticized stories is one thing, but actually being aware that some of the behaviors depicted on-screen aren’t but a set clichés is another. Relationships, emotions, diseases, mental conditions, or even sex, are depicted in a particular way that most of the times (if not always) is far from reality. But the worst part is that we’ve become so used to watching them on television and film that we end up believing that that’s how things are, even if we’re well aware that the story they’re portraying is not real.
The portrayal of sex in movies and television is something we’ve all grown up watching, and believe it or not, it’s most likely that most of us took it as real, when most of the times it is misleading and oversimplified. We could argue that the liberties they take to portray sex are a visual attempt to make their stories more alluring and enticing, but if you think about it, that’s just encouraging the idea that when sex doesn’t look as it does on-screen, it isn’t esthetic or nice at all. Remember that episode on Friends when Ross accidentally tapes one encounter with Rachel and then they watch it out of curiosity? They both can’t believe how horrible it looks and couldn’t even pass through the first minutes. Well, that’s basically what these portrayals generate in a larger audience.
According to Martha Lauzen (executive director at the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University), it’s vital for creators to bear in mind that they do have a social responsibility with an audience, since the content they create can have a huge impact in a broader audience. In that way, most of our perceptions of gender, sexuality, emotions, or basically any social relationship we have is molded up to some degree by these portrayals in movies and televisions. Now, this can be a huge problem, especially when talking about female sexuality, which is one that’s often portrayed and yet the one that’s done in the most incorrect and inaccurate way.
Film theorist Laura Mulvey has been analyzing the phenomena of female representation in films, and in her famous essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," published in 1975, she explained how cinema has historically and constantly portrayed women through a heterosexual male gaze. This naturally is associated with a historical pattern of objectification of women in mainstream media. As a consequence, when sex is shown on-screen, there’s much more emphasis on portraying women during the act. Take a look at any sex scene, and you’ll see that the camera focuses more on the female character (especially her face) than in her male counterpart. Thus the invention of the classic Hollywood orgasm face.
The issue here isn’t only the face, which is absolutely inaccurate, but actually how sex is represented and the role women play in these depictions. For instance, it’s really false that all women reach orgasm with penetration alone, as it’s often shown on-screen. The problem is how the audience understands sex and how movies at the end of the day become patterns to follow. Psychologist and sex therapist Erica Marchand, explains that these stereotypes can really encourage an alarmingly common phenomenon called “spectatoring,” which consists of an obsession with how they look and are perceived during sex.
When you have a constant image of how sex should look and how orgasms are, viewers can jump to the conclusion that, if they’re not experiencing what they have seen on-screen, it's because they must be doing something wrong. The same applies to those thinking their partners are not the best at it, because they don’t look or have orgasms as fast or just as all these women do in a film. Can you see the problematic thing here?
So, what’s the thing to do? If you ask me, the fact that only 10% of the filmmakers in the industry are women explains why female sexuality is so badly represented. Then, there should be an interest on portraying more realistic experiences to show that each person lives their sexuality in diverse ways. There’s been definitely a change in the stories told in Hollywood, and every year there are more innovative and fresh ideas that are explored, but there isn’t still a faithful representation of the female orgasm and their sexual experience. So let’s just hope that new filmmakers start focussing on this matter. So, to answer the question of the title, can Hollywood revolutionize the female orgasm? Yes, absolutely they can. Have they done so? Sadly, no.
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