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Sex and Erotica in History – Depictions in Television & Film

by Beth Divine 26 Apr 2019

Film has only been around for a little over one hundred years, but even in this short time, depictions of human activities have changed dramatically. Even something as basic as food is a good example. From lavish feasts, with tables groaning under the weight of roasts – and not just chickens or cuts of beef or pork, we are talking roast swans, entire pigs and just about any creature that can be slaughtered, seasoned and spiced, food is now shown in modest amounts, beautifully presented with ethically sourced, health-bursting products, on attractive, hand made crockery that is also sustainable, rainforest-friendly and renewable.

With so much of a transformation in something as basic and completely necessary as food, you can only imagine how much attitudes towards sex and sexual practises have affected what can be and is shown on film and television.

Of course, in the early days, even kissing was seldom shown, with a useful dissolve coming along just as the couple’s heads drew closer together. The strategic dissolve continued to be used for many years, especially with more explicit indications that sex was about to take place, but slowly more and more of the action was depicted. This probably culminated in the late 80s and 90s, when several actors actually had sex on camera instead of simply feigning it…

Of course, this raises – especially now with the hindsight offered by the #MeToo movement – so many ethical and even criminal questions: were any of the actors forced into performing sexually without wanting to? Were all the sexual activities consensual? Is it even legal to film people having sex? Porn has not always been legal to produce or to show, so at the time this last question is not as silly as it might seem right now.

Nowadays, you may think that you are seeing all sorts of nakedness, but a lot of actors are using genital prosthetics instead of revealing their own bodies. Modesty is once again on the rise for the acting profession, while audiences are still revelling in the sight of full frontal nudity. With modern prosthetics and CGI technology, it is now possible to render almost anything on film, and producers and directors are making the most of this.

One very annoying thing that they are doing, is overlaying modern ideas about sex and desire onto periods where such behaviour would have been unseemly, if not unthinkable, and even indicative of a most unheroic personality – rather like showing the hero of a blockbuster picking his nose…

Hopefully, writers will conduct their research more carefully, and begin to stand up to these lusty producers (it may be laziness rather than lustiness – sex sells so cram in a few sex scenes and grab up all the pennies that flood in) by insisting on greater veracity in the depiction of historical times.