Shagged Out



Mrs Lovett (to Sweeney Todd) ‘My, you do like a good story, don’t you?’

Like Sweeney, I do like a good story. I admire depth of characterisation, mise-en-scene, twists and turns in a well-wrought plot. What I don’t much care for is all the f*cking.

It’s not a new thing. I always felt like this. I did not grow up in an old-fashioned household. It was middle-right, rather sensible, not uncomfortable with the topic of sex. I am neither a prude nor easily embarrassed. I have been known to write the occasional sex scene, and I’ve been told I write them well. I don’t happen to be heterosexual but I believe, like Kenneth Tynan, that ‘you don’t need to know why people fall in love, just that they do,’ and that’s fine with me.


What absolutely bores me to tears, however, are the obligatory sex scenes that pepper all American cable shows (and now many British ones). ‘GoT’ recovered from its relentless sex scenes (so-called ‘sexposition’ moments in which the boring plot-bits were expounded during dreary bits of background shagging) to become a relatively intelligent show about machiavellian politics. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ started brilliantly, only to become lost in reams of desperate coupling, at least two bouts per episode, and the addition of more male perspectives. At least in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ sex indicates a crisis of principal rather than identity – a miracle considering we live in such a culture of individualism. But a note to the makers: You don’t make f*cking meaningful by slapping a melancholy violin solo over it.


In a visual context, sex, like a song, slams the brakes on the story unless it enlightens, as it did in the film version of ‘Don’t Look Now’, in which renewed intimacy explains how changed Laura has become by her experience of meeting the old ladies. One could argue that the sexual wall-slapping scene in original ‘The Wicker Man’ perfectly serves its purpose by confronting Christianity with Paganism. Interestingly, those two films went out on a double-bill in the UK.

Are sex scenes empowering? The current fashion is to replace a male hero with a feisty woman – and why not – but the more cynical among us *raises hand* knows that this is simply a ploy to make more money. Witness the transformation of Wonder Woman from her original purpose as an avatar for male fantasies.


However, tastefully-lit, Emmanuelle-style, vanilla TV bonking scenes are stuffed into every Netflix and Amazon show for no other purpose than to stop viewers from changing channels. In the earlier post about screwball comedies, I pointed out that we understood all the sex dynamics without having to sit through the humping, and it was a lot more sophisticated, clever and adult by being circumnavigated. In the hands of a fine writer censorship can make everything sexier.


This is not an opinion that has grown with age. I can think of a handful of other instances when showing the act of love changes and deepens our perspective on what we understand about characters, and that’s fine and valid use of sex. But random f*cking exists because we live in the objectifying era of ‘Love Island’, a period that makes the ‘Me Generation’ now look positively benevolent. In that show the participants are forced to have sex to stay on camera. Teenaged girls constitute the majority of ‘Love Island’s audience.


6 comments on “Shagged Out”

  1. Jay says:

    Hi Chris – off topic to this blog but I thought you’d like to know I’ve just given Frightening its second review on Amazon. Loved it!!!

  2. Steveb says:

    I do agree 100% as it happens.
    There was a series by Joseph Hanson about a gay PI called Dave Brandstetter. I really like the books and reread them every few years. They get the balance exactly right between not being coy about the sex but also not graphic to put me off as a straight reader, and that was really important to fully involve a mainstream reader such as me in the hero’s world.
    I saw love island for the first time this evening, with the men taking care of dolls as pretend babies. Anyone seen Nigel Kneale’s Year of the Sex Olympics. Not his best play but very prescient!

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Teen aged girls are very easily titillated and whether they are aware of it or not (and I am sure there are some innocents out there) they seek out that sensation. A little goes a long way with the rest of us. I imagine teen aged boys are similar.
    It used to be described as sex for its own sake and that’s when I change the laundry or put away dishes. I don’t miss anything important that way.

  4. Terenzio says:

    Censorship is bad whether you have a fine writer or a bad writer. For every masterpiece like Double Indemnity, how many films were ruined because of censorship? A good example is Baby Face with Barbara Stanwyck. It was butchered in the name of morality for it to be released. One important scene that was edited out that involved sex (not explicit mid you) with Stanwyck’s character forced to shag a train guard in order to stay on the train because she had hitched a ride without paying. Other changes were made that totally ruined what is otherwise an absorbing powerful story. Fortunately the Library of Congress possesses an unedited copy. This original version is truly a masterpiece. Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf is another example of what’s wrong with censorship. The film version with Elizabeth Taylor is powerfully moving, but the recent London stage production with Imelda Staunton is so much more powerful because they kept the swear words and sexual tension that’s in Edward Albee’s original script. The pre-code The Red Headed Woman with Jean Harlow is yet another great example. It probably could not have been made in its original form had it been made only a few years later. I’d rather sit through gratuitous vanilla sex scenes then to go back to the days of censorship. Besides if it’s a great story a sex scene or two is not going to ruin it. You might roll your eyes a bit, but that’s about it. And the sex scene in Don’t Look Now is boarder line soft porn if not actual soft porn. Was it necessary to be that graphic to bring the point across? Probably not. I will take your word on Love Island. I had to Google it because I didn’t know what the hell you and Steve were talking about. It doesn’t interest me in the least so I will leave it at that.

    À bientôt…the one in the gorgeous purple dressing gown and lovely velvet slippers.

  5. Vivienne says:

    I am powerfully persuaded by Chris and Terenzio on this. The Barbara Stanwyck film sounds wonderful: as a child I thought she was hard and unattractive, but my dad rated her and I can now see that she was brave in those days to play such tough women.
    I do think the sex in Don’t look Now is completely justified and explains so much of the characters that would be hard to express otherwise. Perhaps Donald Sutherland is good at this, but one of the few other scenes I remember is from Klute where, again, the sex was more than just that.

  6. Terenzio says:

    The uncensored Baby Face doesn’t hold back about a young woman with no future from a poor dysfunctional family from Pennsylvania…an industrial city, Erie come to think ot it…who comes to the big city and literally sleeps her way to the top. It’s brutally honest about what it takes. Too brutally honest for the censors who really did do a number on it. If you can get hold of the original version it’s well well worth seeing. I wouldn’t bother with the edited version. Lady Eve is another great Barbara Stanwyck film. It’s a hilarious. The writing is clever and first rate as is Stanwyck’s performance. Her father is played by equally talented Charles Coburn. The ever delightful Eric Blore makes an appearance. Henry Fonda, heir to a fortune made from beer plays Stanwych’s love interest. She along with her father play a conman/woman who ply their trade on transatlantic luxury liners until she meets and falls in love with Henry Fonda. I was never a big fan of Fonda but I liked him in this one. His father is played the rather rough around the edges Eugene Pike famous for his gravelly voice. Total opposite of Henry Fonda’s smooth debonair character, but the contrast works well. Another film with Stanwyck worth seeing is Ball of Fire with the wooden Gary Cooper. Despite what I find is a major flaw of Cooper….always reminded me of a stiff…he’s totally suitable for this role. Her performance as at mobster’s girlfriend is perfection along with the writing. Your father had a good eye for talent. After seeing Lady Eve and Ball of Fire I came away with a totally new appreciation for Barbara Stanwyck. She is up there as one of the most talented actresses. One of the few Stanwyck films from this era that I really hated was Remember the Night that also starred Fred MacMurray. The writing was truly atrocious. It was so bad it wasn’t even funny. A highly forgettable film. What’s amazing is Double Indemnity that was made around the same time which also starred Stanwyck and MacMurray was so damn good.

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