Features

Illustrations: Kim Wiens and Marta Kierkus.

Most filmmakers use images of naked flesh for two main purposes—shock and titillation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but sometimes you might want something more… educational. As such, here are four movies that could potentially highlight or reinforce what you already might be learning in your human sexual behaviour course.

P.S. All the movies I mention here can be checked out at Morisset Library for free.

Crash (symphorophilia)

No, I’m not talking about the Oscar-winning ensemble drama from 2004. This 1996 David Cronenberg vehicle is about as anti-Hollywood as you can get, since the plot mainly revolves around graphic sex and car crashes.

In fact, all of the characters in this film are driven to partake in these two activities (sometimes simultaneously), which makes this movie a rare cinematic showcase of symphorophilia. People who are diagnosed with this condition derive sexual arousal from staging and/or watching accidents, something that the antagonist of this film puts on full display by re-enacting car crashes that killed famous celebrities (think James Dean).

Combine this unsettling premise with Cronenberg’s usual fascination with gaping, fleshy wounds, and you definitely have the recipe for a challenging film that forces you to question the mechanism that drives human sexual compulsion in the first place.

Kinsey (history of sex education)

Before he was setting the world on fire as Hollywood’s most unlikely, middle-aged action hero, Liam Neeson was busy bringing sex education to the masses.

In this 2004 bio-pic, Neeson portrays famous sexologist Alfred Kinsey, whose groundbreaking research led to the first large-scale study of human sexuality in North America in 1948.

One of the film’s biggest strengths is its clear-cut storytelling, something that allows the importance of Kinsey’s research to be put at centre stage.

The film posits that before Kinsey’s mantra of “let’s talk about sex” took over the U.S., the country (and the rest of the world, by proxy) was completely left in the dark when it came to their biological urges. This, according to the narrative, lead to some pretty negative consequences, including widespread misinformation, venereal disease, and body shaming—especially for those who weren’t straight and male.

In this light, Kinsey serves as a timely reminder of how far we’ve come since the days of chastity belts, and how far we still have to go in terms of accepting comprehensive sex education in our society (especially here in Ontario).

Shame (hypersexuality)

While experts in the medical community are still debating whether or not sex addiction is a real thing, director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) believes that this idea is worth exploring for at least an hour and a half.

What’s most impressive about Shame is that it really makes you feel sorry for the main character—played by Michael Fassbender—even though he’s good looking, devilishly charming, and considerably wealthy.

Despite these qualities, Fassbender’s character still suffers from a form of hypersexuality, a condition that forces him to lead a lonely life full of emotionless sex, compulsive masturbation, and lots of sad orgasms.

In the wrong hands, this film could have easily been written off as a cheap joke or a subject that is worthy of mockery.

But thanks to some terrific performances and sharp cinematography, the audience is encouraged to confront this kind behaviour as a real issue, whether or not they believe it to be a genuine addiction, a bad habit, or simply a symptom of a greater problem.

The Sessions (disability and sexuality)

People with disabilities usually get shortchanged when it comes to their representation in the media, especially when it comes to sex.

When they do appear on screen, most of the time they are portrayed as being completely chaste individuals who don’t possess any kind of sexual dimension.

This 2012 dramedy boldly subverts this expectation by telling the story of Mark O’Brien, a real life poet paralyzed from the waist down due to polio who, in 1988, sought to lose his virginity with the help of a sex surrogate.

While’s Mark’s story is definitely outside the norm, the emotions he exhibits in this film (thanks to actor John Hawkes) are completely relatable. In fact, most of the film’s drama revolves around Mark overcoming nervousness and body image issues in order to go through with the deed, a theme that is pretty universal for most adult audience members.

So, in probably its smartest move, The Sessions really isn’t a movie about disability and sexuality. It’s about a journey of sexual discovery and body acceptance, for a man who just happens to be disabled.