A question about sex in the movies

The other night I was watching My Wife is an Actress , a French film on IFC. The story follows the husband of a sexy movie star. His wife, Charlotte, is well-known for her steamy love scenes in her various movies. This fact drives Charlotte’s husband crazy. He all but calls her a prostitute, since her job requires her to tumble into bed with people. For her part, Charlotte insists that the love scenes are just part of the job and that there is no real feeling behind them. In fact, she insists, she does not enjoy doing them at all. This is a statement I’ve even heard real movie stars make – that initimate love scenes are among the least pleasant scenes to shoot.

Anyway, this brings up my question. In mainstream movies, how much of the love scenes are “simulated”? How are the actors prevented from, well, completing the act, so to speak? Are they prevented at all?

Now, I am not an actor at all. However, it occurs to me that if I were required to pretend to make love to, let’s say, Diane Lane, I might get a bit “excited”. As an actor, I would hate to insult the professionalism of the lovely Ms Lane. Do actors have exceptional training or control in these situations?

In college, I played in the band for a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum . My roommate at the time was the actor who played Pseudolus (sp?). In one scene, one of the slave girls rubbed up against him and attempted to seduce him. My friend said that, during that scene, he would think of the least sexy things he could come up with. He was concerned that his tight costume would reveal that the actress was, in fact, quite good at seducing him. Do professional actors use similar techniques? In my friend’s scene, he was supposed to just stand there and act uninterested in the girl. His technique simply reinforced that. If, however, he was supposed to be seduced, his technique might have hindered his performance.

Sorry if this post is too long or appears to address a prurient interest. I’m genuinely curious how actors “make love” without actually “making love.” Or do they?

Sure, sometimes it’s real & sometimes it’s not. There is probably a bit of Method Acting too, which I like alot.

Well, one of the things preventing them from completing the deed is the 50 or so people who are on the set watching them. The bright lights, sound booms, and makeup are also probably a downer.

In mainstream films (porn is different), the sex scenes are nearly always simulated. I wouldn’t be surprised if the men get aroused, but there is no actual sexual contact. In addition, with creative editing and camera angles, the couples don’t actually get close enough to be really doing it. They may also be waring strategicially placed clothing (that doesn’t show on camera) so no contact is made.

Michael Douglas once spoke about doing a sex scene, and evidently the go over everything they plan to do (“I’ll touch your breast, then nibble your ear. Is that OK?”) so the actors know what to expect, which does tend to cut down on the arousal.

There are times when actors do become aroused when doing mainstream sex scenes. They probably cut the scene and take a few minutes to calm down before going on.

These techniques aren’t available on the stage, but the sex scenes can be suggested differently (since you’re not as close) and once you’ve rehearsed it a few dozen times, the arousal is less of a problem.

If by “real” you mean penetration occurs, no. Not in anything below NC-17. It doesn’t have to, because they don’t show the, er, action directly anyway in R movies.

Actors and actresses routinely talk about how “unromantic” it is filiming sex scenes with dozens of crew members around, in a cold studio, and having to feign the enthusiasm for multiple takes.

See, e.g.,:


Presumably that would help get you out of the mood pretty quickly.

For purposes of, I don’t know, modesty or whatever, some actors apparently wear a cup-like thing for nude scenes so there’s no danger of “contact.” See below Swayze’s joking reference thereto:


I’ve also read interviews where actors said admiringly of their female co-star that she was very laid-back and didn’t make them (the actors) wear such a device (which I’d imagine could be unwieldy, mostly as it would have to be taped to you) and just counted on his professionalism (and the unromantic circumstances) to make sure nothing untoward came up.

The prior posters have it right.

As was relayed to me by my friend who makes cheap “B-videos” (e.g. Stakes, Timewarp Films 2002) :

(a) In “mainstream” film, it’s simulated. That Union crew ain’t gonna be handling actual body-fluid-soaked linens, OK? Besides there is a production schedule to meet.

(b)Your friend was being teased in “real time”, so to speak. The love scenes in film are not only scripted and choreographed, but shot in a series of separate “takes” with constant repositioning, the shots being re-composed, the lights changed, make-up redone.

© The environment is less-than-propitious for the mood, what with hot lights and the lighting tech, boom mikes, cameras and cameramen, assistant directors, etc. And the natural, comfortable positioning or rhythm for sex may not be what provides the best-looking composition or scene so you have to “cheat for the camera”, often uncomfortably.

(d) The “cheat” includes positioning that is nowhere as close as it looks in the final cut (and even in some final cuts it’s obvious that unless Mr. Leading has been preposterously endowed by his creator, he’s doing it to her leg or to the small of her back, at best)

(e) If the shot requires really close contact, a barrier (taking various forms, including the tape-on cup) exists between the players, preventing actual genital contact. The shots are composed as to keep it out of sight (or these days, any visibility of the barrier is taken care of digitally in post-production). At best, if there is excitement, they’d be just dry-humping each other.

(f) Acting pros have a whole series of techniques to suppress natural reactions and to induce non-natural ones – similarly to a comedic actor who can remain totally deadpan during something hysterically funny, an action performer or stuntman who can wait 'til the take is done to bend over and go “ow, that hurt like #$%^&!”, or a dramatic performer who can start crying a river on cue. That’s [MasterThespian]ACTING![/MasterThespian].

(g) OTOH if the players get along well they will be comfortable with the scene and won’t be much offended if they incidentally get a rise out of one another once in a while as long as it does not mess up an otherwise good take or the day’s shooting schedule. That’s non-negotiable.

There’s a perhaps apocryphal story which I have most frequently heard regarding Denzel Washington in which he is about to shoot a sex scene. He says to his co-star “in a few moments either I will become aroused or I won’t. Either way, no offense is intended.”

I’d have to imagine that first-time sex scene actors get counseling along the signs of one of the more famous scenes in “There’s Something About Mary.” I mean, it’s not unreasonable, right? And unless you’re 18 the chances of an immediate repeat performance are at the very least slightly diminished.

It’s rumored that Chole Sevigny gives Vincent Gallo a real blowjob in a movie (that I now cannot think of the name…)

There is another French movie called Romance that looked very much to me like the real deal. You can search for it at imdb.


Yes, Chloë Sevigny did do the deed in Intimacy:

(taken from The Sunday Times, interview by Fiona Morrow)

Sorry, not Intimacy - I was thinking of another film. It’s called The Brown Bunny, as the interview states.

The other posters have this correct. 99 times out of 100, a sex scene is about the least sexy thing actors are asked to do onscreen. There are lots of people standing around, it takes hours to shoot with multiple takes and camera angles, it’s all discussed and rehearsed beforehand, etc.

And what’s more, the sex scene, more often than not, is one of the first things on the schedule. This has become standard practice to prevent the performer(s) — the actress, usually — from backing out. Think about it: If you shoot the sex scene last, the performer can say, “I’m not going to do it this way, and you don’t have a choice, because what are you going to do, fire me and reshoot my whole part with somebody else?” This means the performers are often being asked to film a very intimate scene with somebody they’ve either just met or somebody they’ve known professionally and platonically before the production asked them to play husband & wife or whatever.

That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions. Catherine Breillat is a French filmmaker who loves to push the envelope, for example. And Robert De Niro got his knob polished in Bertolucci’s 1900. But those are very few and very far between. Most of the time, it’s tedious and dull.

Check out the Catherine Breillat film Sex Is Comedy, which is entirely about the logistical and emotional challenges of filming a sex scene. It is inspired by Breillat’s experience filming the sex scene in her film Fat Girl. (In fact, the actress is the same in both scenes from both films). Contract negotiations, choreography, moods on the set, realistic prosthetics, pep talks, star egos, and sexual politics (male/female & director/actor) are all dealt with in great detail.

And I’ve seen Otto’s anecdote attributed to a number of different actors over the years.