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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why Does It Seem Like There's More Sex in Horror Than in the Romance Genre?

Friday the 13th (1980)

I always thought it was funny that Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy often wondered why they weren't getting pregnant when they didn't even sleep in the same bed. Or why some of the most sexual films still only show the female character fully nude while the male character is half clothedOr even why you could often divide the romance genre into two categories: its sanitizaation of sex and its dependence on sex for shock value.

You can debate for hours about the evolution of sex in the romance genre, from the '50s to present day. Of course, its presence or significance in a movie doesn't determine its quality. But it is interesting to note that a genre that probably discusses or at least eludes to it more than any other portrays it the least.

Which is why it's funny that a genre that isn't nearly as sensual as romance perhaps shows it more than any other. I'm talking about the horror genre. Whether it were the promiscuous babysitters in the original Halloween or the oblivious camp counselors in Friday the 13th or even the random acts of sex -- often devoid of romantic context-- that prevail in any number of more modern contributions to the genre, it always seems like its presence is as mandated as blood, darkness and torrential rain.

It could be about the, er, vulnerable positions the characters are in -- leaving them completely unsuspecting as the villain awaits. Or, it maybe it is the generally undiscussed roles that religion and conservatism play in horror (particularly in the '70s but arguable in other decades as well). Is gory murder the punishment for promiscuity or sex outside of marriage? And, on that note, is the absence of sex the answer to an everlasting romance and livelihood, as presented in some romance films? Or does it just help maintain the genre's largely unadulterated image?

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Clearly, certain entries in the romance and horror genres represent fantasies that are build on truths as they pertain to the screenwriters or story developers. But with such prevalent trends, you've got to wonder what the agenda is sometimes. What does the presence of sex mean to the characters, to the story, to even the filmmakers? We often balk at the gratuitous portrayal of sex in some films. But is sex used as a tool to humanize or demonize the characters? Is it supposed to enhance the depravity of the movie's themes (which may present a larger discussion on our perception of sex)? Or maybe it's just a matter of human occurrence, used in tandem with the some of the frivolity of horror.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about this. What do you think about the ways sex is portrayed in the horror and romance genres?

8 comments:

Greg Stolze said...

I suspect a constellation of interacting reasons.

1) Horror movies are often cheaply made. Enticing the gaze with sex is a relatively inexpensive way to get more butts in seats. Especially if it's a deniable titillation: "Oh, yeah, I GUESS there were boobs in that movie but I was mostly in it for the dismemberments."

2) Many horror films aren't exactly constructed around intellectual stimulation. They want to get you on deep, instinctive, preverbal levels. Violence and terror are the finisher, but they often soften you up with the OTHER primal motivation. Sure, you can make a movie that's all thanatos, but why not blend some eros in too?

3) Sex can be terrifying, especially if you're a teenager. (Are most horror viewers still teens? I remember getting into the genre about that time.) You're vulnerable, it can rob you of self-control, and the possibilities for getting hurt (emotionally, socially, physically -- it's the hat trick!) are are significant as they are for anything that the majority of people do. Sure, everyone drives and everyone risks a car crash, but cars never break your heart TOO.

-G.

Jamie Broadnax said...

I find this fascinating. Sex is highly emotional and even though the adrenal glands are activated by a "fight or flight" response, I wonder if somehow those same glands have some sort of connection to our libido. I mean there could be some science behind this too.

Of course sex in horror is also just an old overuse trope that just never went away. So who knows, but I agree that I see more sex in horror than I do in romance. Interesting observation

Wendell Ottley said...

Greg has given a great reply with some great points. On the other hand, I like to boil it down brass tax. Horror is far more heavily created by and marketed to young men. Sex/nudity just add to the visual/visceral experience of a horror flick. It's something the film makers want to show and the audience wants to see. Romance, however, is aimed squarely at the ladies. The people watching these often don't want to see sex but passion. The emotion of the romance and falling in love is far more important the physical consummation that love. Combine that with the ever-present sexism within the industry and voila, it is what it is.

Candice Frederick said...

I do agree that the hyper sensual nature of horror lends itself to a physical reaction to the act of sex in a film. I also agree that Hollywood still has a mandate for films they target for women as opposed to men. But I do still think that conservatism and/or religion might also be at play.

Melody said...

Sex is primal, as is fear. It can also be spiritual, allowing our "souls to touch." An orgasm has that French moniker "a little death." Sex also represents the antithesis to killing and death, because it ultimately represents the creation of life. And then again, when in the throes of hot and heavy sex, it can look and sound like someone is getting hurt (a fav red herring in many a horror film). So there is the fine line of pain/pleasure/life/death/primal/ethereal that sex offers, even when we're not overtly aware of it. Multi-purpose use for horror.

Brittani Burnham said...

I feel like the reason horror movies have so much sex is because those are the kids that always die. It's the virgin that lives at the end. Old formula, but one that sticks. I don't know why there wouldn't be more sex in rom coms, all I could think of is they want to hold onto that PG-13 rating. Great post!

Greg Stolze said...

Jamie, see the research on "Misattribution of Arousal" ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misattribution_of_arousal

-G.

Courtney Small said...

To echo what Brittani stated, I think it has more to do with horror's long standing connection with religion. If you think about it, horror films may feature more sex than romantic films but there is usually punishment associated with such carnal desires. There was a period in the late 70s and early 80s where only the virgin survived horror films; as sex was considered a sinful deed.

When it comes to romances, I think there is still an old patriarchal view at play amongst the studio execs (majority of who are men). They view romantic films as something that is primarily for women, while, at the same time, thinking that horror is predominantly for men. This is probably why, in their backwards logic, they feature so much sex in horror films... as it is something they themselves probably enjoy watching. They forget that women make up more than half of the film going population and...shocking...enjoy sex just as much as men. In their minds women can only handle passionate kisses in the rain and such.

Hopefully Fifty Shades of Grey shake things up a bit and usher in a era where sex, and female sexuality, is portrayed more openly in romances.

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