aka: Artistic License Sex Ed
Learning to have sex from watching porn is about as effective as learning to drive from watching car chase movies.
— Charlie Glickman
In the same way that CPR is presented as clean, pretty, and reliable
, sex in fiction has a tendency to gloss over the more awkward aspects. Sure, maybe it's explored if it's Their First Time
to highlight the characters' inexperience, but most of the time sex is very different to how it is in real life. Issues like impotence, pregnancy, STD's (or not
) can come up, but generally only when it's a plot point, deployed for drama. Realism is simply a lower priority than Rule of Sexy
, Rule of Funny
, Fetish Fuel
, avoiding Fetish Retardant
, avoiding Fan Disservice
, and so on.
There are several possible reasons for this:
- A lot of this is due to The Law of Conservation of Detail (why waste time showing characters putting on condoms when we want to get to the good stuff?). If it's not important and progressing the plot, mentioning it would only distract the audience.
- Inexperience. This includes writers describing anatomy that they lack, and total virgins trying to describe sex at all.
- Good People Have Good Sex, not just clean sex but skilled passionate sex. Realistic sex would make the characters look clumsy and unheroic.
- Giving too much detail about sex would upset the Moral Guardians. Even if those details are the kind of thing that might show that sex isn't always perfect and wonderful.
Bear in mind that it's not necessary that these aspects of sex never occur in fiction, just that they are shown much less frequently than in real life. Similarly, it doesn't need to be universal in the real world, just more common than is shown in fiction. If sex for you is always like it is in the movies, congratulations, but the fact is the experience is different for a lot of other people.
Also, note that this trope is not necessarily bad
. Sometimes the audience might genuinely enjoy idealized torrid steamy sex. Hell, there's a multi-billion-dollar industry built around it: pornography.
For sexual variations such as sadomasochism, all of the above applies. But since these sexualities are less known, there can also
be heavy doses of bad research, They Just Didn't Care
, and sometimes also Acceptable Targets
Compare Safe, Sane and Consensual
, Questionable Consent
, Ethical Slut
, and so on for more nuances.
For a list of ways sex acts are misrepresented in the media, see Common Hollywood Sex Traits
. For outright impossible sex, see Anatomically Impossible Sex
The Accidental Pornomancer
, more often than not, averts this trope. For reasons why, visit the page.
If your example falls under one of the following subtropes, please make sure that it is added to that page rather than here
Idealized Sex at its finest
As Idealized Sex is so common, please only list glaring examples.
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- If the guys who wrote Preacher know anything about actual BDSM and fetishism, then they chose to hide it really well for the sake of Rule of Funny or whatever. Or it might just be that every single sadomasochist in the comic also just happens to be psychotic or similar.
- Inverted in Small Favors: The BDSM is reasonably realistic, while the setting/premise of the comic is totally surreal. The protagonist is desperately trying to hide her SSC BDSM relationship with a physical manifestation of a part of her subconscious from a physical manifestation of another part of her subconscious - who doesn't catch them, because she's busy getting seduced by the protagonist's neighbor.
- Lou Kagan's Perils Of Pauline contain many bondage scenes that pay no attention to gravity, skeletal structure, or any such pesky details.
- The hilarious Two-Person Pool Party in Showgirls is a particularly famous example.
- The Room famously features writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau thrusting enthusiastically somewhere around his partner's navel.
- Played for Laughs in the movie Shoot 'em Up, the hero continues to provide flawless sexual pleasure to his multiple-orgasming partner even while shooting bad guys that break into the room during the act.
- The same thing happens in the film Drive Angry. Though it is implied that Milton's partner is psychologically scarred by the experience.
- Basically, all commercial pornography. This makes sense if you think about it: in real sex, the purpose is the participants' pleasure; in porn, it's for the viewer's pleasure. Unfortunately, it's also many people's first exposure to "real life" sex, which can lead to those people thinking Reality Is Unrealistic.
- Especially bad in homemade and amateur porn. Leave it to the pros, folks!
- Conversely, amateur/homemade porn also often totally disregards the presence of the camera(s) or eventual viewers, averting this trope entirely.
- Averted in a release featuring mega-stars Lisa Ann and Zoe Voss that endeavored to show somewhat more natural sex. Still pretty hot.
- The infamous tent scene in Brokeback Mountain. Anyone who has had anal sex knows you can't just spit on yourself and plow away. Just passionate dry-humping with that amount of preparation would have realistically ended in pain.
- In The Island, Lincoln and Jordan are clones who have been raised separate from normal people, and have no concept of love or sex. Doesn't stop them from having passionate sex near the end of the movie without any problems. Though a major plot point is that Lincoln has been receiving memories from his original donor, so it might be handwaved in his case at least.
- During the Wall Bang Her sex-scene in Road House, the relative positions of both Patrick Swayze's and Kelly Lynch's bodies either means either Swayze's wing-wang is two-and-a-half feet long, or else they were dry humping. Still a hot scene, mind, but physically impossible.
- Played for Laughs with the infamous "fuck me, Your Majesty!" scene from American Beauty.
- An early Jeff Goldblum movie, The Tall Guy, features a sex scene between Goldblum and Emma Thompson that plays this straight for the Rule of Funny, including the two of them literally rolling around on the floor of her filthy apartment, a half-eaten bowl of cereal sticking to his buttocks in the process, and later her sliding up a wall into what has to have been a standing position, leading one to wonder how they manage to have any actual sex while they're bouncing around the room.
Live Action TV
- Any of Samantha's sex scenes in Sex and the City count, though injuries are frequently shown in this instance. There's still a ludicrous amount of screaming, thrashing and athleticism.
- There was once an episode where she was bent on performing the entire book of Kama Sutra. (Which, for the record, is a horrible idea.)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Played straight, then subverted when Buffy wakes up and sees just how grungy Parker's apartment is the harsh light of day. This foreshadows the revelation that he's The Casanova instead of a new Love Interest.
- Likewise in "The Zeppo" when Xander loses his virginity with Faith. After some romantic snuggling in bed we Smash Cut to Faith booting him out the door now she's finished making use of him.
- Hilariously handwaved in the second Sono Hanabira ni Kuchizoke wo VN. When asked by her partner several times, Sara invokes The Power of Love as the reason why she's so good at sex without actually having any experience whatsoever.
Aversions or subversions where in one or more respect, the sex is presented more realistically than typical Idealized Sex.
Anime and Manga
- Houkago no Himitsu by Nekota Yonezou is a BL short story with two high schoolers who don't know what they're doing. This ends realistically (there is some ripping). They promise to do more research next time they try.
- Futari Ecchi, which seems to have "Deconstruct Idealized Sex" as one of its goals, does indeed manage to be more realistic in its portrayal of sex—particularly the young, awkward-first-time sex only virgin newlyweds can manage.
- In Fushigi Yuugi, Tamahome and Miaka decide to consummate their relationship knowing that this could very well be their last day together. Miaka's stomach grumbles, and they are both embarrassed by this awkward noise. (So much so that Tamahome can't continue!)
- The first story of Millefeuille's Great Reaction in Ecstasy is about a girl who has awkward and terrible group sex.
- In Kimi wa Pet, one of Sumire and Hasumi's aborted attempts to finally have sex after months of being a couple goes disastrously wrong when Sumire gets a leg cramp and then Hasumi loses his composure and sustains a head wound from falling into some furniture. Furthermore, because Hasumi or other partners urge her for verbal feedback during sex, Sumire admits she doesn't always enjoy it and fakes climax on at least one occasion. One night much later Hasumi has some problems keeping it up. Although he claims it's due to drinking too much alcohol, their relationship already seems to be falling apart and it really foreshadows their break-up.
- B Gata H Kei portrays not only the (almost) sex itself as awkward and difficult, but the relationship leading up to it, too.
- itai ITAI itai by Mentaiko is a BL manga where one of the characters is a masochist. His friend, who's in love with him, gets mad at his friends confession about liking The Bully and practically rapes him. The rough sex turns on the protagonist, but after the sex his friend is surprised to see he's covered in blood; mostly coming from his injured anus. This harms their friendship and the story is going to a Downer Ending. (By the way, itai means OUCH.)
- the fact that the friend later turns out to have been lying about being a masochist in order to stop the other friend from constantly having to defend him from the school bully just makes it work
- The French comic Dreamland mostly averts this when the protagonist and his girlfriend have their first time. While it "ends well" for both of them, the beginning is quite awkward, with Terrence putting his condom the wrong way at first for example.
- Berserk: As far as Good People Have Good Sex goes in this series, Guts and Casca's first time isn't exactly picture perfect, with Casca bleeding from penetration and being in mild discomfort during Guts' rough, frantic, and all-in-all inexperienced love-making.
- Leave it to Kalash93 to not play artistic license. All the sex he shows, or at least describes, is fairly realistic.
- In A Pleasant Surprise, the male protagonist is a total virgin. Therefore, Fluttershy has to educate him how to make love properly, and even then he isn't exactly a pro at it. Still sweet, though.
- In Point Of Succession L's attempt at creating a romantic atmosphere by covering his bed with M&Ms results in Light getting melted M&Ms in awkward places.
- In the Maleficent fanfic, Your Servant Mistress, this is a plot point, as the female protagonist can't stand the sight of certain ... male bodily fluids after she was raped. She would be fine with idealized sex, but realistic sex is too gross.
- Nite Owl and Silk Spectre's first sex scene in The Movie of Watchmen has Dreiberg reacting like the extremely awkward man he is, nervously tugging at Spectre's clothing, bumping into her and apologizing profusely. Also the music.
- In Kinsey the main couple must go to a doctor to enable them to have sex.
- Everything afterwards follows this trope perfectly.
- Knocked Up. The two main characters, Ben and Allison, are quite drunk, and Ben struggles with a condom. He doesn't use one, and she becomes pregnant.
- And then a later scene shows the two of them trying to have sex while she's pregnant. Ben is just a wee bit hesitant about doing it with their unborn child inches nearby. They struggle with different positions before finally giving up in frustration.
- Although there's no actual on screen sex, the act is portrayed realistically as awkward and confusing in The 40-Year-Old Virgin for a 40 year-old who's never done it. Conservation of Detail is averted when he tries numerous times to put on a condom. When he finally has sex, it goes pretty much as you'd expect.
- Comical subversion in A Fish Called Wanda— Otto makes some utterly hilarious O faces.
- Eminem and Brittany Murphy have fairly unglamorous sex during a cigarette break in 8 Mile.
- One adaption of The Three Musketeers has D'artagnan and Constance Bonacieux having a bit of implied trouble getting into position (they were just off-camera at the time).
- The Cooler. Pretty short scene, but, umm... not due to editing. Even shows cellulite; for which they had to shoot in Nevada due to possession carrying a mandatory minimum 10 year sentence in Los Angeles.
- Enemy at the Gates had a realistically awkward sex scene between the main protagonist and the love interest. It's awkward because they do it in the subways below Stalingrad, surrounded by sleeping people because it's being used as a bomb shelter, and so they have to try to not wake anybody up and don't have much room for themselves. So they just kinda roll over each other, try to take off each others' clothing and try to get his penis into her without waking up a guy sleeping a foot away.
- The honeymoon scene between Bernard and Lydia in Four Weddings and a Funeral.
- Pretty much any scene that is presented in such a way that it has sparked genuine debate as to whether the two actors actually had sex on camera. Some examples include Mickey Rourke and Carre Otis in the Unrated/NC-17 version of Wild Orchid, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don't Look Now, the opening scene of Betty Blue, Tony Leung and Jane March (who was underage at the time of filming) in The Lover, and Bruce Dern and Maud Adams in Tattoo.
- There have also been a growing number of mainstream films in which the realism of the sex scenes is unquestioned since the actors are actually having sex (Shortbus, All About Anna, Baise Moi, 9 Songs, etc.). However it can be debated whether this trope applies since as of 2010 no major mainstream production has featured such explicit material, with the possible exceptions of the "reality TV movie" The Real Cancun and the heavily-censored swingers scene in Brüno.
- The Brown Bunny features an unsimulated act of oral sex between its stars Vincent Gallo and Chloe Sevigny. Ironically, this scene is actually a fantasy of Gallo's character.
- In Innocent Blood, they not only use a condom, but the man faced with the reality of being about to have sex with a vampiress has a degree of trouble... rising to the occasion.
- Played for Laughs in MacGruber, where the sex scenes start out very idealized, before abruptly switching to a view of the proceedings filled with silly but not wholly unrealistic noises and movements.
- Blue Valentine features a depressing and realistic sex scene.
- The "Any = all" variant is discussed in The SM Judge: While Magda's masochism makes her enjoy pain, she's not at all into roleplaying or submission or humiliation or anything like that. Of course, the authorities fail to understand this distinction, maybe on purpose.
- In Friends with Benefits, Dylan and Jamie have pretty realistic sex, with stuff such as them listing their weird quirks about sex, Dylan needing to pee halfway through, him wondering why she's screaming, etc.
- In the movie The Bay Boy, the main characters have some realistic trouble trying to have sex for the first time. In particular, the girl has to show her boyfriend where to go.
- Explored in detail in Don Jon. The main character is addicted to porn to the degree that actual sex is not as interesting or exciting to him, as porn offers experiences that most attractive women would not be interesting in doing and he gets caught up in the awkward moments of real sex that takes him out of the moment. The film contrasts (brief) images of porn that idealizes a sexual experience with grandiose passion next to an encounter he had that is almost clinical in how they were both just trying to get it over with.
- In the Ben Elton book This Other Eden, the Hollywood star Max and his actress wife agree to have one last roll in the hay before their divorce. The narration specifically compares their perfect movie sex scenes with their real sex, complete with fanny farts and awkward elbows.
- John Green's book Looking for Alaska has a girl performing oral on the main character. They exchange some awkward dialogue ("should I bite it?") then go to their more experienced friend to explain it to them.
- Played with in the Slave World novels: Many masochism stereotypes are lampshaded and justified with Applied Phlebotinum. In the first few books, this include the stereotype that all real submissives enjoy everything in the kinky spectrum. This is backpedaled in the later books, where it's established that most people have some things they just can't handle, much less enjoy, no matter how many smilies you paint on their soul.
- Very common in works by the Des Anges sisters; sex is at best a pain in the ass to clean up after, and will often feature fumbling, awkwardness, pain, and swearing at inanimate objects.
- Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky is fairly realistic. It discusses the teenage characters' first times, fooling around (and trying to clean it up), and the funny noises they would make.
- A Fox Tail makes sure to have lubrication for anal sex most of the time, on a couple occasions they go without it causing intense pain.
- 'Bad sex' is actually not an uncommon fanfiction trope, sometimes for humour reasons, sometimes for dramatic or characterisation reasons, or sometimes, less paradoxically than you might think, because more realistic sex is just more interesting or hot to read about.
- Dealt with in The Sharing Knife. Fawn's first time with a farmhand in a field while being bitten by gnats was not at all what she expected, and ended with her an unwed mother. On the other hand, her first time (and every other time) with Dag is one of the most joyful experiences of her life, but that's due to his intentional effort.
- Any book by Jennifer Crusie will show the couple's first time having some sort of awkward moment. Points for memorability go to Welcome to Temptation and how Phin figures out that Sophie gets turned on by discovery fantasies and when that's not going on, she seems bored. ("Hi, I'm Phin Tucker, and I'm inside you....")
Live Action TV
- Idealization of sex scenes is averted to such a degree in the series Girls that they veer into unrealistically horrible.
- MADtv has this sketch on sex faces.
- Sex in The Sopranos is pretty realistic.
- The Shield: Sex is usually portrayed as ugly as possible-either as cheap rutting or heat-of-the-moment IKEA Erotica. When it isn't, it involves one or more parties the audience, by and large, doesn't like (see any love scenes between Shane and Mara).
- Parodied in Reno 911 where a brothel calls the police on a customer who refuses to pay because the place has nowhere for him to wash off all the whore's juices.
- The first sex scene between Leckie and Stella in The Pacific was refreshingly realistic. It's brief, slightly awkward, they both have reasonably odd o-faces, and you can even see him use his hand to guide himself in (it's under the blankets, but it's obvious what he's doing).
- Misfits comically averts this during any sexual situation involving Nathan - actually, very few sex scenes in the show play this trope remotely straight, but if Nathan's involved you know you're in for something particularly disastrous. He's been shown to suffer from premature ejaculation, has got his finger stuck in a girl's vagina during foreplay, and has displayed an o-face so off-putting and bizarre that his partner started laughing hysterically when she saw it. He also has a famous habit of "tripling" himself during sex - yes, kids, that's when you ejaculate, puke and shit yourself all at once - although luckily for everyone this one happens off-screen.
- As well as showing quite a considerable amount of Idealized Sex between the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Lizzie Siddal and various prostitutes, Desperate Romantics does at least depict Lizzie encouraging Gabriel to abandon the prophylactics they have apparently been using prior to their marriage. There is also some awkwardness shown between Millais and Effie the first time they're in bed together, though they get over it later in the series.
- The John Adams miniseries averted this every which way with John and Abigail's bout of reunion sex in France; it's fast, clumsy, and a little bit sweaty. And still leaves viewers gazing dewy-eyed at the screen from the palpable emotions surging between them.
- Discussed on Glee. During the "Like a Virgin" montage, sex between Santana and Finn is idealized (it's a song montage, after all). Later, Santana describes it as awkward and sweaty, and Finn feels ashamed because he just did it for the sake of losing his virginity.
- The sex scenes are done very realistically in Puberty Blues. While the parents have more romantic sex, for the teens it's awkward, painful and awkward, particular for e girls.
- The first sex scene between Rachel and John in Alphas is another rare example of a couple who the audience are supposed to ship not having very good sex the first time, due to a combination of her superpowers leading to Sensory Overload and his body shame about his burn scars. The second time goes much better.
- One of Bill Engvall's most famous routines involves how Idealized Sex is different from real sex...which he knows from personal experience.
- "Well thanks for the wedgie, Romeo..."
- Australian comedian Josh Thomas notes that for him, sex never involved loud moaning and thrashing, but more often, "Mm... mm... oh, gosh... mm... OH SHIT are you alright?! ... and then it takes you a while to get back into the rhythm..."
- Sex in A Dance with Rogues is very... realistically... described. The game even tracks an integer for how experienced your character is, and varies the descriptions depending on that (though it is more often used to determine if you can use the 'if I have really good sex with this guy he will give me what I want' tactic). Most possible sexual partners are quite experienced, so acting like it makes sense for them, but Anden is understandably awkward.
- Sex in Katawa Shoujo is also more realistically depicted than you'd expect from a Visual Novel: sometimes it's good, sometimes is bad, and whether it's good or not it seriously depends on the circumstances and the people engaging in it. Emi's anal sex scene note and Lilly's bath sex scene note are notable examples. Furthermore, Rin, Hanako, and Misha all have H-scenes where not only is the sex very awkward, but straightforwardly designed to make the player feel uncomfortable due to the reasoning behind them.
- The closest to idealised sex would be the scenes with Shizune, but that's most likely because she's the one in charge and it still takes Hisao a short while to get used to the light bondage in their first time. And as a bonus: if you make Hisao go through the aforementioned sex scene with Misha, you'll get locked out of the best and more "perfect" sex scene in the game (which still has Hisao tripping on a desk) and you get the Bad Ending of Shizune's route.
- In Fate/stay night, Rin's and Shirou's first time is certainly not perfect. Although Rin's awkward shyness throughout the scene is adorable, it also leads her to encourage Shirou to enter her before her body is fully ready, and it ends up being much more painful for her than it had to be.
- In The Wretched Ones, Yayne overhears on a video game chat client John and Charlie having sex. Out of all the things she could have possibly heard, it had to be Charlie yelling 'John, get off my hair!'
- The College Humor video "Realistic Hollywood Sex Scene" parodies this trope. It's awkward, gross, creepy, and pathetic... and it still manages to seem just a teensy bit sweet and romantic.
- Averted in Tales of MU. Mack has no clue what she's doing during her first several encounters, and as such, it's not terribly enjoyable.