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Sex Is Liberation

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"Sexual adventuring is itself a form of open-mindedness that encourages other forms of flexible thinking and emoting, and that thereby enhances personality growth."
Dr. Albert Ellis

A common theme in many modern stories, this is the depiction of sex as being a liberating action that entitles the person who engages in it with more self-respect and personal freedom. This is particularly common in stories where the character concerned is a virgin, lives a strict life, is bullied by people close to him or her, or all of the above. If a woman is undergoing this trope, chances are good that The Immodest Orgasm will be involved. With guys, it's just implied because you know.

Characters that often run into this trope include prostitutes (usually High Class Call Girls) and their johns, particularly ones that take an Ethical Slut view of the world. It's also a common feature in Coming-of-Age Stories, particularly those involving homosexuals.

Sometimes we don't even need to get to the sex part in order to qualify — She Cleans Up Nicely, which often by necessity involves turning the protagonist into a sex object, will often result in the character appearing more confident and liberated. Of course, to an extent this may just be how the audience perceives her now that she's more attractive — her behavior could be identical to how it was before.

Like Sex Is Good and Everybody Has Lots of Sex, this trope was initially a reaction against more cautious fictional portrayals of sex and particularly Sex Is Evil. Also like those tropes, this one often runs into Unfortunate Implications because in Real Life sex is not a magical self-esteem cure, and treating it like such is a road that almost always leads to disappointment.


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    Fan Works 
  • In the Cabin Fever fanfic, Cabin Fever: Parting Shot, Paul has been hopelessly in love with Karen since junior high but has never been able to break out of the friendzone. He feels liberated after a series of casual encounters with Marcy teaches him to enjoy the simple thrill of having sex with a beautiful woman for what it is.

  • Betty in Pleasantville.
    • Averted with Jennifer. Though she introduces sex to the local teens, and they all start becoming liberated as a result of defying their hang-ups, to her sex is no big deal. It takes a night of deep... passionate... reading to stimulate her passions enough
  • In Dangerous Beauty, Veronica confesses that she "embraced a whore's freedom over a wife's obedience." The idea that Veronica, as a courtesan, that is, a High-Class Prostitute, enjoys much more freedom, resources, and power than do the wives of Venice's aristocrats, is one of the main themes of the film.
  • Billy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a very nervous, stuttering mental patient with serious mommy issues. He becomes more courageous and stands up to the cruel Nurse Ratched after having sex with a prostitute. Unfortunately, Nurse Ratched brings up his mommy issues again, leading him to commit suicide.

  • Amber of Forever Amber appears to be a strong example of this trope, likely the cause for much of the novel's controversy. Interestingly, a close reading of the book indicates that on some level this is a Deconstruction resulting from the trope's not being built yet. Amber doesn't exactly seem happy and self-confident when she starts making desperate overtures to Lord Carlton near the end of the book to have a serious overture even though he's getting married. She goes so far as to ditch the entire posh lifestyle she'd spent most of the book working on the off-chance that he'll take her back.
  • In Twilight, Bella wants sex intensely and eventually gives into the two things she refused to do over the entire series (Marry Edward and agree to go to college) to get it. When the two characters are finally vampires, they have sex and it's portrayed as extremely liberating, as they are now "equals".
  • Edna in The Awakening when she has an affair with Robert.
  • Billy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
  • Brave New World is a major deconstruction. In a Free-Love Future, people are taught to be sexually promiscuous from childhood, and this is said to be an enormous advance over the old days when people had fathers and mothers. But this perfect society is totally regimented, and the meaning of "everybody belongs to everybody else" is that people are not supposed to have lasting relationships with each other.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four plays this rather more straight, with Winston and Julia celebrating sex as an act of rebellion against the deadening erotophobia of the Party. However, Winston does tell Julia, "You're only a rebel from the waist downwards."
  • This is very much true for Beatrice Löwenström in Överenskommelser by Simona Ahrnstedt. It's very justified too as she really fits into the "is a virgin, lives a strict life, is bullied by people close to her" description from above. As she comes from a very uptight upper-middle-class background in the 1880s, she had even been taught to consider her body as something sinful, that should be hidden and controlled. Her love interest Seth has to teach her otherwise...
    • Magdalena Swärd in "De skandalösa" has something like this going on as well. She's still so bitter after being jilted by her fiancé, but then Gabriel Gripklo comes along, and... well, let's just say that this story is full of sex scenes!
  • A Zigzagged version features as a theme in Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. There, the focus is on the relationship between conquered peoples and "an unstable sexuality"; how people rebel when they can't rebel. The idea that sex is one of the few things is it very hard for conquerors to take away, and that sex—especially unconventional or socially iffy sex (ie. incest and BDSM)—can be an outlet and a way for people to defy rules.
    Guy Gavriel Kay: The novelist Milan Kundera fed my emerging theme of oppression and survival with his musings about the relationship between conquered peoples and an unstable sexuality: what I have called "the insurrections of night." The underlying ideas, for me, had to do with how people rebel when they can't rebel, how we behave when the world has lost its bearings, how shattered self-respect can ripple through to the most intimate levels of our lives.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Firefly:
    • Part of the function of the Companions guild is to enact this trope — Companions themselves are seen as very sophisticated, intelligent, and worldly thinkers. In part this is justified, as becoming a Companion takes a great deal of study and training, and is treated as a high-class profession. They also can have this effect on others — in one episode the crew of Serenity is saved from a vengeful mining tycoon when his son sabotages the plan, acting under Inara's influence with stronger resolve.
    • It's played straight, oddly enough, with the whores in "Heart of Gold" who even Inara herself explicitly refers to as whores, all of whom appear to be living idyllic lives in the brothel. The episode even goes so far as to state that the unborn child who is the MacGuffin of the episode would be better off raised in the brothel then under the auspice of his wealthy (albeit Jerkass) father. This is established as a recent situation, as before the place was forcibly taken over by one of Inara's colleagues they were basically sex slaves.
  • In one episode of Nip/Tuck, a woman hires the plastic surgeons to reverse a circumcision done on her when she was much younger. This was explicitly so she could discover the wonderful world of sex and what she was missing, and she unsurprisingly immediately jumps into bed with Christian as a result. Of course, given the nature of female circumcision, you'd think she'd be overjoyed just at having gained the ability to urinate without feeling pain.
  • In Upstairs Downstairs (set in The Gay '90s), the restless Elizabeth gets acquainted with suspicious folks, and an eager follower to their scandalous suffragette schemes and decided decadence, she starts to feel like this trope. And as she quite wants to be liberated of her oldfashioned higher class background, she jumps in. It's not played for drama or fun, oddly enough, and most it means to the story is to illustrate how completely different Elizabeth and her peers are from the previous generation.
  • On That '70s Show, Hyde once gets involved with a similarly rebellious girl who explains that she sees having lots of sex as a protest against society. Hyde is pretty open with the fact that he's mostly into the sex.
  • Salim in American Gods has a transformative sexual encounter with a jinn who is working as a New York City cab driver. It's liberating both literally — the jinn switches their identities before he leaves in the morning, allowing Salim to escape his old life, which was making him miserable — as well as giving Salim a new sense of purpose.


    Western Animation 
  • In Moral Orel, Reverend Putty generally becomes a more laid-back and nicer guy once he finally has his first sex (with three prostitutes no less).