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Sex Comedies and the Modern (Feminist) Girl

5 min read
Filmhounds Magazine

The movie. A familiar and funny source of entertainment beloved by many. But why do we love them so much? Is it because these films have a way of humorously questioning otherwise suffocatingly stringent social constructs? Or is it because they're just damn funny? Over the decades, these movies have certainly helped reposition long-entrenched ideas surrounding sexuality and relationships. These days, the outdated trope of women having sex for love and marriage, while men are portrayed as having sex for pleasure is out the window. Nowadays, a new model of consent exists, one that is equal for both sexes. How and when did these shifts occur? Here we take a look at the evolution of the sex movie.

The ‘First Wave' of Sex Comedies (1950's-1980's)

It can be argued that early sex comedy films (1950's-1970's) perpetuated certain ideas about women. These films showcased ‘good girls' who were chaste gate-keepers to their bodies. For example, Pillow Talk (1959) and (1959), the female (and female-portrayed characters in the latter's example) are demure women at odds with the horny men who surround them. Doris Day's virginal character is the antithesis to Rock Hudson's playboy. Meanwhile in Some Like it Hot this dichotomy is played for serious laughs with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon determined to be celibate women while instead their male personas are of men with large libidos.

Interestingly enough, the sexual revolution of the 1960's did nothing to immediately change this portrayal of women. By the time that National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) was released, the women portrayed were still passive gatekeepers(the one exception being the character of Marion Wormer, a clear parody of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967)).

This trend continued in through the early 1980's.  Movies such as Porky's (1981) , Revenge of the Nerds (1984) and Screwballs (1983), showcased women and men had by now become caricatures of these tropes. The virginal women having names such as ‘Chastity' while the men were almost too horny to function.

The late 1980's ended on a changing note. 1989's , is notable in that it is a sex comedy written by a women, Nora Ephron. Sally is certainly more multi-dimensional (and more relatable). She sleeps with Harry while they are still friends. But neither of them feel particularly good about it. This dichotomy changes when (34 year old spoiler) Harry finally professes his love for Sally. They both then happily fall into bed (and marriage) with one another. Arguably, Sally is still a gate-keeper for her body.

The Second Wave of Sex Comedies (1990's-early 2000's)

After When Harry Met Sally, the sex comedy became passé. By now the women who had participated in the sexual revolution of the 1960's in their youth were in positions of power. These women worked, and were able to express themselves in ways that previous generations could not. And what they could do was not spend money at the box office for movies that were demeaning towards women.

(1999) changed all of this. This was a film where the women were both ‘gate-keepers' and ‘initiators of' sex. Yes, Nadia in the film is punished for her masturbating on the webcam by being sent back to her country. But in the end Jim is shown stripping on webcam for her while she cheers him on. Lines are blurred between who the gate-keepers are and who the initiators are. The men in the film are shown as being more than horny jocks, while the women in the film are more assertive over their sexual wants and needs.

Meanwhile in (2004), Jenny is a woman who is completely in charge of her sexuality. This leads to the reoccurring joke throughout the film that she's not a girl. For a brief moment in the early 2000's, this was a common trope for sexually-confident women. At the end of the day, Jenny is the sexual initiator, instead of the gate-keeper.


The Third Wave of Sex Comedies (2010's – present day)

(2018), showcased a shift in the on-screen portrayal of gender roles. Here was a film, directed by a woman (Kay Cannon), which portrayed women as sexually confident. The three main female characters create a sex-pact in order to lose their virginity. Hijinks ensue when their parents discover the plot and try to stop them. The film doesn't rely on tired tropes, but rather (refreshingly) invests in its leads so that viewers understand them as characters. The women state what they want, and why, and how. They aren't seen as ‘bad girls', but relatable modern-day counterparts. The movie was praised by critics for its take on current-day sexual consent.

Later this month, , starring and produced by , will be released. In it, Jennifer Lawrence portrays a woman (Maddie) who is down on luck. Her car has been repossessed and she has no money to get it back. After replying to an ad on Craigslist, she is hired by a set of parents to help get their shy son out of his shell. Jennifer is the sexual initiator, whilst Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) is the gatekeeper to his body. Yet unlike the lad culture movies of yesteryear, the movie is big on sexual consent.

The Future of Sex Comedies

Nowadays, sex comedies challenge societal norms and promote gender equality. The notion that women should be submissive when it comes to their sexuality is outdated. These modern day female characters are intelligent, witty and confident. More than just objects of desire, the women are active participants in the comedic narrative.

Hopefully future sex comedies continue to create a platform where viewers can reflect, question and challenge societal expectations surrounding gender and sexuality. One where space is given to discuss important feminist issues such as consent, body positivity and the double standards that exist between men and women.

Of course there will still be films in this genre that will rely on outdated stereotypes. The hope is that going forward, the sex comedy will continue to be used as a vehicle to empower female characters and address pertinent social issues. Thereby these films will become a valuable part in the feminist discourse of pop culture.