Sex, Violence, and the American Way

When I was thirteen years old, my history teacher played Forrest Gump in class. It was May and we’d already taken our standardized exams, so there was no point in teaching us any more information. She was done. So Forrest Gump, a film I’d see seven more times in a classroom before graduating from public school, was played over the course of three class periods.

In that time, we watched presidents get assassinated, a group of men get shot to death in the jungles of Vietnam, and one man get his legs blown off.

There was also a scene where, off camera, Forrest experiences premature ejaculation. Can you guess which of these scenes the teacher skipped?

In a World War II Literature & Film class in high school, we watched Band of Brothers all the way through. It’s a fantastic piece of filmmaking that delivers realistic and devastating violence. It shows the horrors of war. Limbs are blown from bodies. Bullets shoot through teenage boys. Men bleed to death, screaming for help.

There’s also a scene where a topless woman walks from her bed to the bathroom. Can you guess which of these scenes the teacher skipped?

I was nine years old when The Matrix was released in theaters. My dad’s friend was raving about it one night, and I asked if we could go see it the following the day. The friend, very soberly, turned to my dad and said, “You should let him see it. There’s no sex. It’s just guns and killing.”

To my father’s credit, we didn’t see it in the theater. I had to wait a couple of years to finally watch it on DVD.

Some claimed that Shame missed out on awards season for its frank focus on sex addiction

Some claimed that Shame missed out on awards season for its frank focus on sex addiction

This article has been written before, but we’re still having to write it. For some reason, parents and guardians and leaders are, and seem to have always been, terrified completely of their children witnessing frank depictions of sexuality in film and literature. That fact alone isn’t necessarily the problem, however. The problem is that these same people are totally fine with their children watching all forms of violence.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the most controversial video games ever released. It gives players the ability to shoot, maim, beat, run over, and incinerate whomever they wish. And better yet, they’re rewarded for it! But that’s not the main source of controversy for the game. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely people who had a problem with it, but the vast majority of concerns were focused on an almost completely hidden easter egg that featured off-camera oral sex.

In other words, while that gruesome and disturbing violence might be a problem, that oral sex mini-game that’s nearly impossible to unlock needs to be stopped immediately.

It’s easy to come up with these examples. They’re all over the place. But why? Why is America so obsessed with shielding children from sex, but so (relatively speaking) impartial to vicious depictions of violence?

Some might say they’re more worried of their kids having sex than committing acts of violence. That’s fair. But aren’t both acts equally possible?

Also, there are safe ways to have sex. There are no safe ways to commit acts of violence. That’s the very definition of violence.

Most people point toward America’s religious history as the reason for its views on sex. Some say America’s focus on biblical pursuits have scared them away from investigating sexual stories.

I’m sure that’s part of the reason, but, biblically speaking, the theory holds very little water. The bible is full of bizarre and explicit sexuality, including (but not limited to) the story of Lot offering his guests the sexual favors of his daughters (read: rape of his daughters). And he’s the good guy in the story!

In fact, sex is referenced commonly as a good thing. Song of Solomon is all about sex, and this is coming from a man who had thousands of conquests in his day. Sure, he’s talking about married sex.

But if the bible treats sex and violence with the same interest and curiosity, then why doesn’t the American (Christian) culture follow suit?

It could have something to do with the Puritans, who were terrified of joy. Some would say they were masochists, and they were just acting as an extension of the flagellating monks who travelled Europe at the height of the black plague.

Even Martin Luther, the great liberator, had an unhealthy obsession with not enjoying anything.

Come to think of it, self-flagellation (the slashing of one’s skin) as a response to sexual joy is something we’ve seen even more recently.

Yes, that's a drill. Yes, it's that obvious.

Yes, that’s a drill. Yes, it’s that obvious.

John Carpenter’s Halloween made a direct connection between sex and violence by slashing away all of the non-virgins.

This is where it gets interesting. Teens would flock to these movies not only for the gore, but for the possibility of seeing a beautiful young woman naked. However, once the girl takes her top off, we expect her to die.

The trope has become so popular that Cabin in the Woods played it for laughs.

Somehow, over the course of a few decades, a young couple having sex has become a capital crime that audiences all over the globe cheerfully murder.

While the rest of the world views nudity as just another part of life, allowing citizens to legally strip down in public whenever they want, Americans tend to view nudity as the ultimate sin. Worse than seeing a severed limb, or a man holding his own guts on the beach of normandy, or a masked man systematically murder a group of teenagers.

Until recently, a flaccid penis could not be shown in a movie without the movie receiving an NC-17 rating. And even though the rules have relaxed a little bit in the last few years, it’s still a little strange that a movie like Taken, which is PG-13, shows the preposterous murder of tens of men on screen, but a movie like Clerks, that features nothing more than men standing around and talking, has to fight against its NC-17 rating on appeal.

Even talking about sex in a movie can lead to its censorship (most theaters do not screen NC-17 films, and several retail stores do not sell DVDs of the films) by the MPAA, whereas Liam Neeson’s constant murder of other people is totally acceptable to anybody who can afford a ticket.

And while the rest of the world scratches its head over America’s fear of frank sexuality, we have hundreds of rapes in our military every year.

It could be because our media fuels unrealistic and foolish ideas of human sexuality. Sure, the handsome movie star and the beautiful woman have sex, but fading out as they get in the bed is actually more dangerous than a sex scene. Did they use a condom? Was there a discussion of any kind about safety? How did they act?

If teenagers only see films that fade out and never address actual issues regarding sex, then they won’t know how to behave when the time comes for them. Arguing that we should never talk about it, and that teenagers just shouldn’t have sex at all, is part of the problem.

Teenagers are going to have sex. That’s what their bodies are programmed to do. Our culture has only recently stigmatized teenaged marriage, and our bodies are biologically built to reproduce as much as possible.

This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Teenage pregnancies, teenage contractions of STDs, date rapes, rape in the military: all of these things could be greatly reduced if the country were half as interested in realistic depictions of sex as it is in violence.

But, instead, we have teenagers learning about sex from Internet pornography and movies that deliver extremely unrealistic expectations.

Our discomfort with boobs has effectively changed the landscape of our culture, and something needs to be done to change the tide.

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