Unsimulated sex scenes in movies from Shortbus to Nymphomaniac

From Lars von Trier to John Cameron Mitchell and almost every Vincent Gallo movie, here are the movies that captured real sex scenes.

(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2022 and has been updated several times since then.)

Sex on film is nothing new, but unsimulated intercourse in non-pornographic films continues to raise eyebrows and attract eyeballs.

From Vincent Gallo’s controversial direction of “Brown Bunny” to Robert Pattinson’s method of masturbation in “Little Ashes,” intimate encounters on film, however staged, can engage audiences in the larger stories their writers and directors are trying to tell. .

Catherine Breillat’s first film in 1976, A Real Young Girl, adapted her own controversial novel about a 14-year-old girl exploring her newfound sexuality. (The lead character, Charlotte Alexandra, was 20 years old during production, and the film was not released in US theaters for more than two decades.) Breillat’s later work, 1999’s Romance, tells the story of a woman’s desperate search for human relationships, contained similar scenes, including sado-masochistic sex play.

“Actors are prostitutes because they are asked to play other feelings,” Breillat told IndieWire. “This prostitution is not profane; it is a holy act that we give them.”

In John Cameron Mitchell’s second feature film, 2006’s Shortbus, he wanted to “respect” sex as a pastime for real people, similar to art, music or cuisine.

Speaking to IndieWire about filming the cult classic, Mitchell said, “Of course, a lot of movies have had sex, but they were pretty gritty, and I wanted something more fun and funny, but still emotionally deep. And so I said, “I never want you to do something you don’t want to do, but I want you to challenge yourself so we can challenge the audience.”

Mitchell continued: “’Shortbus’ is not about sex. It uses sex as a medium, a system for conveying ideas, characters and emotions, just as “Hedwig (and the Angry Itch)” uses music. Sex is our music in “Shortbus”. We actually just did a sex test. I just went with what they wanted to do.”

Representations of unsimulated sex on screen have taken many forms across decades, continents and political landscapes. But the controversial nature of the taboo remains a focus of interest for artists who are willing to acknowledge their interest in the artistic merit and power of depicting real sex.

“In terms of sex presented in film, mainstream or even independent, the film foreshadowed it,” Mitchell concluded. “They gave it up because it’s too scary. Too many people say they are being exploited and there are consensual issues with intimacy. Imagine an intimacy counselor on the set of “Shortbus.” Imagine… a “Shortbus” intimacy consultant would say, “Could he put his arms around you now? OK?'”

Directed by filmmakers from Lars von Trier to Vincent Gallo, William Friedkin and Abel Ferrera, we present 35 films that contain real sex scenes.

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