The misrepresentation of sex

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Sorcha Blakely

The misrepresentation of sex: How does censorship and cultural tradition corrupt the conception of sex in cinema?

Sorcha Blakely is a freelance video producer and photographer


Film classification boards contest the representation of sex in cinema. Through censorship they direct who sees what and, through influencing directors cuts, how they see it. This essay will examine intercultural attitudes towards sex and how they relate to its depiction in film. To begin with it is important to establish historical, psychological and philosophical origins for attitudes towards sex. In chapter one the Christian point of view is contrasted with that of the ancient Greeks and Victorian conservatism is explored as the bedrock of our contemporary beliefs.

To illustrate academic influence on social attitudes towards sex Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus complex and Foucault’s, the use of Pleasure are analysed. Freud’s theories outline  behaviour being a result of unconscious desires and inner battles to prohibit these desires. Foucault explores desires standpoint in western culture and how this has formed the attitude towards a sexual subject. Sex is perceived as a taboo topic within western culture because you gain pleasure out of it and you are performing one of your instinctual desires. This essay will question why this and theorists offer answers how this is reflected by the film industry through censorship and choices directors are forced to make?

Contemporary representation of sex has been undoubtedly informed by 20th century feminist critique. Chapter one will end by examining Laura Mulvey’s The Male Gaze pointing out  how gender stereotyping in art presents men as active and dominant while women are submissive objects. The theories examined here will be referred to throughout the essay in order to consider how they have affected director’s choices.

In Chapter two, a number of films are compared and contrasted to uncover how director’s choices influence the portrayal of sex. This will include an analysis of 9 Songs by Michael Winterbottom, Anatomy of Hell by Catherine Breillat and Irréversible by Gaspar Noé. Each of these films has produced controversial films that have showed some form of explicit sex. 9 Songs has evolved around unsimulated sex between the two main characters. Anatomy of Hell the female role is shown as submissive as a purpose to question sexuality. Within Irreversible in the rape is shown in a very cinematic way. These films have been chosen as they each push the boundaries of representation of sex in cinema. The chapter will consider in detail directors choices; paying attention to whether they choose to emulate reality or stimulate fantasy. This will lead to an assessment of whether their decisions have been restricted by moral codes and censorship. It will also evaluate if artistic freedom is stifled by censorship regulations.

The closing chapter brings together socially and historically constructed morality. It focuses on cultural beliefs and how film classification boards reflect these globally. Censorship is not the same internationally; this chapter will look at why and how. To follow is the question: has the British Board of Film Classification has got it right? Research examining how sex is censored for children will attempt to answer this question, as will primary investigations into parental opinions towards a child’s exposure to sex.

Chapter one

This chapter will introduce key moments in religious and academic history that have influenced cultural attitudes towards sex. Freud explores behavioural affects of desires developing human personality. Whilst Foucault explores how sexuality became a moral concern. Greek mythology shares similar views to the Christian doctrine suggesting monogamous relationships is healthier. Christian rules such as chastity and abstinence reflect their beliefs on sex being sinful. Victorian rules were to prevent excessive masturbation for the protection of mental health.

Sigmund Freud described as the father of psychoanalysis for his work that caused great controversy when he came up with the theory of psychoanalysis of sexuality, which threw out previous perceptions. The theory of the Oedipus complex was not accepted by society for another 20 years after he first released his work. Society was appalled that he would bring in sexual links to childhood with Oedipus complex. Yet, the theories groundings are continually referenced within psychology even today when they have a lack of solid relation to modern society. The Oedipus complex outlines behaviour being a result of unconscious desires and the inner battles to prohibit these desires. The goal of human behaviour is pleasure which hopes to relieve the reduction of tension with the release of energy. The Oedipus complex goes into depth how sex can be a release for men and women when they are frustrated with the battle of healthy desires and unhealthy desires. The film Irréversible by Gaspar Noé has an 8minute rape scene; this approaches sexual violence as a taboo of unhealthy desires. This is explained further when the three components the ID, EGO and SUPER EGO are examined (Furnham, 2008, pg.153).

Freud defines people as being driven primarily by sexual and aggressive instincts. However, the expression of these drives can conflict with the demands of society, which forces these unconscious desires to be released in other channels to gain fulfilment. Freud used therapy to bring the unconscious, preconscious and conscious to be analysed. This gained him  better understanding of the complex having three elements of the unconscious the ID which is one own personality, the EGO which is the psychology executive of the personality and  the SUPEREGO which is social and moral component to personality. The psychosexual development of children during the ages of three to five years go through the four stages of oral, anal, phallic and genital which are summarised in their relation to erotogenic zone. If problems arise during the moving through these stages it will influence adulthood personality, therefore adult personality traits arise from childhood experience (Freud, 2011, pg.).

All four stages link to erogenous zones the oral stage is focused on the mouth, lips and tongue and linked to the feeding stage in childhood. If children were unsuccessful   developing through this stage then they would tend to develop into having oral personalities in adulthood. They would have either experienced over indulgence or deprivation to early or to late, which results in many adult activities of drinking, talking, eating being excessive. The anal stage is summarised to control over toilet training. Children learning they have the   ability to control their parent’s anxiety or pleasure by expelling or retaining faeces. The  Phallic stage directly derives from Greek mythology of the god Oedipus who had profound love for his mother (Graves, 1955, pg.112). Relating to children having a perceived threat that their father would castrate them out of jealousy for their mother. Summarising the phallic stage linking to the genitalia and charactering children to develop into vanity and recklessness in adulthood (Furnham, 2008,pg.154).

The film industry has played on these unconscious desires of their audiences such as fetishism to enhance the experience of being able to relate to morally unacceptable fantasy (Indie Sex: Censored [film] 2007). These unhealthy desires are normally kept in balance from the ID, EGO and SUPEREGO where social and moral codes are adhering.

The French Philosopher Michel Foucault is famous for his works challenging the  assumptions of mental illness, gay rights, prisons, police and welfare. The most relevant works in sexuality was The Use of Pleasure, which historically looks at the experiences that cause individuals to see themselves as a sexual object. These experiences are explored in relation to modern western society (Foucault, 1985, pg.4). The modern individuals history of understanding their sexuality was linked to the knowledge of genealogy in relation to ones own desire to which sexual behaviour correlated. Foucault explores desires standpoint in culture to form the view of being a subject only to desire a man through sexual behaviour. Foucault in his theory of sexuality looks at problematization from factors such as religion and moral codes. These moral codes enable cultures to regulate sexuality and have become  very apparent in British film industry with the slow development into a more open view on sexual behaviour (Weeks, 1981, pg. 3).

Christian moral codes have shifted in modern culture with people practising the faith and not adhering to the previous strict abstinence and lifelong chastity (Twelker, electronic journal, 2003). These previous views however did shape cultures where they were prominent as apposed to its opposition paganism. Christianity has brought the concepts of sex being a sinful act, which is apparent in the imagery of Adam and Eve. Their beliefs were to interdict sex to stick to the Christian moral codes of monogamous relationship and chastity to remain pure. Foucault within The use of pleasure questions at what point did the act of sex and pleasure that comes from it turn into an object of moral solitude? (Foucault, 1985, pg.10). Moral solitude and the prohibition of sex are two of the main ethical concerns. Freud’s psychological analysis of how humans have healthy and unhealthy desires has been infiltrated into cultures through moral codes. Furthermore, the transgression of these codes such as a monogamous relationship, which even Freud himself, acted on would be passed off as an instinctual unhealthy urge. An unhealthy urge within the Christian religion would be sinful and the work of the devil because of the transgression of the strict moral codes.

Christianity’s beliefs were far more meticulous than ancient Greece and Rome. GrecoRoman culture was the birth of pleasure; they had multiple definitions for sex being the more commonly used one aphrodisia. Translating into the modern terminology of the aphrodisiac an object stimulating sexual desire (Foucault, 1985, pg. 35). The epoch of GrecoRoman were more accepting of certain sexual behaviour compared to the Christian middle age. This was supported with a lack of institution to interdict sexual behaviours so it was less of a concern that precautions weren’t made to prevent desire entering the soul. Ancient Greece and Rome were liberal thinkers however their attitudes towards sharing thoughts on sex  were limited within their literature reflecting a more conservative nature. Yet, their conservative nature in the relation to the Christian use of moral codes was different because their ethical concerns lay with origin of sexual desire.

Aphrodisia was a combination of the sexual act, pleasure and desire. Ancient GrecoRoman culture was based around improvement of one self to being a work of art and developing their philosophy on sexual desire was their main concern rather than the sexual act itself. They believed that the sexual pleasure was gained from orifices such as the mouth and tongue similar to Freud Oedipus complex focussing on the development of these sensual pleasures. A kiss was highly ranked as sensual pleasure and a way of connecting souls within ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. These are all some of the key grounding still shown in the representation of sex. All sexual representation in cinema are linked to accentuating these attributes reflecting a similar liberal attitude towards sex; however, there are still elements of modern society derived from Christianity’s moral codes. Depicting what is normal and abnormal (Foucault, 1985, pg.3943).

The British board of Classification is a staple of how a cultures moral code develops images of sexual objects. This is shown through their regulation of explicit sex scenes or nudity. Which is only balanced with the opinion of cultural committees and the classification boards judgement. This results in the culture having similar views on sexuality. A continuation of “seeking sensual pleasures in the gratification of unnatural desires” is the origin of human uneasiness on sexual pleasure (Foucault, 1985,pg.57). Control and regulation of sexual pleasure allows the containment of unnatural desires. The moral groundings of these controls were only to ease the natural desires to appropriate contexts.

The Victorian age felt like it had a created an environment of shame on the act of sex, especially masturbation. Men and women were brought up believing that masturbation transpired to an unhealthy mental state preventing the release of tension essential to human nature (Ebbing, 1967, pg.2). The film Lolita by Stanley Kubrick approached the topic of paedophilia, which was an unconventional sexual moral code and taboo within the 1960s (Lolita, film, 1962). Paedophilia is perceived as an unhealthy mental state and was not particularly heard of in America during the 1960s. This concept of the shame brought to sex was reciprocated within 1960s America. Dr William Masters and Virginia Johnson were pioneers into creating an open environment for married couple to understand the depth of pleasure and release gained from a healthy sexual relationship. The works of William  Masters and Virginia Johnson was ahead of their time looking into the physiology of human sexuality. They conducted experiments of recording data from volunteers engaging in a variety of sexual activities. They produced works such as Human sexual response and Human Sexual inadequacy, which at the time gave an opportunity to give a very repressed marital class sexual therapy. Both works see the research of sexuality from a feminist approach describing female sexual climax in their books before the men making it clear that  it should be equally pleasurable (Kerrigan, online, 2013). During the 1960s in America the understanding of female sexuality was not spoken about which left a huge amount of women being very unsatisfied. The controversy of the study meant that some people in the society felt it would undermine family structure and damage American society but it gave way to producing a healthier understanding of sex.

Set gender roles have persisted from the Victorian age and 1960s concluding that women  are the more submissive role and men are the more dominant. Female and male equality within film has been a consistent battle to procure the female subject not at the victim or passive character. Laura Mulvey understood that the image of a women is only seen through the male point of view and is also played to the advantage of the male and female audience because society has been brought up learning women are the sexual object (Mulvey, 1992, pg27). This has transpired into a male dominant creativity within cinema. Shown through the production of films with the lack of women behind the scenes becoming more apparent when looking at documentation that has excluded females from the history of cinema. Women  have been notoriously seen as the sexual object within a film, all attention or spoken roles being sexualised (NYFA [online] 2013). Laura Mulvey expresses that there is a need to question or reinvent the aesthetic language that previously represented women from a male point of view.

The introduction of sex within film has proceeded to show women in a passive role during a sex scene. The scenes would maintain longer pauses on the enjoyment of a man rather than a women and the differentiation between heterosexual and homosexual relationships on screen are still very innovative with new independent films. The film 9 Songs by Michael Winterbottom has approached a new element to sex scenes of unsimulated sex.  Unsimulated sex is where the actors both engage in penetrative sex on screen. Within 9 songs the male and female sexual role is both being represented equally. Pushing what Mulvey has previously hoped for the alteration of pervious modes of representation of these gender roles.

Directors such as Michael Winterbottom have questioned the modern sexual gender roles during his film 9 Songs. The unsimulated sex has brought controversy to the depiction of women due to is more accurate representation of a female pleasure during sex. There is a scene where Lisa the female character masturbates in private for her own enjoyment. Women have been used in cinema as a sexual object to increase films sales. The gender roles in sex within modern cinema depict the inequality of male and female pleasure. Even more so the correct sexual pleasure either in a homosexual or heterosexual relationship is designed to improve popularity for the film. The natural level of morally acceptable  enjoyment for an audience viewing sex scene would remain more comfortable when the female role is passive during sex or oral. Within mainstream cinema the depiction of women are more commonly shown to have a smaller speaking part this has recently been proven with the introduction of the Bechtel Test in Sweden (Higgins, Online, 2013). Furthermore, when involved in a sex scene in a movie the women is generally posed to always pleasure the man first. This would remain to stick to a male view of a female sexual behaviour rather than a natural depiction. Even more so this sticks to previous gender roles from marriages in 1960s America discovered from the research of Masters and Johnson.

Chapter two

This chapter takes three films as its focus: 9 Songs, Anatomy of Hell and Irreversible. It uses them to discuss how director’s choices are influenced by moral codes and classification systems. It also looks at the portrayal of sex as a challenge to moral boundaries and gender stereotypes.

In 2004 British film director, Michael Winterbottom, took film festivals such as Cannes by surprise with his hour-long film 9 Songs. The film is about a short but intimate relationship between an American college student and a British glaciologist and controversially includes scenes containing unsimulated sexual intercourse.

Winterbottom has been the first British director to make a sexually explicit film in mainstream history. Winterbottom aimed to represent Matt and Lisa falling in love through their evolving sexual relationship to reflect on physical attraction. Winterbottom refrained from the common depiction of love, which is usually dramatized and romanticized. His intentions for doing this was to prevent depicting a relationship that doesn’t really happen in real life. The sex scenes are physically intimate, suggesting some emotional detachment. The protagonist, Matt, tells the story of his relationship with Lisa. His focus on sex suggests that to him this is the strongest and most vital part of their relationship. 9 Songs lacks film castaways which are unusually common place in films with highly sexual content as they tend to move along the narrative. However Winterbottom has refrained from using this technique in order to challenge conventional methods of portraying sex within film (Hennigan, online, 2005). The sex in 9 Songs reflects Matt’s feelings as he narrates the story.

A second point to mention with regards to 9 Songs it shows sex as mutually pleasurable, for both man and women. It isn’t only Matt who enjoys the sex but Lisa as well. The mutual sexual pleasure shown within 9 Songs allows both characters to dominate different sex scenes during the film. Winterbottom has chosen to include different scenes of equal length to show Matt and Lisa equal pleasure during sex. The film still [see fig. 7] shows Lisa performing oral sex. This long scene slips between a close up of Lisa’s face and a widerangle shot of her entire body. The close up is used to display Lisa’s enduring enjoyment as she takes her time tracing the line of Matt’s penis with her tongue. The wide-angle shot shows soft hazy light cast onto Lisa back and shadows delicately add more movement to the scene. The aspect shows that Lisa has control over what she is doing. Though out the  scene Lisa smirks which adds humor and softens the tone of this otherwise extremely   explicit film. Despite Lisa’s dominant role in this scene it is the male voice which echo’s through out the film. The male point of view still predominates. This element of the film is in accordance with Laura Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze but is counteracted by the unsimulated sex. This shows natural rather than contrived human instinctual desire and pleasure. However, the emotional depth of the film is not intentional more due to the actor’s characters. Winterbottom leaves the audience responsible for their own interpretation of an honest loving relationship.

In film generally female characters are usually passive and their enjoyment is never shown through the length of shot as much as a mans. This has thought to be because society still feels uncomfortable with being faced with the fact that women enjoy sex too. In a Guardian newspaper article interviewing the actress playing Lisa (Margo Stilley) it states that some of the headlines during the release of 9 Songs read, “There’s a new film that’s putting sin into cinema”. This British newspaper cleverly chose to play with their reader’s morality by coupling sin with sex, as they have been in the past. The idea that sex is sinful comes from the bible. Christianity teaches that chastity brings purity to the soul. Margo Stilley  responded to such headlines by saying her reasons for engaging with 9 Songs was because she wanted “to show sex in a very positive light” (Anthony, online article, 2005). Agreeing with Winterbottom’s own personal choices, she agrees with preventing showing sex in an unrealistic fashion.

During the Victorian age men and women were both factually uniformed and emotionally frigid about sexual matters’ (V&A, website, 2013). These attitudes have remained in the representation of sex within British cinema. In 9 Songs, Winterbottom chose to challenge such out dated attitudes. His inclusion of unsimulated sex pushed boundaries and raised questions over the nature of explicit content. The media response to his film only highlighted the fact that the topic of sex is still taboo within the public arena.

Richard von Kraft Ebbing, a Russian psychologist, relates masturbation to a series of mental health issues. He explains that unhealthy desires leading to excessive masturbation are  likely lead to sexual violence because of lack of control and moral behavior (Ebbing, 1967, pg.1). Irréversible by Gaspar Noé a French director has introduced a powerful film about rape, which in Freud words is an unhealthy sexual instinct (Freud, 2011,pg.46). This unhealthy sexual instinct is against moral code, which is what the unconscious ID the EGO and SUPEREGO try to regulate. The reactions to this film differ from country to country as some are more excepting the extreme boundaries Noé is pushing. Simon Frame, a British producer, reflects on the how the reactions differ, “What we think is unacceptable the French might be ok with” (Frame, interview, 2013). The French are more use to foreign films approaching extreme concepts such as rape. Frame suggests that this differs country to country. Frame then went on the add, the reaction of sexual violence in relation to these varying attitudes towards French extremism will still be regulated by the same code of ethics in that country such as Anatomy of Hell.

Anatomy of Hell

Catherine Breillat’s Anatomy of hell (2004) is manages to portray nudity and sex in a sophisticated manner in order to question sexuality. This film follows the story of Amira who pays a homosexual man, Rocco, to spend four nights watching her. She proceeds to disgust Rocco and pushes him to answer questions about her sexuality. After controversial reviews on its explicit sexual nature and possibly homophobic undertones Anatomy of Hell went on  to win “Best Feature Filmat the Philadelphia Film Festival in 2004.

Anatomy of Hell has explicit sex scenes and unusual scenes exploring the female body. Breillat is approaching the topic of sexuality from feminist standpoint yet she is ultimately throughout the film putting the female character in vulnerable positions. The introduction of the female character is shown in the opening scene where you find her cutting herself in a nightclub bathroom. As the film continues Amira lacks personality, her character lacks definition to prevent the audience relating to her on a personal level. Breillat uses Amira as  a vehicle to question homosexuality from a female perspective. She represents Breillat herself as well as women in general. Amira lets the male character have control over her throughout the whole film. He probes her and uses her to release his own desires by having sex with her as and when he wants. He puts objects in her rectum in an explorative   manner. Amira’s submissive role reflects how Breillat sees women in society.

In Anatomy of Hell the female is never active or dominant but remains a psychological probe and uncovers male tendency to view women as sexual objects. Breillat also explores the inner turmoil of the male character in a long wide-angle view of waves crushing bringing tension to the film. Anatomy of Hell is an excellent example of where cinema has reacted to the theories of Laura Mulvey. Mulvey‘s says, “ in herself the woman has not the slightest importancewithin cinema. She also argues that women sometimes need to play as the passive role or sexualize to be able to produce a piece of artwork representing a subject matter such as sexuality (Mulvey, 1992, pg.197). The example shown within Anatomy of hell the female character is not the dominant role whilst Breillat attempt to question sexuality through the male character dialogue and behavior.

Laura Lederer, coordinator of WAVPM (Women against violence in pornography and media) explained, “ Enough women have been rejecting the traditional role of subordination to men to cause a crisis in the collective male ego” (Mulvey, 1992, pg.197). Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell the simple composition and soft lighting has made the female character look androgynous. Her own sexuality is not defined but remains neutral in order to challenge gender stereotyping. The color red is shown through out the film and particularly in the  scene where the female body is explored. The female character is dormant. She doesn’t provoke or encourage but allows the male character to inspect parts of her body. Catherine Breillat is trying to make a point that the vagina can disgust or pleasure the opposite sex through natural instincts. Making a point of the homosexuality within the film. This scene is very clinical representing the whole tone of the female character that she is devoid of any emotion. Breillat’s film and especially Anatomy of Hell create an open space, an arena for dialogue where her audience can reflect on her storylines.

Breillat has been looked upon as a prominent female director who approaches a lot of feminist viewpoints on sexuality. She has researched religious iconography looking at the impurity of menstruation. In one scene in Anatomy of hell the female pulls out her tampon and drinks it from a glass of water that has turned red from the blood. This represents Christ turning water to wine. Rather than seeing the impurity of Amira’s blood, Breillat pushed the boundaries of female representation to showing her as a god-like being with links to Christ. However, Anatomy of Hell it is not only controversial for its sexually explicit content but also for the use of the male characters homosexuality. Anatomy of hell uses homosexuality to explore misogyny rather then male sexuality (Murphy, online, 2005). An interview from Kevin Murphy with Breillat on Anatomy of hell explained that, as within most of her films, the  female protagonist expresses her personal concerns about sexuality however, she chose to use the male character to question the key topic within her film.


Irréversible (2002) by Gaspar Noé (a French film director that has done other films such as Enter the Void) is told in a non-linear structure. The story of Irréversible is told in reverse and is about a couple: Monica Bellucci as Alex and Vincent Cassel as her boyfriend. Irréversible begins with a journey; the boyfriend trying to avenge the brutal attack of his girlfriend. The attack is shown as an eight minute rape which shocked audiences at Cannes Film Festival where it was first shown. However it proceeded to win the Stockholm international film festival award. Irréversible depicts extreme sexual violence however the analysis of this piece will focus on its artistic value.

Monica Bellucci is a well renowned sex symbol in France. In this film she plays Alex who is victim to a horrific rape. Noé has created a repeat of delicate subject matter in an extreme way. Receiving 18 as the certificate seems completely correct with something that is important to see and understand. Being controversial Noé had chosen the actors carefully, picking an already married couple of Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel as the boyfriend in the film. This has created an intense journey for the viewer but Noé has understood the delicacies of sexual violence and his limitations as a director to clarify the intentions of depictions of sexual violence.

Noé has poignantly centered the incident up close to camera and the length of the scene being around 8 minutes to cause the audience to be disgusted and traumatised much like  the character Alex. The explicit content distracts you because you can’t help but squirm in your seat. Alex is seen before this scene with a white silk dress on walking through the night encapsulating a sexual object. The low camera angles and the rape happening on the floor reflect the dirty nature of the film and the male character that is attacking Alex. The  incredible acting from Monica Bellucci forces the audiences to be drawn to her vulnerability. This poignantly captures the extreme nature of rape. The long ally way draws into the underworld of France the red walls representing blood and trauma from the actions. This location increases intense emotions from the rape and represents evil. Noé has managed to approach a very real and traumatising scenario with beautiful symbolism. He visually damns the attacker into the depth of evil.

Noé is known for his continuous fluid camera movement that creates a sickness and disorientation in the viewer. The rape seen is shown uncut for eight minutes forcing the audience to watch the whole scenario so you are totally immersed in the action. Noé has purposely kept the audience involved in the rape because it is the catalyst to all subsequent events in the rest of the film. Irreversible was grouped with several other French extremist films such as Baisemoi during the period of 20002002. This caused a huge stir with cultural implications in Britain where the BBFC had to make decisions regarding how these films where going to be cut or uncut (Horeck, Kendall, Tina, 2011,pg.124). In the end it was released uncut due to the BBFC being able to remain objective to media coverage of the  rape and murder within this film. (moved to here but still not sure makes sense?)

The importance reflected of the rape caused intrigue into how male and female audiences can cope with watching either Alex being raped or her boyfriend being brutally murdered. This was reflected by a study that had mixed audiences view Irreversible. Males were more capable of detaching themselves from the events allowing them to watch the whole film throughout the events yet females were more drawn into the emotional consequences of the rape. They could not watch the entire murder of the boyfriend because Noé has created such a raw piece. By choosing two actors that are already in a relationship he provokes the audience even more (Horeck, Kendall, Tina, 2011, pg.108). Irréversible raises similar questions to Anatomy of Hell but in a different context. It looks at the definition of sexuality and the treatment of women as sexual objects.

Blue is the Warmest Color

The film industry looks towards independent filmmakers to produce works that question the normal code of ethics with how sexuality is perceived in film. Blue is the warmest color by Abdellatif Kechiche achieved an unprecedented award for the two lead actresses along side the director winning the Palme dOr at Cannes earlier this year (Kermode, online, 2013). The exhausting love story not only is the center of a lesbian relationship but an eightminute sex scenes approaches new levels of explicit sexual content. It gained controversy for the director’s choices to push the actress’s to the limit in terms of the sexual content. It shows a cultural representation of a European style of relationship of sex being a natural progression in a loving relationship (Lichfield, online article, 2011). The reaction to this film mirrors the effortless appeal of this love story, having received a string of five star reviews. The regulation systems charted it at 18, which is the perfect age a young adult will understand  the philosophical content beneath the explicit imagery.

This film shows a clear representation of how the Board of classification systems are able to regulate sexual content to improve and enhance the choices made by the directors. Regardless of correct regulation what is important is that Kechiche chose to represent an accurate depiction of sexuality. In interview with Simon Frame it was suggested that this was achieved in Blue is the warmest color. “The backlash from the two actresses (straight) who were ‘actingas lesbians in Blue Is The Warmest Color,” show how unsimulated sex can  bring attention to a film. Frame explained that its necessary to consider how to depict a lesbian relationship accurately so that the press response won’t be negative – claiming the actresses were left feeling exploited.

Each of these directors wanted to provoke reaction by challenging conventional ways of depicting sex in cinema. Their choices are ultimately influenced by the media and classification boards as well as western attitudes towards sex and sexuality.

Chapter three

In this following chapter it will consider how classification systems vary from country to country starting with a detailed look at the British classification system, I will examine how the classification systems reflect popular attitudes and opinions in society. Comparing the British classification systems to France and America and how this reflects of independent filmmakers abilities to portray sex within film.

The film classification boards all have their own frameworks that are based on research carried out to indicate national opinion on the frameworks and juries to enable more considered response (Hamley, 2000, pg.6). These all have their pros and cons, representing how hard it is to devise a framework that will reflect a wide populations opinion (Cooke,  2005, pg.1). The frameworks differ from country to country yet all frameworks are used in  the regulation of films that show sexual content to appease multiple populations. The French classification systems have their government more involved in the film industry, which has created a more lucrative industry. All frameworks are based on public opinion on topics such as sex that show differences represented in article about the French attitude towards sex  that “both male and female, have a frank attitude to sex which is healthier than our  sniggering obsessiveness (Lichfield, online article, 2011).

The last framework that was conducted from public opinion by the British board of film classification (BBFC) was in 2005, which went through the same process as the first most extensive research carried out in 2000. The methodology of the research began with  targeting groups in town or cities in the UK with citizen juries which aimed to give a more considered response of the BBFC previous framework. This would then extend with more widespread research such as a national survey, roadshow/postal questionnaires and   website questionnaires. These are all to indicate how widely a finding is applicable (Hamley, 2000,pg.6). The BBFC frameworks have seen pros and cons from the opinions represented in the guidelines because its impossible for more liberal thinkers and for conservative   opinion to agree on the regulation of how sex, sexual violence and violence for examples are carried out by the BBFC. However, there is a clear indication of how the BBFC frameworks are considerably looking at how the social and historical morals have developed into conducting this research over the space of five years.

Public support for the BFFC has increased from 59% in 2000 to 63% represented in the 2004 research with there was in an increase of 7,000 contributors to the findings (Cooke, 2005, pg.1). 11,000 in total showing a clear indication how the film framework is involved around public social and historical moral with their attitudes to the importance of the film sector in Britain.

My questionnaire was conducted in Lewes, East Sussex that has a variety of liberal and conservative opinion. This was conducted to give a more recent view on the  misinterpretation of sex in mainstream cinema and how this implicates children. This will  gain an understanding on the opinions of sexual content and nudity within films and how this can benefit or detriment children’s attitudes towards sex.

Albert Banduras theory of social learning claims that the development of a child‘s personality and views of life is moulded by the social and behavioural patterns shown by perceived role models. They grow to imitate social and behavioural systems that they have been influenced by (Furnham, pg.174, 2008). From the questionnaire I conducted I was gaining information from parents with children aged 8-12 understanding their opinions of the BBFC framework  for regulation of sex with films and how appropriate they are for children. Bandura social learning theory links together perceived roles models in childhood. Such as role models within there preferred movies can develop an attitude towards topic such as sex. These are also implicated by the regulation of the films, which adhere to a framework that is collated by a wide spread public opinion. Within the questionnaire it was apparent that parents where careful over their regulation of what they perceive is appropriate for their children to watch (Blakeley, questionnaire, 2013).

Parental supervision brings a child up being dependent on the parent’s parental skill. Having  a variety of information about sexuality from films deemed appropriate by parents allows children to have a healthy understanding of sex. However, it is affected also from the content of the films children are watching and whether they give an accurate portrayal of a heterosexual or homosexual relationships. Within the questionnaire Ruth Francis’s response, ‘I’ve never seen a children’s movie that had a gay or lesbian relationship and most Disney movies have a romantic boy-meets-girl plot’ (Blakeley, questionnaire, 2013), the popularity of Disney movies means that there is a wide amount of the population that brings children up seeing an unrealistic account of a variety of sexual relationships. Furthermore, as much as the implications from films for children can be apparent with the repetition of their role   models behaviour. It limits the conclusion that this would have a dramatic affect on adult personality when it is apparent that fantasies are created in films and is it not a clear implication of social attitudes.

These conclusions don’t implicate how the BBFC frameworks can control and reflect social and historical morals towards sex. The BBFC framework draws in public opinion that varies from liberal and conservative views this brings the basis for what is appropriate for our  culture to view based on the ratings. Each culture has opinions and attitudes towards topics such as sex that are represented in society. Christianity is still hugely apparent in British culture and changes attitudes towards sex through such things are protesting. This is common within British culture for Christian activists to protest outside abortion clinics  showing explicit images of aborted foetuses. This was the case outside a clinic in Brighton where two activists were arrested for showing graphic images (Barrett, online, 2012). This is a representation of how British culture is affected by religious views. This was the topic of pregnancy where the protestors where showing consequences of sex. This was represented to Brighton a city filled with young students suggesting that they were attempting to preach their Christian attitude of abortion to students who might be affected by it. This gives the impression that sex is bad because it leads to the consequences of abortion being wrong in the beliefs of Christianity. These opinions are inevitability involved in the framework of the BBFC; as the methodology of their research was wide spread enough to account for a  variety of multi-cultures.

In each framework within different countries such as France public opinion would have been researched and collated to form their classification systems. In each countries different  social and historical moral are represented with their attitudes towards sex. Within the  French classification systems there is more involvement from the French Government. This also has pros and cons for systems providing sexual content within mainstream cinema. The French government within the press have had various gossips factual and false about their lack on monogamy in their marriages. Articles such as the relationship between Nicholas Sarkozy a French politician and his model wife having various affairs on each other. It was reflected in this article “Because you cheat on your wife, it does not mean you will cheat on your country (Jardine, online, 2010) showing that even from the hierarchy and social roles model in French society that monogamy if not berated but has little significance into the mechanics of their culture.

The French production sector varies dramatically to the systems in Britain. The French sector for film has created a more lucrative practise and allows for diversity of films produce and more support for filmmakers themselves. They would rarely be involved in the other art industries in France specially only taking in projects that are representative of their culture and are productions that having been produced before in other countries. The lucrative results for the producers are shown with the industry bringing themselves more into selfsufficiency more than the rest of Europe. The domestic revenue has resulted in 8090% of budgets being covered and only a small percentage of international sales is needed to gain profit from their films (Carcassonne, online, 2013). French system is dis-similar to how the British filmmakers are forced to fundraise for projects and Britain fails to make much profit. The French instead have the opportunity to get levies linked to their previous performance of their films that help build their success and support other films to come. This is controlled by the CNC Centre Nationale de la Cinematographie, which takes a percentage from the domestic revenue and puts it back into the funding for new projects (CNC, visit, 2013).

As much as the French systems enable filmmakers to gain money back off the domestic revenue of a films to give them some profit it isn’t essentially making much from international sales. They French market is so specific for what the French would gain from entertainment means that across various cultures is doesn’t have that ability to improve popularity. The British film sector doesn’t work like the French classification system where they gain more support from levies, yet there are still a considerable amount of films being made in the UK there just isn’t a demand domestically to produce revenue from independent films being shown in mainstream cinemas. This becomes more dependent on the demand for   Hollywood movies as they produce more advertising and gain more recognition in society where independent filmmakers don’t have enough spare money to advertise their films. As this is reflective of the how the society views entertainment all industries develop from what the market is calling for at the time of anyone making a film.

The systems are based on the development of societies attitudes towards sex and other topics shown within cinema. The French systems has shown their culture has more of a demand and expectation of entertainment of film produced by the French film sector as it reflects appropriately the key concerns and interests of their culture. The British film industry equally produces films that are representative of British society yet the demand from British society is not expectant on independent filmmakers but more generalised views from American Hollywood produce. The French and British both have their pros and cons in terms of how the classification systems work but it will always be dependent on how their societies support independent films and filmmakers. Shown within the concepts of Bandura social learning theory there is a development of how British society views sexual relationships from how American represents them in Hollywood films and how the British cultural views have  not developed into even a more varied opinion of how sex is represented.

The American Classification system the MPAA Motion Picture Association of America has been hugely criticised for not disclosing the names of the board members that rate American films. This is unlike any other system for film classification keeping the board names secret and preventing the involvement of American culture in rating films. Within a This film is not  yet rated a documentary by Dick Kirby he went under cover to expose the board members after several prolific filmmakers were given an excessive rating for sexual content within their films forcing them to appeal (This film is not yet rated, film, 2006). The American system for film classification is predominantly made up of personal opinion from the board members. If they feel the content is too sexually explicit they would place a F17 rating on the film that would prevent the filmmaker’s distribution. This would be because from the domestic   revenue in America they are specific about what rating they will show based on popularity. This film is not yet rated showed the challenges for an appeal on the grounds of unfair   rating. Appeals lack of constructive criticism from the board for potential cuts that could be made to improve the rating of a film. It is evident that the bias and specifics of what board members approve of with sexual content has remained the same since the documentary   was made in 2006.

In a newspaper article by The Guardian looking at the levels of violence over sexual content that is shown within the rating from the MPAA showed consistent levels of glorified violence and sexual subjectivity of women (Holpuch, online, 2013). This is represented in American culture with several high school massacre incidents such as the columbine shooting relating the link of glorified violence from video games rated by the MPAA resulting the acceptance  of violence. American culture also gives a clear image of women with films such as Basic Instinct by Paul Verhoeven where Sharon Stone was sexually objectified with specific camera angles and the action of her crossing her legs to reveal her vagina only for the male pleasure. This is a clear example of what was acceptable for the MPAA and would not have happen if the roles were reversed. The MPAA was represented within this is not yet rated as having very specific impressions of how women and men should be shown. This is hugely represented by there ratings of sexual content when they are quick to rate a film F17 that shows women gaining more pleasure from a sex scene than a man.

The board is made up of a variety of different ages and different genders but it is apparent from their rating that they stick to traditional 1960s view of how men and women should be perceived. Females are continually put in a submissive role and the men more dominant. The MPAA state from there guidelines to be a member that they should have children between the age of 718 and was revealed from This film is not yet rated that the majority did not adhere to these rules. The general consensus within a board of classification is that every decision should be justified. The ratings for children’s films were generally inappropriate showing more extreme violence instead of a natural healthy relationship between either between homosexuals or heterosexuals.

Blue is the warmest color is a recent French film that depicts an emotional love affair  between the two female protagonists. Representative of all the classification systems France are more accepting of foreign cinema and supporting new independent material. However, Blue is the warmest colour received an NC17 rating which even with the release of the film   it will be incredibly hard to get it to be sold internationally for revenue from cinema within America due to the unpopular certificate. The British rating was an 18; therefore no one  under the age of 18 would be able to view it. This is a similar rating of Blue is the warmest color yet British culture still have a slight demand from independent cinemas wanting to  show foreign films.

The British culture has remained following the same representation of women in a  submissive role and unrealistic relationships within films similar to the American view. This gains more recognition and finances their films because they are producing what the British market wants. Not only have the British film industry expressed a demand for their culture to view independent films but there is a lack of produce that depict loving relationships involved with sex in cinema like the French have. This has brought British culture in a rut of only viewing sex from an unrealistic and stylistic fantasy that is shown within mainstream cinema.


This dissertation has contextualise how sexual desires have been transformed into film. Sigmund Freud has given society a psychological analysis of how each human being has inner unconscious battles between healthy and unhealthy desires. They develop into behaviourism such as masturbation and sex. Depending on the context the conclusion of what is healthy and unhealthy from early childhood with the ability to control or become obsessive over bodily functions. The development of this function enables clear personality traits and behaviours in adulthood. From Freud’s theory you can begin to understand the instinctual desires of a humans and how they are processed in childhood. Freud’s theory does not relate to the modern culture because his sexist attitudes and lack of understanding of female development. He grouped men and women together in their development through the psychosexual behaviour and these limited views transpired in different religious attitudes towards sex as well.

Christianity and Greek mythology show the start of social attitudes towards sex developing through various cultures. Christian religion was the staple of chastity and created attitudes of sex being sinful and brought shame to your soul’s purity. They believed in monogamy, which was also apparent within ancient Greece and Rome. However, this suggested more inner strength to succeed to greatness. Yet through literature and scriptures the knowledge that homosexual relations and sex being pleasurable within ancient Greece and Rome showed that not all views on sex are to condemn it but also to release inner desires.

Foucault understandings and analysis of how these attitudes from Christianity and ancient GrecoRoman times shaped cultural attitudes towards sex. Even more apparent with my analysis on the films 9 Songs, Anatomy of Hell and Irreversible showing how cultural implications of sex in cinema has brought a mixed opinion of the appropriateness for British society. Britain has shown to still have a variety of multi-cultural attitudes towards sex and with the reviews of films that do show sexually explicit content being spoken about as sinful. These views that are publicised through newspapers advertise sex as being impure similar to the Christian views.

British culture has side tracked the artistic value that was gained from films such as 9 Songs which approaches sex like an extension of natural everyday behaviour. When artistic value   is forgotten about the content and context always needs to be evaluated to understand the reason for producing sexually explicit content. British culture relies on the regulatory systems such as the BBFC to classify films for viewing so they are aware of what they are about to view with specific rating expressing what will be shown.

These examples of independent filmmakers pushing boundaries with the amount of sex being shown and in what context it is shown in, will hopefully develop into a more diverse British film culture. Hopefully producing more films in the UK and reflecting the reality of sexual relationships in British society to benefit the growing generations into an educated attitude of sex. This would be very similar to the French system that even with there own limitations for the film industry being a lucrative sector they still use the platform of film to be able to express cultural views which has transpired into the French having a healthier more liberal attitude towards sex.

British culture has learnt to accept the attitude and view of sexuality and sexual relationship in cinema that doesn’t give an accurate view when most films are producing fantasies of sex and relationships. This doesn’t benefit teenagers understanding their own sexuality when it’s clear through Bandura social learning theory; children imitate those fantasised perceived  role models. The film industry has a gift of being able to use a large platform to relay important messages about life. The BBFC have a good system emplaced where there are still producing British independent films, however, if there were more funding emplaced it could have the ability to have a more deserve collection of films being produced.

The British cultural attitudes towards sex are changing into more liberal attitudes yet this is still not reflected in the films that are being produced in the UK. This is down to the classification systems framework that is based on a range of social opinion of how to regulate sex within cinema. However, the last framework that was conducted was in 2005 and since them views have changed. A more regular database of opinion and different sources might benefit how the BBFC function. This will hopefully gain the independent filmmakers more recognition within their own culture and help children growing up in Britain to get more from the platform of cinema.

My aim was to question how does censorship and cultural tradition corrupt the conception of sex in cinema? Through the works of psychologists and philosophy I have understood where sexual desires have come from and how the implication from religion and cultural views have developed how filmmakers show sex. The sex in cinema is regulated based on cultural opinion and it’s this opinion that limits what the reality of sexual relationships is because it isn’t formulated on a regular basis. The BBFC have specially stuck to using film just for entertainment value and as much as they focus on the providing new independent   filmmakers it doesn’t look at how the culture could interpret this only from a view of worry  they may offend British society. Rather than taking in the impact it could have to benefit society to give a continuation of realistic sexual relationships to bring a new generation up with a better understanding of their own sexuality.