One of the first sexy scenes I remember watching was in the film Poetic Justice. Janet Jackson’s character was sitting in the backseat of a car, unbuttoning her blouse for her lover, a coy smile playing on her face. The camera then pans down at what her fingers are doing & reveals the crease in between her breasts.
In that moment of brief voyeurism, my father’s voice disrupted my consciousness, prompting me to look away.
“Close your eyes, Ev’Yan!” he exclaimed quickly. His tone provoked a deep kind of humiliation within me, though I didn’t understand why.
In all fairness, what was happening on the screen wasn’t a sex scene at all, only the start of one, as Janet Jackson’s character had little time to undo her last button before her boyfriend gets shot in the head by a couple of thugs.
Still, this brief moment in my own personal history stands as one of the first & most vivid experiences I had with indirect sexuality.
I was four years old.
My parents exposed my sister & I to R rated films when we were quite young, feeling that our infantile minds were capable of holding & understanding such mature images. Because of this, I was faced with some very interesting (not to mention confusing) ideas of sex growing up.
I saw love scenes long before I ever had The Sex Talk with my parents, so I maintained a state of bewilderment every time I was asked not to look.
Even when my father’s command to shield my eyes during love scenes was done with playfulness to diffuse the awkwardness of the situation, having to look away suggested wickedness happening on screen that was worse than any kind of blood & gore.
Having to close my eyes implied a depravity about sex & sexuality, one that was severely detrimental to my precious young mind. Sex became this scary, forbidden thing, & when, in a movie, the plot shifted to the bedroom & clothes began to peel off, I felt terrified.
As an adult, I can understand why those scenes were restricted from my sight. After all, many sex scenes border on pornographic (however softcore) & no parent wishes to expose their child to pornography.
I can also understand the reasons my parents chose to protect me from such blatant depictions of nudity & intercourse. They wanted to preserve my innocence.
But there were many contradictions within their methods of exposure & restriction.
I was allowed to see graphic portrayals of rapes, beatings, mutilations, & lynchings amongst Black people in Civil War-era films (for “educational” purposes).
I was allowed to see striking images of drug use, violent gang activity, war crimes, & domestic battery between fictional characters & their families on screen.
I was even allowed to see films with semi-evil & disturbing overtones (I watched The Shining when I was eight).
In these instances, I was seldom told to look away.
But when it came to images of sex — a reenactment of one of the most essential & beautiful facets of human nature — my child eyes were covered by the strong, calloused palms of my father. Always.
It’s worth mentioning that I’ve never seen sexual content in any film — as a child or an adult — that was so explicit that it damaged my being; I’ve never wanted to un-remember a sex scene.
The lynchings & violent rapes in my “Black history lessons”, however, are permanently stamped into my consciousness. It is those “educational” images that I wish I could forget.
I am twenty four & I still find myself cringing during sex scenes. Perhaps out of residual mortification of the past, but likely out of habit.
I don’t allow my eyes to watch the lush images of skin & sex on the screen. I deliberately look away. That’s what I’ve been conditioned to do, after all.
For me, there is an underlying (& overwhelming) embarrassment that often comes with viewing images of sex, even as a sexually active adult fully independent of my parents.
It’s clear that the moral laws that were laid before us when we were young are prevalent. We’ve had decades to rehash, rehearse, & recycle our thought processes during pivotal moments of our growth & adaptation into maturity, even if those thoughts are based on lies.
Those lies become habits, those habits become imbedded in our personal story. And because these lies are a part of our personal story, we’ve embraced them & carry them over into every journey we face.
We then walk this earth feeling wounded without ever really knowing why.
But our deepest, darkest issues surrounding sexuality can be solved when we take time & care to reexamine our past & then question its duplicities.
We have a choice.
We have the ability to identify the falsehoods & we can choose the way we want to think, rather than continue to think what we’re used to thinking.
We can choose to appreciate the images of any sexual act — in mainstream film, in porn, in the reflection of our mirrors — & view it without shame or embarrassment.
We can choose to transcend the lies & come to our own conclusions, our own truths.
We can choose to celebrate sex scenes as an homage to one of the most significant parts of our humanhood: sex.
I am making that choice.
I’ve immersed myself in erotic images & films this year to challenge my unhealthy reactions & create a new thought pattern: sex-positivity.
Slowly I am cultivating a fondness for sex scenes as an expression of the best & most integral part of our human nature.
And as a woman who is learning to honor the beauty of her sexuality, I have no reason to look away anymore.
Q: What was the first love scene that you saw in a film? And what do you do — how do you feel — when you seen sex scenes now as an adult? Do you cringe? Do you blush? Do you close your eyes out of habit? Why?