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Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Those are just a few of the on-screen celebrity couples whose intense chemistry and passionate love scenes have mesmerized movie goers for years. Their desire for each other coupled with impossible circumstances in their make-believe lives create some of the most memorable films of all time. And we just love to watch them!

We talk about them, joke about them, use their one-liners in conversations. And everyone knows when things aren’t going so well in real life, a little bit of escapism goes a long way. But does this form of escapism become a problem in real life? Now unless you’re into spending days on end doing nothing but watching flicks, I’m not talking about the simple act of watching a movie here. I’m specifically speaking about love scenes. Do they impact the way we think and feel about real life sexual encounters outside of marriage? Do the casual sex, accidental sex, and amusing sex situations in the movies we watch start chipping away at our sense of morality and condition us to be more accepting of sex outside of marriage? Does what we see on the screen make it easier to relax our standards in real romantic relationships?

I believe the answer to each question above is “yes.” Film and video are powerful tools for making impressions and sending messages. The more you care about the characters and what happens to them, the more willing you are to overlook their sins. The more frequently things like casual sex, contraception, and cohabitation are presented as normal in the movies, the more accepting people will become of those things. You’ve Got Mail, Pretty Woman, The Bridges of Madison County are all movies ranked as the most popular love stories, yet, while each one presents a dilemma, none of them are moral dilemmas except for in The Bridges of Madison County where, by the time the protagonist makes her decision to remain in an unhappy marriage, she has already, and quite willingly committed adultery. The issues of sex outside of marriage are not only treated as normal and a no-brainer, but are built into the story to float the idea that sex = love.

There are some movies where the sex scenes and discussions about sex are a necessary aspect of the story and not necessarily inappropriate for adults. One of those movies is Hope Springs with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. The story revolves around an older married couple trying to revive their stagnant marriage. Despite the comedy, it’s a fairly accurate commentary on an issue many aging married couples experience and I thought it was done quite well. I’m willing to forgive some things for the sake of a story like this.

My point is, a discriminating viewer has the advantage over Hollywood. Since our goal is heaven, we of course want to guard our senses against anything that might drag us off course, and sex scenes can definitely have that affect. We need to be in control of our senses; we need to carefully select what we see and hear because it directly affects what we think, say and do. Some people choose to never go to the theater or rent movies and don’t have television sets in their homes. There is nothing wrong with this at all, but most people don’t go this route. Most people do go to the theater and do watch television. If you’re one of those people, all you need to do is have some personal rules of thumb in place:

  • Investigate the movie before you see it. I highly recommend visiting DecentFilms.com for a Catholic perspective on current films. Steven Graydanus, the featured critic, gives excellent reviews and has steered me in the right direction every time. You can also visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website at USCCB.org, click on the “Media” link and find a review on just about any film out. They also provide a rating system so you know what’s appropriate for children.
  • Know your celebrities. There are some movie stars whose movies I just won’t go see because their track record tells me there will be nudity or raunchy situations.
  • Have limits. I’ve walked out of theaters or stopped a movie in first five minutes many times because I have my limits. Don’t be afraid to get up and walk out, although if you investigate in advance, you won’t lose the cost of the tickets and popcorn.
  • Turn your head! There are many movies out there that are worth watching and when a sex scene comes up, I turn my head. My parents were always telling us kids to turn our heads when commercials or other inappropriate shows came on. If I turn my head and the sound track is a problem, I hit the mute button! Just because it’s in the movie doesn’t mean you have to watch it.

Feel free to send your comments and questions to asklisa@catholicmatch.com.

 

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26 Comments

  1. Chavel-895977 May 13, 2014

    Yeah it does…raise expectations that go unfulfilled and in many cases these unfulfilled expectations lead to divorce. Marriage is not a perpetual and continual romance, lovefest, and sexathon, but folks, men and women, don’t get that….And unfortunately this occurs in Faith Based Marriages also as no interpersonal relationship between a man and a women is not affected…

    There’s plenty of Romance, Happiness, Beautiful moments, mixed in with boredom, irritation, lack of interest, ups and downs, and life in general…

    My 2cents…

  2. Fran-1015453 May 13, 2014

    Yes, it can especially when you’re younger. Once you’re in your golden years you know better, or atleast you should because of life lessons and experiences.

    The TWO GREATEST COMMANDMENTS are my guide.
    And as a wise and good priest once told me, Jesus never condemned the woman at the well. As a matter of fact the woman who was dragged in front of him caught in the throws of adultary was not condemned.

    Relationships are hard work. If both parties are for real about God being in it, that’s the most important thing besides lifting each other up when we get weak or we fall from the burdens we carry.
    God knows who we are even when we’re fooling ourselves. He knows what we need. Thank goodness His ways are not like our ways. He is merciful and wants us to be merciful.

    At this late stage in my life, If the right person comes my way, and I’ve given things time to really get to know him, I will be going for the gusto!!!! Yep, I most certainly will.
    I’m no spring ,chicken.
    I know I’m in God’s hands
    I am going to fully know whether I want to be with this person or not. If I marry again I WILL HAVE A PARTNER WHO WILL BE as great in bed as he is out of bed. We must be sexually compatible.

    • John-49562 May 15, 2014

      Man, I wish I could give your post a thumbs’ up, Fran! Spot on!

  3. Sarah-1079699 May 13, 2014

    Growing up, I hated chick flicks… And now I know why: They just remind me of something I’m never going to have. A guy is not going to be willing to marry me in 2.5 hours. My first impression alone is never going to be enough to convince a guy to change his whole lifestyle for me. I’m not going to get 3 or 4 proposals at once. I am never going to find a man that never has to pee or fart. And sex on the first date, no matter how unbelievable, will not get me a life-long commitment, either. None of that stuff is ever going to happen.
    And, little by little, I’m becoming okay with that.
    Because I never wanted a perfect hero. I wanted someone I could have an argument with and laugh about it later. I still want someone who’s stubborn enough to hold their own against me. I want someone who has a few flaws – because then we can work on becoming better people together rathee than apart. And I’m learning to be okay with the fact that this often takes a few years.
    Not a couple of days or even weeks. Just not feasible.

    • Chavel-895977 May 14, 2014

      You got sound head on your Shoulders..GL finding what you’re looking for and Best Wishes…

      Chavel

  4. Mike-1039252 May 13, 2014

    Hollywood is only interested in making money, and they don’t care how they make just as long as they make it.
    The choice is God’s will for your love life, or Hollywood’s.
    If you don’t serve God, then who do you serve?

  5. Tina-687323 May 13, 2014

    It’s not just Hollywood movies though. Everywhere we look we are presented with images of what a ‘perfect’ relationship is and what it looks like. The problem is there is no perfect relationship – a couple might look happy in public but who really knows what is going on behind closed doors – and people themselves are complex and vastly different. What is normal and ‘works’ for one couple is not necessarily going to work for another – particularly where speed is concerned. As far as sex is concerned, I think it’s more that secular society has drummed into us that in a romantic relationship, married or not, we must be having sex, and we must be having a certain amount and a certain quality – therefore Hollywood puts 1st/2nd/3rd date sex in its movies, and writers put it in their books, and for a real life couple to go against that ‘expectation’ is very hard indeed and probably impossible unless you have a supportive partner of the same faith – and unfortunately not all of us have that luxury.

    • Tina-687323 May 13, 2014

      To clarify, I’m talking about months, not days/dates & in a loving relationship – very different from jumping into bed with a near stranger. However Hollywood is definitely not helping: until there is secular/public acceptance that waiting until marriage is a good thing or at least a valid decision and not strange or abnormal, then those of us in Catholic/nonCatholic relationships will continue to have to make difficult choices that in reality are no choice at all.

  6. David-1054431 May 13, 2014

    This article is right on. For me, once in a blue moon there might be a film with some sexual content that isn’t quite in keeping with my moral beliefs, but that film has enough other strong points that make up for it. But for the most part, I don’t watch Hollywood relationship movies. Hollywood has very little sense of what true love is, let alone delayed gratification.

    What’s actually more problematic for me are TV series. I have been a fan of both Frasier and Seinfeld in the past. I found them to be truly hilarious comedies that make smart observations about life … except for the episodes where the plot revolves around casual unmarried, uncommitted sexual encounters. I’m one of those people who enjoys re-watching things I’ve seen before if I truly thought it was great. A number of times I have re-watched episodes of Seinfeld or Frasier on DVD and enjoyed the clean ones immensely. But when I’d come to an episode that I knew from past viewing (or from reading a plot synopsis) was tawdry sexual comedy, I would refrain from watching it. I know a lot of people would think that prudish. That’s fine; they’re free to think whatever they want.

    Of course, the fact that my favorites are that many years old tells you I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of current popular entertainment! And frankly I don’t care. Occasionally in a social situation the topic turns to entertainment and it soon it becomes clear I’m not very on top of what’s currently hot. Some people tell me I’m missing out. Some people say, “Gosh, what on earth do you do in your spare time?” But I say there are so many interesting experiences to be had in life. The problem is one of finding time to do everything I’d like to do – even with TV out of the picture.

    I look at this way. When I’m on my deathbed some day, I may regret that I never got around to partaking of some activities. But I seriously doubt I’ll be saying, “Gee, I really wish I’d watched more TV.”

  7. Mariella-959684 May 13, 2014

    I think there’s another aspect that’s important when discussing ‘hollywood-style’ romance, especially for women. The screenplays portray perfect men. Men who always say the right thing and, usually, have a depth in sentiment very similar to those of women. Many of my friends have literally broken up relationships with wonderful guys because they didn’t somehow fit the romantic comedy pattern and were totally convinced that there were men out there who would.
    So it’s not only the sex scenes or the being shaked up without marriage, it’s also the promoting of impossible standards of men that women, especially those who’ve dated very little, believe are actually possible.

    • Liz-609023 May 14, 2014

      You’re right there. I won’t go into what I know about men. Let’s just say men are way more shallow than women expect. At least they were when I was younger.

      • David-1054431 May 16, 2014

        Speaking as a man, I will back you up on that. Lots of men really are amazingly shallow. It bothers me too. Gives us all a bad name. It’s not an exaggeration the way many guys place inordinate emphasis on women’s physical attributes. I confess I often find myself falling into it too.

        However, I have to say I’ve also been surprised in my adult life at how shallow I’ve found so many women to be. It’s just that women’s shallowness manifests itself a different way. It’s less concrete and harder to see. There are lots of solid guys who have decent jobs, are sensible, and have no addictions and no real drama in their lives to speak of. But their one shortcoming is that they don’t have anything particularly flashy about them. So women don’t go for them. primarily because they don’t find these men glamorous or “exciting” or don’t find him possessing of masculine swagger. It’s easier for women’s rejection of such men to appear to be legitimate choice, both to observers as well as the women doing the rejecting. But look long enough and you’ll see a consistent pattern, the solid “nice guy” who can’t get anywhere with women.

        • Chavel-895977 June 1, 2014

          So true David…unless you running some serious game or drama, as most of these women “profess” not to want, you won’t get nowhere with them…And then when you do run game you have to know their shallowness, the little pubescent teenager in them that allowed them to have game run on them is not worth Marriage Material…If you don’t realize that and make the mistake of marrying them you’re in a world of hurt with the eventual comments of “you’re not the same man I married”, “I’m not happy”, etc….Which will eventually lead to divorce…Divorce is fine between childless adults, stuff happens, but the damage to the children is what these drama queens don’t grasp….

          My 2cents

      • Chavel-895977 June 1, 2014

        Nah, I’ve found that to be the opposite…On this site for example, I witness shallowness from “women” on a weekly basis…Which is fine, that is their absolute right…But to lump only men as being shallow is disingenuous and a refusal to admit the pubescent fuzzy ideals of a mate we all have in our heads…

        My 2cents….

    • Chavel-895977 June 1, 2014

      Sure you right….

  8. Vincenzo-1014259 May 13, 2014

    I have to quote a previous reply, by Mariella.

    “So it’s not only the sex scenes or the being shaked up without marriage, it’s also the promoting of impossible standards of men that women, especially those who’ve dated very little, believe are actually possible.”

    I see people discussing what they find enticing in a man/woman, but what should really matter or be enticing is LOVE. That unique love which comes from the Cross. The love which leads to salvation. That is the only real love. Leave the excitement to the heathens. Otherwise one day you’ll see that you can’t have that “magic” and turn your back on your engagement and never marry, or worse be unfaithful because you need that sensation to make your life meaningful in your eyes.

  9. Michael-410923 May 14, 2014

    Who watches those movies? They are unrealistic. In contrast, the movies where the hero beats up all the bad guys then gets a kiss, that’s more realistic! (joking). Seriously, entertainment must be exciting or it wouldn’t sell. Pretty Woman’s excitement was 1)removal from bad life 2)love 3)attractive guy 4)guy who was rich.

    I think a previous article of Lisa’s (don’t just go on one date, give the other another repeat chance) was good. Also dating but within a community that acts as a buffer to expectations (or indirectly teaches partners how to fulfill some of their partner’s expectations) works for some.

  10. John-992356 May 14, 2014

    Movies are an amazing art form. The immersive experience fools the brain so effectively that it releases the same nuero-transmitters that are released when the experience is actually happening! This is caused by “mirror cells” (Google it!). These are the “empathy cells” in our brain.

    For example, we all know that when we do a kindness to someone it changes the chemistry in both our brain and the recipient’s brain almost identically. What’s interesting is that anyone who witnesses the act of kindness also experiences that same nuero-transmitter flood.

    This is why we feel things we know are not actually happening. The brain takes over (as we suspend our disbelief), and convinced our experience is real, starts releasing the nuero-transmitters deemed appropriate for the (contrived) situation. …and here’s the tricky part…

    Aeons and aeons of genetic selection have brought us to this moment. All of us have traveled the same path in that way…”You have been brought here at great price”. The brains that exist today are here because of the genetics and choices of their ancestors. The ones that made the appropriate choices got to pass on the genetics. The brains learned stuff. So when we see a movie and have emotional experiences during the cinematic spectacle, our brains learn…something, because the ones that learned, got to pass on that trait.

    What did you learn today?

  11. Martin-856464 May 14, 2014

    From the age of nine until the age of forty one the only emotion that I allowed myself to feel or acknowledge was anger witch could become rage in the blink of an eye. I went thru therapy and I went from hating myself to loving myself. Part of my healing was to acknowledge and accept all of my emotions and in doing so my favorite movies are Hallmark Movies. I also enjoy the other movies that cause me to feel my emotions, but I don’t believe that I could ever be lucky enough to have the fairy tale ending that is in the movies !!!!!!!

  12. James-590051 May 14, 2014

    I couldn’t agree more with this article! Our media today has fooled us into thinking that casual sex leads to a fairy tale ending. In reality that hookup turns into a one nighter or just more booty calls. And it’s just not in chick flicks either. Look at any action movie, Iron Man is a great example. In the first movie, it starts out with Iron Man waking up with a women in his bed that gets sent home promptly while his assistant (the good girl) looks at that girl with shame. However Iron Man is still the likable strong hero. He ends up being with his assistant in the end. It sends the message that guys should be hooking up but to only settle with the good girl. Problem is that ‘good girl’ has been worked over by those Iron Man types thinking that they were going to magically be in a wonderful relationship after they hookup (the chick flick affect). Media forms our values and morals if they are not instilled in us by parental or church guidance. If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.

    • Chavel-895977 May 14, 2014

      Spot on…

    • Michael-410923 May 15, 2014

      Well written, James.

      Movies like Iron Man, Pretty Woman, etc have male characters with above-average abilities or resources. It takes a work of art to show downsides. Wolf of Wall Street is three hours long and repeatedly portrays the same temptations the character gives in to…it is too much sensory overload and I think Scorsese wanted the audience to be numb to understand the fall of the main character. I don’t recommend that movie (portrayal of majority of the seven sins), but it is a parable of sorts concerning individualism.

      “The Place Beyond The Pines” is more down to earth (I can’t believe I’m approving any Ryan Gosling movie, lol). Roadie comes back to town with the circus, finds his old flame is raising his kid. Half-formed fatherhood stirrings arise, but the outcome isn’t sugar-coated.

      • David-1054431 May 16, 2014

        I’ll recommend another Ryan Gosling movie. It’s a little-known, overlooked gem of a movie called “Lars and the Real Girl”. The premise sounds deceptively unwholesome, but in fact the content of the movie could almost be rated G. It’s a wonderful story of maturing and the human capacity for kindness. It’s also a rare Hollywood movie that portrays religion positively and respects the notion of unmarried romantic partners foregoing sex. It was a box office failure, which sadly tells you something about the culture we live in. But it’s a great movie. Watch and enjoy.

  13. Joe-786218 May 15, 2014

    Life isn’t fair, was never meant to be fair. People aren’t perfect. Neither are relationships. When people internalize that truth, they are free to approach relationships with a more realistic mindset. Love is not a feeling, it is an action. Feelings come and go, but one can choose the action every day. Something Hollywood doesn’t show well.

  14. Marisa-1082131 May 18, 2014

    So glad I read this article – it inspired me to walk out of a film just last night.

    • David-1054431 May 18, 2014

      I am so curious! If it’s not too nosy of me to ask, what movie did you walk out of, and why?

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