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.
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