Desire and Pleasure in Mainstream Media

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Whenever women are in charge of filming sex scenes, or whenever men and women collaborate on them, we get a very different representation of female desire, female sexuality, various representations of pleasure, relationships, attachment, and possibilities of satisfaction and fulfillment. Female orgasms are still rarely depicted and are often misrepresented, while male orgasms are still presented as the norm for portraying sexual hetero-normative encounters on mainstream television, film, and media, mis-educating generations of men about female sexuality. However, in the last few years, we have a few inspiring examples of what desire and sex look like outside of rape culture, and beyond the hetero-normative spectrum.

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Sex Education (Season 1, 2019) – British comedy-drama web television series, created by Laurie Nunn. Directed by Ben Taylor and Kate Herron. The show follows “a socially awkward high school virgin who lives with his sex-positive sex therapist mother. He teams up with the whip-smart bad-girl Maeve to set up a clinic to deal with their fellow students’ weird and wonderful sex and relationship problems.”

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On the Basis of Sex (2018) – directed by Mimi Leder, produced by Robert W. Cort, written by Daniel Stiepleman, and edited by Michelle Tesoro. The history of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her feminist and supportive husband Marty Ginsburg, their amazing family, and their fight against gender-based discrimination in the U.S.

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This film does not have any sex scenes, out of respect for Justice Ginsburg, but it does have one love scene and several moving relationship scenes that establish the kind of equality and partnership that the couple had throughout their long marriage.

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A Discovery of Witches (Season 1, 2018) – based on the All Souls Trilogy by historian and novelist Deborah Harkness, this show premiered in the UK in September 2018, and is written by a team of mostly female writers, including Kate Brooke, Tom Farrelly, Charlene James, Sarah Dollard. Except for the first two episodes that were directed by Juan Carlos Medina, the rest of the season was directed by two women, Alice Troughton and Sarah Walker. The executive producers are all women, including Deborah Harkness, Jane Tranter, Ashley Pharoah, Julie Gardner, as is the show’s cinematographer, Petra Korner. Sky Vision is a production and distribution company founded in 2012 with the Managing Director, Jane Millichip, at its head. This is the story of a forbidden relationship between a witch and a vampire.

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All the sex and love scenes in the first season are exclusively centered on the female pleasure.

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The Crown (Season 2, 2018) – created and principally written by Peter Morgan. Executive producers: Peter Morgan, Stephen Daldry, Andy Harries, Philip Martin, Suzanne Macki, Matthew Byam-Shaw, Robert Fox, Tanya Seghatchian, Nina Wolarsky, Allie Goss. The history of the British royal family as presented from the points of view of Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret.

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Season two explores Princess Margaret’s love life and marriage to the bisexual (and poly-amorous) photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones.

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Sweetbitter (2018) – based on the novel of the same name by Stephanie Danler. Executive producers include: Stuart Zicherman, Stephanie Danler, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Sarah Esberg, Richard Shepard. Produced by Donna E. Bloom. This show follows Tess who lands a job at a celebrated New York restaurant, and is swiftly introduced to the world of drugs, drinking, love, lust, dive bars, fine dining and fine wines, and quickly has to learn to navigate the chaotically alluring, yet punishing life she has stumbled upon.

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She’s Gotta Have It (Season 1, 2017) – created by Spike Lee and based on his 1986 film of the same name, which is generally considered less progressive in terms of gender and sexuality, this show allows Spike Lee to exercise his feminist muscles and was renewed for second season on Netflix. Executive producers: Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee. It follows a sex-positive polymorphous protagonist Nola, an artist in gentrified Brooklyn, who is dating men and women, exploring her sexuality, her relationships, and her self-actualization as an artist. Arguably, the most interesting relationship and sex scenes in the first season are between Nola and Opal.

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Call Me By Your Name (2017) – written by James Ivory, based on the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman. It is the third and final installment in Luca Guadagnino’s thematic desire trilogy, following I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015), which also make this list of intersectional and feminists portrayals of desires. Most queer narratives of love and desire are portrayed in mainstream media through external (and often abusive or violent) conflict and obstacles – we are conditioned to think of love as difficult and heart-breaking – but this is an homage and celebration of love, desire, and friendship among all the characters and not just the two main male protagonists. 

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Other great examples include such films as 20th Century Women (2016), Far From the Madding Crowd (2015), Magic Mike (2012) and Magic Mike XXL (2015), A Bigger Splash (2015), I Am Love (2009), Stealing Beauty (1996) and basically anything Ryan Gosling is in.

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In television, check out, Broad City (2014-2019), Being Erica (2009-2011), and of course the mothership of female (and some gay and lesbian) desire, Sex and the City (1998-2004).

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This entry was posted in Feminisms, Film, Love, TV and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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