Bridgerton, Normal People, 365 Days – popular shows on streaming services are getting big views for getting hot and heavy. But are they healthy? Here are 5 ways sex scenes ruin your love life.
Mature written content warning.
Like many people during mid and post pandemic times, I’ve been watching a lot more TV. With things being locked down and travel outside the house limited, you inevitably find yourself hitting Netflix, Disney+ or one of the other services for some extra entertainment waiting for normal activities to be available again. Check out a bunch of the anime I’ve really been enjoying, for instance.
And there have been a lot more shows coming out. And so a slew of super popular shows have been doing the rounds – Normal People, Bridgerton, and 365 Days more recently, and older shows like House of Cards, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and the millions of other movies already out there. When shows pop up in our News feeds and get rave reviews, my wife and I always like to check them out in reviews and people’s opinions to see if they’re something we’d like to add to our viewing rotation.
Take Bridgerton for instance. On surface glance it looks like an alternate version of Downton Abbey – period drama and high society. Critics, fans, and Netflix themselves are calling it their biggest show ever. High praise indeed, and definitely had me interested.
And yet the comments section quickly painted a very strong picture of why it was so popular. Top comments on multiple posts, usually with 700+ Likes, include: “That staircase scene”, which is oral sex on the stairs as it turns out. “The Duke spilling seed”, “The Duke’s Butt”, “the way he *censored*”. I quickly got the point, and further research on the show shows multiple articles all saying much the same thing. The cast was even distraught when the show ended up in circulation on porn sites.
Insert any of the TV shows already mentioned, and the scores more added every day, and it’s been much the same.
Sex sells, that much is clear. And it always has. Sex on TV and in movies is nothing new, but even more left-leaning libertarian modern media outlets are now commenting on just how explicit TV is getting – forget even just prudes like me. Sex is a pretty big part of the human experience, so content creators are just tapping into that side of our lives.
But even when it’s not explicit, are sex scenes good for our relationships, or do sex scenes ruin your love life?
I’m a big believer in relationships. I believe healthy relationships are one of the most all-encompassing answers to some of the most profound needs of the human soul. And as such, I gotta call this out – I keep running into people who are experiencing frustration in their marriage, challenges in their dating, and inability to leave their singleness, because of this one reality – sex scenes ruin your love life.
You’ve probably heard enough of the arguments in favour of porn or even perhaps in favour of sex in TV (because it’s not porn… right?). I would like to offer you some counterpoints to consider for the health of your marriage or your future marriage.
#1: They can be more sexually stimulating than porn
There’s been a debate for a long time about whether or not sex scenes should be under the definition of pornography. Pornography tends to be defined as “being explicit” and intended to stimulate its audience.
But just because you can’t see an erection, an ejaculation, a detailed orgasm or a labia, doesn’t mean that the sexual enticement and arousal does not follow. In fact, having the context of a stronger narrative and better acting can drive the tension way up. Case and point – look at erotica – some can be quite descriptive, but much of it is inferred.
If you don’t believe me, look at any comments section on any show considered hot. Or the multitude of articles listing shows that have the hottest sex scenes. In fact Men’s Health in one article even labelled certain movies and TV shows as porn, and shows like Game Of Thrones even hired pornstars.
Why does this matter? Because the impacts of porn are very well documented. And to kid yourself that the same areas of your brain and sexual organs aren’t being triggered because it’s rated PG, PG-13, M, MA, or R is plain inaccurate. Fight The New Drug lists some high level points the research keeps telling us – sexual content affects your brain like a drug, it’s an escalating and addictive behaviour, and it affects your sexual tastes (more on that later).
If all that’s different is how much of their body you can see and what website or streaming service you see it on, that’s not different enough for your brain to know the difference.
#2: They bring a third person into the bedroom
Do you believe in threesomes? Are you a fan of polyamorous relationships? If not, don’t let sex scenes ruin your love life by bringing someone else into your bedroom.
What do I mean by that? I’ve had enough men and women tell me about how they haven’t been unable to get a certain sexual image out of their head. Increasingly it isn’t from an X-rated website but an M rated movie, sometimes even PG. The setting, the mood, the six pack, the angles, the rhythm, the choreography, the orgasm.
If you’ve got those mapped out in your head, how is the person you’re actually in a relationship with going to compete? You already have been wetting your appetite and other appendages on the imagery of the bodies of others going at it – where’s the space for your partner to be the one you share that with? There’s no room for real sexual utopia when you’re willing to consume someone else’s.
Sexologist Esther Perel has written and been interviewed multiple times on the over stimulus that erotic material provides and introduces as competition to your partner. More conservative researchers such as Patricia Weerakoon describe it as a slippery slope towards aggressive and/or consumeristic attitudes towards your partner.
As Solomon wrote, we can’t allow the little foxes into the marriage bed, and to overtly, repeatedly and consciously decide to consume sexual content featuring another group of people is inviting competition into every sexual encounter.
Or maybe commitment to sex scenes explain the absence thereof in some cases.
#3: They can be preferred to real relationships
The data is actually starting to get a bit terrifying on a phenomenon known as celibacy syndrome. This has become a significant issue in Japan, where it is actively affecting the marriage (and even the dating) rate in a profound fashion. More and more people are finding sexual alternatives to real people – dolls, temporary cafes, and yes – screens.
This isn’t a phenomenon locked into a single country. I find more and more people with low desire to move towards healthy relationship have settled on an alternative that doesn’t involve a real person in the relationship. I wrote much more about this and the related research in Celibacy Syndrome, Rejection, and Preferring Sex With A Screen.
In short – a real person cannot compete with a character designed often to put at ease the insecurities of its audience. Sex scenes are choreographed to perfection. Actors and actresses do absurd things to their bodies to make them look that tight-n-right for that 50 second scene. They’re willing to do things your partner or future partner might not.
They sound pretty great, but the one thing they can’t do is this:
They can’t love you back.
More on this in What Porn Teaches Us About Men.
#4: They frame your sexual desires
Something I got heaps of feedback on a long time ago in my writing career was entitled Great Sexpectations. In short, where do your sexual expectations come from? I wonder if you’ve ever thought about it. It really is the sexual elephant in the room.
What’s amazing about the human brain is just how much we are able to humanise and indeed sexualise a person, or even an object. Or an animal. Or a child.
For real. People are capable of doing it. We are all aware I hope of how terrible it is that paedophilia is a real and living thing in our world. Sexualising children well before their time.
Genuinely some people’s sexual feelings lead them down that path though don’t they. There are people who have married rollercoasters, and most recently in the press was a wedding between a man and his sex doll – and a large number of his friends were in attendance! “Love is love”… really?
Just how on earth does it happen? Honest question for you to consider – where do you think these people “discovered” their interests? The more people I talk to, the more I find the discoveries were made in front of screens.
The research keeps telling us over and over that the sexual content we consume doesn’t just help us discover our sexual desires – it actually frames them. Whether it’s orientation, taste, frequency, scenario, or desire for sexual violence (which keeps being depicted in increasingly explicit fashion), repeated consumption of such content is just making you want it more and more, and sex scenes ruin your love life by your own decisions.
#5: They change your standard of beauty
I think this is the hardest part about sexual depictions of any kind – they frame what you believe to be beautiful and exciting. This is absolutely devastating to a marriage, and I keep talking to person after person who has seen their marriage ravaged by the side effects of continual sexual consumption.
For instance, porn induced erectile dysfunction sounds funny but is devastating real marriages especially when you consider a third of young men are experiencing problems 50 years too early, and similarly anorgasmia is a huge issue among a significant percentage of women when a real man is present.
But it’s not just the married people – it’s the single people too. My heart breaks as I see men and women continually brag about how much they’re enjoying their sexual content, all the while they continually are unable to say yes to a real potential relationship. I’m convinced that the prevalence of sexual material is diluting the amazingly strong desire many people have for true companionship, but you’re not driven to go about it in a healthy way because the substitute is keeping you pre-occupied.
Fantasy. The illusion of choice. The sneaking suspicion that there’s something or someone better out there for you. It’s really hard to build a lifelong love with that attitude being stoked and inflamed by consuming sexual material.
The standard for a healthy marriage I keep coming back to is the one put forth in the Song of Songs. Enthralled with each other’s beauty, continually focused on each other, unwilling to allow anyone else to enter their secret garden of delight.
As Pastor John Burns puts it, healthy marriage is achievable when you decide to stay amazed. And that’s staying amazed by your spouse, not by porn, not by a sexual encounter in a book or a TV show or a movie, not by another person outside your relationship.
To choose someone for life means to choose them holistically, and to choose them every day. To choose their body, their mind, their heart, their spirit, their dreams. Isn’t that what true sexuality is really about? The ultimate celebration of yourself and of the other.
With no unwanted guests allowed ruining what is supposed to be a treasure and a privelge.
There are so many other dimensons to this topic. I could have included more about how you can’t be Pro-#MeToo but advocate for sexual content being free and increasingly explicit. I could have written about how many actors and actresses have deep regrets for doing certain scenes they were pressured into to sell a few more tickets.
And I know that there are heaps of people who would have been vehemently disagreeing with what I’ve been saying. But I would implore you to consider the state and the health of your own marriage and relationships, as well as whether or not the sexual content you consume is a factor in who you choose to date (or not).
How about you? Do you think sex scenes ruin your love life?