10 Boundary-Breaking Movie Sex Scenes [NSFW]

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Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now is an intense and effective psychological thriller, acclaimed at the time of its release and only more respected with with each passing year. It has also been the topic of a long-standing controversy: a key sex sequence between stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie was rumored to be, well, not quite simulated.

At long last, we’ve got a credible source confirming the story: Peter Bart, the Variety editor and film commentator, was a Paramount executive during the film’s production, and claims in his new book, Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob, (and Sex), that he visited the set on the day that the scene in question was shot. While watching, he writes, “it was clear to me they were no longer simply acting: they were fucking on camera.” Sutherland has denied the writer’s claim, but if Bart is telling the truth, then Don’t Look Now would presumably mark the first occasion of unsimulated sexual intercourse in a mainstream motion picture. With that belated honor bestowed, let’s take a NSFW look at some of the other boundary-breaking sex scenes of cinema.

A Free Ride

These things are difficult to track precisely, but it is generally agreed that this eight-minute movie from 1915 is the earliest known “stag” film (or, at least, the oldest surviving one). Director “A. Wise Guy” (ho, ho) tells the tale of a wealthy gent who picks up a pair of female hitchhikers in his Model-T and ends up engaging in a bit of roadside diversion. And there’s the durability of pornography: nearly 100 years later, and they’re still working that plot.

Blow-Up

Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 British-Italian co-production caused a sensation when it was released stateside; American audiences were fascinated by its portrait of swinging London — specifically, its casual attitudes towards sex and nudity, as manifested in the notorious encounter between the fashion photographer protagonist (David Hemmings) and two teenage girls (Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills). That scene — which included glimpses of pubic hair, a strict no-no on American screens — led the MPAA to refuse its approval seal to the film. MGM released it anyway, to great success; its ubiquity, along with other controversial films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, would lead to the abandonment of the production code in favor of the ratings system we know today.

In The Realm of the Senses

This 1976 French-Japanese co-production concerned the graphic sexual affair between a gangster businessman and one of his servants, a former prostitute, in mid-1930s Japan. Japanese films were strictly forbidden from showing pubic hair or sex organs, but director Nagisa Oshima gleefully did both, at length. He also included an orgy, food play, masochism, fellatio, and much, much more. The most infamous scene, however, found the pair engaging in a round of autoerotic asphyxiation with a scarlet red scarf. The picture was controversial, to say the least; it was censored in Japan, and when it was shipped to the States for the 1976 New York Film Festival, it was seized and held by US Customs as pornography.

Blue Velvet

David Lynch brought kink into mainstream cinema with his still-shocking 1986 effort Blue Velvet, a tricky bait-and-switch that begins as an innocuous portrait of small-town life before degenerating into a disturbingly lurid coming-of-age story. The big turn comes when our All-American hero (Kyle McLachlan) finds himself in the closet of sultry nighclub singer Dorothy (Isabella Rosellini); she discovers him and forces him to strip at knifepoint, but they’re interrupted by nitrus oxide-sniffing Frank (Dennis Hopper), and… well, that’s when things get really weird.

Basic Instinct

Paul Verhoeven’s erotic thriller caused a firestorm when it hit theaters in spring of 1991, both for its allegedly homophobic content and its graphic sex and violence. The MPAA originally hit it with an X rating for a lengthy sex scene between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone — specifically, for the time Douglas spent doing what George Carlin used to call “playing in the sandbox.” That 45 seconds of activity was restored for a home video release of the “director’s cut,” and a cottage industry was born. Of the excised footage, Roger Ebert wrote: “‘It didn’t seem like 45 seconds to me,’ I said to my date. ‘It never does,’ she said.”

Secretary

S&M finally went mainstream in Steve Shainberg’s 2002 black comedy, which featured Maggie Gyllenhaal as a socially awkward and rather unskilled secretary who enters a dom/sub relationship with her attorney boss, played by James Spader (of course). The film features spirited rounds of spanking, humiliation, and prop play — though, of course, the final scenes find their relationship taking on an even more unexpected twist.

Bound

Sapphic encounters had been used for male titillation in American cinema for years — nay, decades. But something was different in the Wachowski Brothers’ breakthrough 1996 neo­-noircaper thriller; there was a raw, sweaty authenticity to the lesbian sex scene shared by Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon. Credit is probably due to Susie Bright, the feminist writer and lesbian activist who the Wachowskis hired as a sex consultant for the picture. She reportedly choreographed the girl-on-girl encounter, and though it is certainly well-staged (in a single unbroken shot, no less), it doesn’t feel (as lesbian scenes so often do) like a show put on for the camera. It plays like it’s just for them. Which, of course, makes it that much hotter.

Brokeback Mountain

Gay issues had been broached in mainstream movies before Ang Lee’s 2005 film, but male-on-male sexuality was frequently either demonized (as in Cruising) or kept chaste (as in Philadelphia). There was none of that in Brokeback Mountain; from their first sexual encounter, a rough and frank rendezvous in a tent, stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger don’t shy away from the physical (and, later, emotional) intensity of the tale.

The Brown Bunny

Vincent Gallo’s 2003 art film was a cause celebré at that year’s Cannes Film Festival for several reasons: its bloated length, its navel-gazing tendencies, its star’s war of words with critic Roger Ebert. But it became most notorious for Gallo’s sex scene with Chloë Sevigny, a frank and explicit sequence featuring an apparently unsimulated act of fellatio — not something frequently engaged in onscreen by a name actress. In response to the scene, Sevigny was dropped by the William Morris Agency. A “source” there said, “The scene was one step above pornography, and not a very big one. William Morris now feels that her career is tainted and may never recover.” Sevigny went on to sign with Endeavor, who got her plenty of film gigs and a regular role on the acclaimed HBO series Big Love.

Team America: World Police

“Rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language — all involving puppets.”