There has always been controversy surrounding sex in the media, and it is still as rife as ever in the form of criticisms against many shows and films, from Game of Thrones to Fifty Shades of Grey. However, while graphic depictions of sex — or even just nudity — are commonly frowned upon, there are considerably less complaints about graphic depictions of violence, horror and death, despite the fact that there is a much larger portion of it in the media.
So why is violence more acceptable than sex? Surely, we should be much more offended at the sight of gruesome deaths, severed limbs, gushing blood and many other variants. Why is it that films known solely for their explicit horror — such as the Saw series or the many Final Destination films — are accepted as enjoyable to watch, but others, such as Fifty Shades of Grey (which does still have its fair share of controversial domestic violence), which are primarily concerned with sex, be deemed almost shameful to enjoy?
Game of Thrones, now leading up to its final season, has earned itself its own fair share of disapproval over the years with criticism concerning both the graphic depictions of sex and violence. However, much more alarm seems to be provoked by the unapologetic nudity and sex scenes.
George R.R. Martin, writer of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, previously shared his own view on the subject, commenting that he was “astonished” that there was more critical uproar about the nudity and sex than the common brutal depictions of gore, violence and death, in both the novels and the TV show:
I can write a scene and describe in detail a penis entering a vagina, and there will be a portion of the audience who get very upset about that. But I can write a scene about an axe entering a human skull, and nobody will complain about that. Generally speaking, I’m much more in favor of penises entering vaginas than of axes entering heads. People seem to accept the violence much easier than they accept the sex.
It would seem that this concern is particularly strong in parents, too. A study found that 80 percent of the parents surveyed were concerned about their children witnessing graphic sex scenes, while only 64 percent were concerned with them seeing graphic violence. Furthermore, while 70 percent were worried about full frontal nude shots, only 56 percent were worried about depictions of realistic violence. If you think about it, it seems absurd that we should be more comfortable with watching horrors and harm inflicted on others than seeing sex.
Actor William H Macy has also pointed out that this is a strong problem in the media, sharing the idea that:
While sex is a normal part of life, sometimes it does not seem so; people tend to act uncomfortable with the subject so much. Some have suggested that this prevalence of sex in every day life is actually what allows people to indulge in violent media more, with the theory that since most people are unlikely to experience extreme violence personally, it seems more like a fantasy.
James Franco shared the theory that sex has become more controversial than violence due to the fact that it is much further in reach and much more a part of ordinary life; adults are particularly concerned that sex in the media will have an undesirable influence on the youth.
However, perhaps it is time for society to progress from having sex categorized as taboo, especially when much more harmful subjects, such as violence, are readily discussed. To reiterate William H Macy: sex is good, violence is bad, and perhaps it’s time the media reflected this.
Cover image courtesy of Universal.