Prudish opposition to steamy scenes overlooks how desire is part of the cinematic experience

Not one, but two shower sex scenes take place in Michael Mann’s 2006 adaptation of Miami Vice. For Jamie Foxx and Naomie Harris, a hard day’s work ends with tender lovemaking, their bodies glistening beneath the showerhead. Later, the film’s star-crossed lovers, Colin Farrell and Gong Li, cap off a rapturous night in Havana by canoodling as they rinse and repeat. Although these scenes aren’t essential to the film’s plot of undercover cops trying to bring down an international drug cartel, I can’t imagine Mann’s brooding, trigger-happy crime drama without the electrifying passion and evocative romance to balance out its steely, macho posturing.

Anyone with a pulse knows that in most contexts sex can make a movie a lot less dull. Desire, after all, fuels the cinematic experience; it pulls us into the screen like voyeurs. Yet on social media a not-marginal opposition to sex in the movies has taken off among some film buffs, whose quibbles go hand-in-hand with a more general decline in sexuality on the big screen. Their rationale? That most steamy scenes are gratuitous and don’t meaningfully contribute to the story.

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