• Thu, Dec 9 2010

Dear Everyone: Can We Talk About The Lack Of Condoms In Every Movie Ever?

There’s been an unusual amount of talk about missing condoms this week. First Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in Sweden because of a broken condom. And now we’ve learned that porn star Derrick Burts has tested positive for HIV because the porn industry is institutionally opposed to using condoms.

But there’s another part of the film industry that is opposed to using condoms: mainstream Hollywood movies. Of course, the actors in those films aren’t actually exchanging fluids on camera. But they are sending messages about sex. And this one is loud and clear: sexy adults don’t use condoms.

The sex depicted in R-rated (and sometimes NC-17) movies is usually far more mainstream than sex in porn films. But directors and script writers seem just as categorically opposed to depicting safe sex. Many films skate right past the details of intercourse, but as sex scenes get more explicit on the big screen, shouldn’t condoms become more a familiar site?

This week, Porn star Burts is leading a crusade to get condoms used in all porn films. He told The LA Times:

“What they tell you in porn is, ‘You’re not going to make any money if you wear a condom, you know, viewers don’t want to see that, so I didn’t even know you had an option to wear a condom. I had never seen a condom on a straight set in my entire life.”

That fact is sad. But there is a lot that is fucked up about the porn industry, and all of that belongs in another essay. The thing that I find disturbing in mainstream films is the fact that the same stigma applies with condoms, even though the characters aren’t actually in danger of spreading diseases (at least on set).

The avoidance of that awkwardness on screen is why Leslie Nielsen‘s full body condom sex scene was so funny in Naked Gun 2. Putting on a condom may be an awkward pause in the sexy time action, but it is a fact of life, for anyone who is worried about contracting one of the nasty viruses that run rampant in today’s world. ESPECIALLY for people who engage in casual sex, which basically encompasses every adult character who has ever appeared on the silver screen in the last 30 years.

And yet, safe sex among adults just isn’t depicted in movies. Meanwhile, groups like the Smoke Free Movies project have basically launched a fatwa against films that show a character light up a cigarette. (Just ask James Cameron, who got on their hit list for making Sigourney Weaver smoke in Avatar.)

In real life, people use condoms all the time. Especially the first time they have sex with someone (which is a familiar moment in films). And yet, movie audiences almost never see characters pull out a condom.

For example, take the much discussed naked scenes in the new Anne Hathaway movie Love And Other Drugs. Anne’s character may be dying of Parkinson’s, but that does that also mean she wants to get as many STDs as possible? Because after talking with Jake Gyllenhaal‘s character for a total of 15 minutes, she brings him home to her apartment so they can bareback it in her kitchen.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few films that depict condom usage. And they mostly dwell on the same issue: the awkwardness of procuring or using a condom. Both The 4o Year Old Virgin and American Pie deal with that. Or there’s the flip side – the lack of condom usage that kick-starts the plot of pregnancy movies like Knocked Up and Juno.

But the only movie I can think of off the top of my head that realistically depicts safe sex is Trainspotting, when Ewan McGregor gets kicked out of bed by Kelly McDonald before he can pull of his condom. And later in that movie we find out that he just committed statutory rape (because Kelly McDonald’s character Diane is under the age of consent). Oops!

Anyway, I get that movies are idealized and sterilized versions of real life, and that Hollywood can’t be expected to embed moral lessons in every film that’s put out. But isn’t it unrealistic to perpetrate the stereotype that casual sex is a carefree indulgence? And considering how much different special interest groups have cracked down on unhealthy behavior in films and other public areas these days, it’s a little surprising to me that we all go along pretending that beautiful people are immune from all the dangers associated with sex today.

Can you think of any movies that actually depict safe sex? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Scott

    Excellent point, especially considering the bizarre standards imposed by the ratings board regarding sex scenes. I wonder if the overt depiction and dialogue concern condoms would make a movie NC-17 or help it down the scale.

  • MDL

    If, as you say, “In real life, people use condoms all the time” then why would it matter if characters in movies use them or not? Is it just to remind us of what we already know? Or do you believe people who use them will think that it’s okay not to use them because of a movie? I’m halfway on board with you here but if facts show it has no consequences on most of us then why bother other than to give movies a moral message.

    • Meghan Keane

      MDL,
      Actually, there was a recent study that showed that while teen condom usage is up, adults use condoms much less frequently in casual encounters: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/04/teens-smarter-about-condoms-than-adults-are/

      And that’s sort of my issue here. First time sex depictions for teens in film (and actually much more on TV) sometimes talk about condoms, but the risks don’t go away as you get older.

  • Tash

    Jennifer’s Body!
    Amanda Seyfried (Needy) and onscreen boyfriend Johnny Simmons (Chip) portray a very realistic first time, including application of a condom!
    Well Done!

  • Lenoxus

    This is depressingly true. And it’s not even necessary for condoms to interrupt the flow of the piece. It’s more like filmmakers don’t want their movie sex to drift too much from past movies’ sex, because there’s an established grammar that’s hard to violate. (Like the grammar of, say, movie musicals.)

    I totally can imagine a screenwriter and director having a complex and bitter argument over whether including condoms in a sex scene would feel so out of place (despite being quite normal in real life) that it would “break the spell” for the audience. Relevant TvTropes link (warning: It’s TvTropes): The Coconut Effect

  • Sarah

    Next time a warning before you give a major spoiler to a new movie and also check for typos. Other than that great topic!

  • Kay

    They use a condom in Love and Basketball, also their first time… well the girls anyway…

  • sambo

    Higher Learning depicts the guy stopping right before go-time, get out of bed, and grab a condom before having sex with Christy Swanson. Definitely left an indelible impression on my 14 year old mind. The 90s were the height of safe sex after all.

  • AKB

    “Pretty Woman” with Julia Roberts. Her character offers Richard Gere’s character a choice of condoms and tells him that she always practices safe sex. And, by introducing that fact early in the movie during a somewhat humorous scene, other love scenes followed and they didn’t even have to “break the spell.”

  • Anthony

    If you need a movie to portray an actor using condoms to practice safe sex to keep you motivated to use one too, then its probably not the worst of your problems.

  • Lenoxus

    “If you need a movie to portray an actor using condoms to practice safe sex to keep you motivated to use one too, then its probably not the worst of your problems.”

    It’s not about explicit, conscious “motivation”. It’s about how a great deal of human behavior is unconsciously modeled on whatever we see other humans do — it’s the most basic way we learn how to do things — and the silver screen, with its visual realism, is one of those things that can have a strong effect. And the fact is that if movie after movie shows non-protected sex as the “default” sort of sex, then our brains can’t help but absorb that. Sure, most people easily work around it with just a little thought — but wouldn’t it be nice if movies, by simple exposure, caused condom use to not be something to need to think about, but instead a habit?

    This always bugs me when media influence is discussed — it’s not about a particular person explicitly thinking “I will do X because Natalie Portman, playing a superheroine, did it.” It’s about our reptile brains! If humans were naturally rational with regards to media, it would, for example, be impossible to be disgusted by a mere image, wouldn’t it? Yet we all find some picture or other to be disgusting, despite being a mere image. That’s our autopilot talking! It’s very often what’s in charge. (Maybe a better example would be the way we can pick up dialects, inflections and slang from movies — again, not a conscious process of trying to imitate celebrities, but an unconscious one.)

  • Kayla

    I’m a little young but arent you a bit more concerned with all the casual sex then in whether they use condoms onscreen? If you’re in a serious relationship, you may not need condoms but if you just met the guy 15 minutes ago, what are you doing sleeping with him???

    • Ola Chicka

      For being a little young you’ve got big smarts.

    • Maria

      Well, Your comment makes me feel a bit uneasy. Even when you are in a serious relationship the risks of becoming infected with any STDS or HIV or pregnant are very high. You can only be sure about yourself. There is a nice book that talks about this “In the land of God and Men” I hope you read it….

  • Jennifer

    The movie “Shopgirl” (written by Steve Martin) uses the hunt for a condom to character-revealing effect: the clueless dude Claire Danes is trying to sleep with goes out to get a condom and comes back confusingly fast. Turns out he just *asked her neighbor* for one, which the Claire Danes character found very embarrassing.

  • Lisa

    Must Love Dogs depicts an entire scene of Diane Lane and John Cusack driving around to various pharmacies in search of condoms until the heat of the moment is over.

  • imjitin

    Very nice work that you have to entertain peoples. keep doing..

  • Jaklyn

    They use a condom in The Good Guy… its a slightly awkward moment, but not overly… and a good depiction of safe sex in regular life

  • Carolyn

    Movies also do not show every single time people use the bathroom, have a meal, start their cars, feed their pets, etc etc….. they have to squeeze weeks, sometimes years into a 2 hour film. I think condom usage is implied just the way it’s implied they’re eating and excreting, even though its not shown every single time. I agree with the people who commented about being concerned far more about casual/random sex than condom usage.

    • April

      Implication is not enough. There’s only one movie that I can think of where there is a condom shot and the guy actually puts it on: Love and Basketball. The writer of this article is not saying that there needs to be a condom shot in every movie but it is not reasonable to say that it is implied when there aren’t enough movies with the actual condom shot for it to be even considered implied. It’s irrational to say that when every year more and more teens are having unprotected sex. I know four people that have done so under the pretense that it will be just like the movies and each of them have gotten pregnant. You have to back up sex ed teachings with actions that support it. It’s hypocritical to say don’t have sex without a condom and these kids see the people that they look up to every single day not using a condom in the movies and shows they watch everyday.

  • Falooda

    Thanks for this great article! The lack of condom usage in Hollywood has been bugging me for a long time and I’m glad that finally somebody is talking about it.

  • BrianRommel

    Just Watched “no strings attached” not only is there a condom used in it it’s not during planned sex but spontaneous and to top it off the woman has a stash. So not only is the movie promote condom use but promotes to always be prepared whether you are man or woman. “40 year old virgin” had a similar scene but no sex takes place but the woman has the condoms.