Sex is everywhere in the cinema. But when you sit down to make a list of sex positive movie characters, the list is kind of slim. And I'm not even talking about Fifty Shades of Grey. (Which in case you're wondering, I don't think sends a very sex-positive message, despite being the one film everyone thinks of when they hear the term "sex-positive.") Because there's still this outdated notion that sex-positive makes you someone who a sex dungeon and brings all kinds of people to bang in it. In reality, not so much.
Sex positivity is being comfortable with your own sexuality and being understanding of the sexual behaviors of others. So if being sex positive is so simple, why are there so few sex positive movie characters out there? Isn't Hollywood hip to sex positivity? Everyone knows that sex sells, but it turns out that Hollywood still maintains a pretty narrow view of what type of sex sells. Because there's so much money involved in producing movies that dictate cultural values, big studios don't want to risk an NC-17 rating for being too provocative, or so suggests Phactual, enumerating the few films to be successful despite an NC-17 rating. I can only hope that in the future, more sex positive roles appear on screen to portray a more inclusive, and honest version of sexuality. But there are a couple roles that hit all the right sex positive notes, and I want to give those roles the props they deserve.
1. Joanna In "Magic Mike"
Joanna from Magic Mike is badass, which is not surprising because so is Olivia Munn who plays her. Not only does she look smokin' topless in the first five minutes of the film, giving Channing Tatum a run for his money, Munn has said that the character Joanna holds a mirror up to the film's protagonist. And she's unapologetic as hell. "I can only reflect back what you give me," Munn said of Joanna's attitude in an interview to Channel APA. I love how the character of Joanna defies the stereotype of the woman who gives so much more without getting so much in return. Because even though Mike is hot AF, that's not enough for Joanna.
2. Ron Woodroof In "Dallas Buyers Club"
Matthew McConaughey won the Academy Award for his portrayal of Ron Woodroof, in the biographical film Dallas Buyers Club. Battling the stigma of doctors, friends, and family as a man infected with HIV/AIDS, in the mid '80s when the disease was not understood, Woodroof is an IRL sex positive role model for loving himself and others enough to advocate for humane medical treatment of HIV/AIDS patients.
3. Cheryl In "The Sessions"
Academy Award winner Helen Hunt played Cheryl, a professional sex surrogate who helps a 36-year-old man with an iron lung lose his virginity. Before this role, which won Hunt accolades, I'm sure not many people understood the therapeutic care taking involved in being a licensed sex surrogate. Cheryl helps Mark navigate sex with a disability as well as how to reconcile sexuality and religion. The depth of Mark and Cheryl's sexual bond, while not romantic in nature, is truly sex positive.
4. Adam In "Thanks For Sharing"
Mark Ruffalo brings the pathos big time in his portrayal of Adam, a sex addict, struggling with a 12-step program to treat his addiction. Adam's character, enhanced by Ruffalo's stellar performance, defies the nymphomaniac sex-addict stereotype, but rather captures the nuances of a person navigating the terrain of self-esteem and sexuality.
5. Doralee In "9 to 5"
In 9 to 5 Dolly Parton portrays Doralee, a Buxom secretary who is intent on putting her sexist, misogynist boss in his place. (And, for those who haven't seen it, does it.) Literally, like chains are involved. Way before BDSM was part of mainstream cultural dialogue, Doralee, whip in hand, took down the man. Also, this film was made in 1980, which makes Doralee a woman ahead of her time.
6. Rayon In "Dallas Buyers Club"
Leto told The Guardian that he went to Whole Foods in character, as a transgender woman, "shaved, waxed, wigged-up, the whole bit," to experience how cruelly people reacted to trans people. Leto's character immersion technique paid off, as Rayon's generous spirit, humor, and compassion despite the ignorant judgment of others for being who she is, brings moments of levity to what's a serious tear-jerker.
7. LeBron James In "Trainwreck"
As Aaron's BFF in Trainwreck, the best player in the NBA shows off his sensitive side portraying himself (or how Amy Schumer penned the character LeBron James). LeBron dismantles the "machismo" stereotype of the superstar male athlete, and instead is a caring friend rooting for romance.
8. Mike In "Magic Mike"
The fact that Magic Mike was conceived purely to give women pleasure, makes him a sex positive character in my book. And pleasure he does deliver, again and again.
9. Cindy In "Blue Valentine"
Speaking of female pleasure, Michelle Williams' character Cindy experiences an on-screen orgasm (a rarity in cinema—and which was responsible for the film's NC-17 rating) when Ryan Gosling's character goes down on her. Ryan Gosling + cunnilingus = sex positive.
10. Rose In "Titanic"
Although Jack nervously tackles sex in the back seat with Rose, it's Rose who takes control. The moment when her hand hits the fogged-up window is iconic. I think I've got a pretty great idea of what's happening here. She's Queen of O-Town. And that's a pretty sex-positive title to hold.
11. Amy In "Trainwreck"
Amy Schumer wrote and played the role of Amy Townsend to show viewers that women can be unapologetic for being promiscuous and still get the guy, but also to send the message that anyone can break patterns if they're brave enough to try. Now that's sex positive.