In 2014, provocative Danish director Lars von Trier delivered Nymphomaniac, a two-part art film in which a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounts her excessive sexual exploits to a philosophical older man (Stellan Skarsgard). It was as good a time as any to revisit a perennial question: how should Christians respond to sexually explicit movies?
The folks at Reel Spirituality asked me to write an article exploring that question, the entirety of which you can read here. Below, I’ve summarized a few points in hopes of prompting our own Think Christian discussion on the subject. As I mentioned at Reel Spirituality, this is a difficult topic and ongoing conversation. So consider these thoughts a starting point.
Sex is a good, God-created, Christ-affirmed thing. This fact—established by the Bible and confirmed by millennia of human experience—should stand at the heart of any Christian consideration of sexuality and the movies. By celebrating sexuality in a way that repressive religion often resists, movies as varied as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Blue is the Warmest Color rightly recognize one of God’s first blessings on humanity.
Movies that depict distorted sexuality are not necessarily distorted themselves. As in real life, onscreen sexuality can be hurtful, damaging, irresponsible, and abusive. For the characters in films ranging from Last Tango in Paris to Shame to Nymphomaniac, sex is a conflicted, confused, and even punishing experience. Yet there is a crucial difference between the depiction of something in a work of art and that thing’s existence in the actual world. Our question, as gracious filmgoers, should not be whether a movie has the moral right to show something. Rather, we should ask what the film is saying with its depiction of that something.
There is a crucial difference between the depiction of something in a work of art and that thing’s existence in the actual world.
It’s OK to not watch sexually provocative movies. Sexuality is a worthy topic for the movies to explore, but that doesn’t mean watching such films is always a good and worthy act. A Christian—even a culturally engaged one—has every right not to watch something because of its sexual content, especially if doing so may prove to be a stumbling block in his or her effort to become more like Christ.
Sexual sin isn’t “worse” than any other sin. Why do we so often decry the sexual content in movies, but passively devour films chock full of theft and murder? Cinematic depictions of distorted sexuality should be viewed the same as depictions of other good things gone wrong, such as power (in the form of violence), abundance (in the form of covetousness), and beauty (in the form of pride).
Christians should not ignore sexually provocative movies. The need for Christians, shielded by faith, to engage with movies about sexuality has never been more pressing. From gay marriage to transgender rights, society is undergoing a rapid, mainstream reconsideration of what it means to be a sexual being. The movies are a place where these stories are being told, where understanding can unfold, and where healing can perhaps begin to take place.
What about you? How do you approach movies with sexual content? What are some titles that have made you think about sexuality in affirming, challenging, or enlightening ways?