Sex in Screenwriting (6)

In Boys Don’t Cry, you may recall the moment when Teena is arrested and in jail Candace discovers her secret. Then Candace tells Lana who quickly sees Teena in prison. Teena tells her she’s a hermaphrodite but it “sounds a lot more complicated than it is.”


Lana tells her she doesn’t care if she’s “half monkey or half ape” and gets Teena out of jail. They make love in the front seat of a car. Thus, sex can be the payoff to a giant setup, the deep inner goal of a character, that is, the long-awaited moment of acceptance.

sex can be the payoff to a giant setup

Of course, sex here was not the goal. Love was the goal. And this concept sometimes gets lost because there’s an over-emphasis by some in the industry on the sexual part of “sexual orientation.”

Why does there have to be an emphasis on sex just because a character has a different orientation? Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters can have, like any other great character in literature or cinema history, depth, contradictions, goals, inner conflicts, and arcs. I’ve read quite a few scripts by aspiring gay, lesbian, and bisexual writers, and some have shared with me their feelings of anxiety about sex scenes.

Why does there have to be an emphasis on sex
just because a character has a different orientation?

I say don’t worry about the sex and focus on the depth of your characters. In that context, the sex will find its natural place in the script. Don’t force it. Write that scene when you know it’s crucial to your story. Because the point of a sex scene is not the act itself, it’s the characters. What does the scene reveal?


It seems fitting that I’m contributing to a magazine that showcases Dave Trottier, because I’m a huge supporter of his book, The Screenwriter’s Bible. A sex scene is like any other scene in a script. Use action lines. Make them lean and mean. Write active verbs. Keep the action paragraphs down to four lines or fewer. Emphasize the characters. Avoid incidental actions.

A sex scene is like any other scene in a script.

I must commend Bob Verini who also wrote a great article about sex in Script Magazine’s 2005 January / February issue. He talked about the mechanics of writing a sex scene and pointed out how Joe Eszterhas loved using the ellipsis in Basic Instinct:

She moves higher atop him ... she reaches to the side of the bed ... a white silk scarf is in her hand ... her hips above his face now, moving ... slightly, oh-so slightly ... his face strains towards her.

I’m okay with that so long as it’s in small doses. You can also write a MONTAGE, which Trottier explains in detail in his book. Verini had some good montage examples as well. I would only add Truffaut’s Jules and Jim and Nichols’ The Graduate.

The only film I’ve watched that had a sex scene that actually moved me to tears was a 2003 film called Lilya 4-Ever. Abandoned by her mother and living in poverty in the former Soviet Union, 16-year-old Lilya resorts to prostitution to survive. Without revealing too much of the plot, there is a montage toward the end of the film in which we (looking up) view from Lilya’s perspective all of these older, disgusting men having sex with her. I was so saddened by what was being done to her. I wanted to get on a plane to Sweden and save that little girl. It was such an effective tragedy in the way it condemned those horrible, underground, sex slave organizations.


There’s so much more territory we could’ve penetrated. There’s the art of seduction. There’s sexual abuses, disorders, and addictions. There’s rape, infidelity, and incest. There’s symbolism, sex for the elderly, and teen sex comedies, which I believe happens only once every generation. There’s orgies, although I really don’t know what I’d say about that.

I like what Mason Cooley wrote, “Orgies are an early form of what will someday become sex by committee.” Hehehe… Say, how many prominent asexuals can you list in films? Depp’s Willy Wonka? Pee Wee Herman? How about Hercule Poirot? Can you think of a film in which a character’s asexuality became the source of a conflict? I cannot.


There was an interesting article by Dylan van Rijsbergen in Sign and Sight called Sexing the Handbag. He wrote:

“Time has come to start a new movement inventing new images of sexuality and pornography. Time has come for a new Jan Wolkers, male or female, someone who can write powerful stories of authentic sexuality. Time has come for all kinds of individuals in the media, art and literature to invigorate the tired imagery of commercial porn. Time has come for a slow sex movement, which stretches sexuality beyond the single moment of the male orgasm. Time has come to return sexuality to what it has always been: elusive, exciting, intense, playful, authentic, dynamic and sublime.”

Okay, I’m spent. Was it good for you?

– Mystery Man


I’d like to thank Jennifer van Sijll, Eric, Joel, Kelly, Randy, Rebekah, Joseph, Jeff, Erin, as well as the readers of my blog: Emily Blake, Joshua James, David Alan, James Patrick Joyce, Laura Deerfield, Purpletrex, Miriam Paschal, Pat (Gimmebreak), Christina, Matt, Nestori, DougJ, terraling, Lisa, Christian M. Howell, Seeing_I, deepstructure, Gabbagoo, James, Scott, Kevin Broom, Bob Thielke, Spanish Prisoner, Cody, Ben, Trevor, rdas7, hwee, Unknown Screenwriter, and the Anonymous Production Assistant. Their raging debates about sex in film on my blog provided much needed food for thought. Thanks so much, guys.

In his own words, Mystery Man was “famous yet anonymous, failed yet accomplished, brilliant yet semi-brilliant. A homebody jetsetting around the world. Brash and daring yet chilled with a twist.”

MM blogged for nearly 4 years and tweeted for only 4 months, then disappeared – mysteriously.

The Story Department continues to republish his best articles on Monday.

Here, you’ll also be informed about the release of his screenwriting book.

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