Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: some of us are horny right now.
We’re frustrated. In April, Vox reported that “adult cam sites, which allow viewers to watch and interact with erotic performers in real time, say they’ve seen a massive viewership spike.” Whereas traditional porn sites like Pornhub have reported an increase in traffic— on March 17th, worldwide traffic to Pornhub was up 11.6%. These findings and statistics raise the question: are people masturbating out of boredom, or is there something more to it?
More people are turning to dating apps, porn, and cam sites for some sort of romantic or sexual interaction. We’re missing intimacy more than ever. “Many of us are alone and starved for human attention,” Alex Hawkins of xHamster said. “It’s quite nice to be able to chat with someone. Even if you are not home alone, it can be quite nice to talk to someone different.”
Sexually explicit content in movies has always sparked controversy, but as the great Roger Ebert once said, “What has happened in our society to make us embrace violence and shy away from sexuality?” These are good films to watch alone or with a loved one who’s physically far away. Sometimes, intimacy isn’t just about sex. In these movies, intimacy is portrayed in many different lights—some more sexually explicit than others—but nevertheless they make us appreciate the primal connection of sex and sensuality.
Love (2015, dir. Gaspar Noe)
A filmmaker known for being provocative, Noe portrays loss, lust, and love via an admittedly confusing narrative. Without a direct plot nor cinematic intention, the film revolves around the memories of a heartbreaking relationship between Murphy and Electra.
"What's the meaning of life?" Murphy asks. Electra quickly responds, "Love." From Murphy’s POV, the film examines the tension of his past relationship in contrast to his soon-to-be-expired present-day relationship. As he remembers Electra, we realize just how chaotic their sex life really is. We don’t know if Murphy truly loves her or if he’s just obsessed with her—but there’s a sense of codependency that hints at an unhealthy relationship.
The film slows down toward the end, resembling some sort of a realization—a recollection of disorganized thoughts. They sit in the bathtub of a redly lit bathroom, holding onto each other. Noe’s red-hued color palette offers one of my favorite nude scenes ever, because it’s just so sensual.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019, dir. Celine Sciamma)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire tells the tale of a forbidden romance amid patriarchal customs. Marianne is hired by Heloise’s mother to secretly create a portrait of her, which will be sent to her soon-to-be husband.
When the truth comes out, Heloise is dissatisfied with the way Marianne sees her, claiming she has no resemblance to the painting. She finally agrees to sit for the portrait, in exchange for Marianne’s extended stay at their home. As the portrait slowly comes to life, their romance blossoms; there’s a trust and respect that stays with them until the end. The film explores the relationship between a painter and her subject. Every paint stroke proclaims a deeper connection, and their long gazes feel like physical caressing. With the help of candle-lit night scenes, their skin resembles an oil painting, with soft, buttery highlights and shadows.
French writer and director Celine Sciamma knows how to express sensuality through visuals: less nudity and more long gazes, warmly lit frames, and close proximity. “Filming the dialectic of the gazes, the force of attraction between the two women, was one of the subjects of my work,” said Claire Mathon, the movie’s cinematographer. "I had to try to be a camera that looks at these faces and not frame them. [But] be with them.” Check out our full review here.
The Dreamers (2003, dir. Bernardo Bertolucci)
Paris in 1968. Jean-Luc Godard’s films were (and still are) the epitome of the French New Wave, the cinematic cool of a new generation. Outside the windows, there are student riots and workers’ strikes on the streets. Barricades, firebombs, and clashes with the police. In the midst of social turmoil, Matthew, an American student from San Diego, meets Isabelle and Theo, the children of a famous French poet.
They meet at the Cinematheque, a non-profit film organization that holds frequent movie screenings, and Isabelle and her twin brother soon invite Mathew back to their parents’ apartment. With their parents away for a month, Mathew is invited to stay with them. In a short amount of time, the three begin to form a special connection. They bond over movies and their shared love for the Cinematheque.
Enclosed in a claustrophobic apartment, Mathew finds himself absorbed in the siblings’ sexual games and obsessions. One night, he catches a glimpse of Theo and Isabelle laying in bed together naked. To the idealistic American, the twin has a platonic yet unquestionably immoral relationship. When Isabelle defeats Theo in a movie quiz, she orders him to masturbate in front of a picture of Marlene Dietrich. And when Theo wins a film quiz, he asks Matthew to make love to his sister. Matthew knows this is wrong, but while driven by confusion and lust, he’s stuck in their unconventional world.
The Before Trilogy (dir. Richard Linklater)
If you’re craving some intimacy without intercourse, this is the one to check out.
The characters’ relationship unfolds in Linklater’s three-part series over the course of 18 years, with the same actors playing the same parts. His films often explore the inevitability of time and the way it shapes us. Two strangers, Jesse and Celine, meet on a train to Paris; at Jesse’s stop in Vienna, he takes a chance and asks Celine to get off the train with him. From the beginning, the two are obviously attracted to each other but sex isn’t the focus. “If there's any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something,” Celine says, “I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.”
In the last scene, Jesse tells Celine, “If you want true love, then this is it. This is real life. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.” Watching them makes me long for the vulnerable conversations I’ve had and reminds me how much emotional connections mean to us.
Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013, dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)
Wide-eyed high-schooler Adele’s sexual desires are alluded to via her sexual cravings: she hides a stash of candy bars under her bed. But then one day she meets Emma, a blue-haired art student who’s six years older. It’s a girl-meets-girl situation in which a simple glance sparks romance.
It’s indeed an erotic love story, but the point isn’t to arouse the audience. The movie isn’t about the sexual buildup or the fun teasing. Adele and Emma are flawed, but somehow likable enough; they seem to connect intellectually and sexually but share very little in common.
On Emma’s bed, they tangle in erotic positions and orally pleasure each other. After they climax, tears roll down Adele’s cheeks; she realizes she’s found a connection that satisfies both her body and emotions. Similar to real-life relationships, some partners are unable to fit into the other’s world. This story and its eroticism stay with us.
Call Me By Your Name (2017, dir. Luca Guadagnino)
Closeted Elio meets Oliver, an American college graduate who has come to intern with his father, a Greco-Roman culture professor.
The two flirt by poking fun at each other, challenging each other’s knowledge of literature and music. It’s a tender story of first love that will make you long for someone, even if that person hasn’t been in your life yet. In the iconic masturbation scene, Elio pokes a peach and its juice oozes out and spills onto his stomach. He reluctantly takes a bite, resorts to unbuttoning his pants, and uses the peach as an instrument.