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The 100 best sex scenes of all time

Cinema's most innovative, groundbreaking movie sex scenes, from controversial classics to daring silent films

The only thing better than watching one of the best sex scenes of all time? Being in one of them—though sometimes, it's probably neck and neck. Watching sex onscreen is a hallmark of the viewing experience, not only via pornography but through mainstream cinema as well.

If you chart a history of sex in movies—as we've done here— we see a global evolution of mores, a chronicle of evolving tastes, a lessening of hangups. People want sex, and not only in romantic movies with tasteful fade-outs.

We put together the 100 most groundbreaking sex scenes of all time (not unpleasurable work). Have we forgotten your own personal obsession? Are we missing any controversial movies or foreign films? Let us know in the comments below. A love note (or sticky-note confession) would be nice, but something naughtier will also suffice.

Do you want more great stories about things to do, where to eat, what to watch, and where to party? Obviously you do, follow Time Out New York on Facebook for the good stuff.

Best sex scenes: 100–91

100

Turkish Delight (1973)

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Bedfellows: Rutger Hauer, Monique van de Ven

The film
Verhoeven’s second feature documents the relationship between womanizing sculptor Eric (Hauer) and promiscuous girl-about-town Olga (Van de Ven), from giddy beginnings, through treachery and betrayal to its final, violent end.

The sex scene
It’s free love on the freeway as Olga picks Eric up in her car and takes an immediate shine to him. However, it’s not the sex scene that’s important here, but the aftermath: Following a frank discussion about bodily fluids, Eric zips up a bit too quickly, with alarming and painful consequences.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Along with Don’t Look Now the same year, Verhoeven’s film was one of the first to depict sex neither as a furtive act committed behind closed doors nor the pinnacle of human interaction, but as an everyday act between two carefree, consenting adults. It’s messy, joyous, honest and human, and the only real risk is of getting something caught in your fly.—Tom Huddleston

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99

Pleasantville (1998)

Director: Gary Ross
Bedfellow: Joan Allen (solo)

The film
When 20th-century kids Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon are mysteriously beamed into the monochrome world of 1950s TV show Pleasantville, they bring with them a whole lot of new and dangerous ideas.

The sex scene
When their fictional suburban mom Joan Allen learns the shocking facts of life from daughter Witherspoon, she runs a quiet bath and decides to take matters into her own hands.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The idea of masturbation as an act of female empowerment may not be new, but this must be the first time a mainstream Hollywood movie not just depicted the act but did so with gusto and a complete absence of (ahem) beating around the bush. When, at the point of orgasm, a tree outside the window bursts into vividly colored flames, it’s as thrilling a metaphor for sexual liberation as cinema has to offer.—Tom Huddleston

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98

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Director: Cheryl Dunye
Bedfellows: Dunye, Guinevere Turner

The film
The first American feature by an African-American lesbian, Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman stars its director as a video-store clerk and aspiring filmmaker working on a project about a long-forgotten black actress of the 1930s.

The sex scene
Cheryl’s love interest is Diana, played by Guinevere Turner. As the two women sit watching one of the old movies, Diana bluntly puts it like this: “Now that we know that we’re attracted to each other, what do we do? Don’t you think we should kiss?”

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Marked by a bold and direct approach, the film is about the intersection of gender, race and sexuality. This scene’s importance comes from both that added layer of politics and the striking sensuality of its images: The glistening of saliva on skin has as much to say as words.—Daniel Walber

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97

“Eveready Harton in Buried Treasure” (1928)

Director: Anonymous
Bedfellows: Harton, other human and animal inhabitants of a desert island

The film
According to veteran Disney animator Ward Kimball, this no-holds-barred silent-era porn cartoon was made by a trio of studios working separately, though evidently dirty minds think alike. The massively endowed protagonist (think “Harton” but with a d) serially humps his way from willing curvaceous female to compliant donkey and flexibly tongued cow.

The sex scene
The first sight of our hero’s morning tentpole signals the short’s lusty shamelessness, though his path to sexual fulfillment isn’t always an easy one. (Watch out for that cactus!)

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Disney this ain’t. A yardstick for future animated naughtiness like Fritz the Cat.—Trevor Johnston

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96

Desert Hearts (1985)

Director: Donna Deitch
Bedfellows: Patricia Charbonneau, Helen Shaver

The film
Based on Jane Rule’s novel, Donna Deitch’s debut feature is a 1959-set love story that unites an East Coast intellectual divorcée and a Nevada ranch girl.

The sex scene
Well aware of what might be going on between her free-spirited adopted daughter Cay (Charbonneau) and the uptight Vivian (Shaver), Frances (Audra Lindley) kicks the older woman out of her ranch and into a hotel. Not one to give up, Cay follows Vivian to her room and eases her into a new kind of lovemaking.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Desert Hearts was the first mainstream American film to portray a lesbian relationship and allow it a happy ending. A joyous warmth beams from the sex scene, passionate but also remarkably relaxed.—Daniel Walber

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95

XXY (2007)

Director: Lucía Puenzo
Bedfellows: Inés Efron, Martín Piroyansky

The film
Alex (Efron) is an intersex Argentine teenager trying to decide how to handle the psychological, physical and social reality of being born with both male and female genitalia.

The sex scene
Alex’s mother has invited a surgeon and his family to their beach house in Uruguay, to try out the idea of surgically “correcting” her child’s ambiguous sex. The surgeon’s son hits it off with Alex, and the two end up having an unexpected sexual encounter.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Director Puenzo uses this scene to foreground how both Alex and the surgeon’s son are comfortable with Alex’s gender identity as it stands, uncorrected by parents or doctors. It’s hardly a moment of resolution in the film (or even relief), but it effectively articulates the possibility of life outside a gender binary.—Daniel Walber

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94

The Bronze (2015)

Director: Bryan Buckley
Bedfellows: Melissa Rauch, Sebastian Stan

The film
Eight years after winning the world's heart at the Olympics, chirpy Ohio gymnast Hope Ann Greggory (Rauch) has soured into a toxic, desperate mess. Buckley's comedy makes a mockery of the second-chance sports drama. 

The sex scene
Hope has grown tired of watching her protégé rise up the ranks. She hooks up with a fellow gymnast and frenemy (Stan) who took her virginity years earlier. Their athletic sex is a staggering display of sweaty leaps, lunges and impossible positions.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
We won’t lie: This opening-night film from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival feels like one of the fest’s worst—nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is. But had the movie solely consisted of this one scene (which electrified the crowd with both laughs and titilation), it would have been an instant classic. We give it a perfect ten on the dismount.—Joshua Rothkopf

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93

Burnt Money (2001)

Director: Marcelo Piñeyro
Goodfellas: Leonardo Sbaraglia, Eduardo Noriega

The film
Based on a real Buenos Aires bank robbery in 1965, Burnt Money is the story of two criminal lovers who met in a public bathroom and died together under police gunfire.

The sex scene
Shirtless, sweaty and still armed, El Nene (Sbaraglia) and Ángel (Noriega) find themselves immensely turned on at an incredibly inconvenient moment. Shot from above, sprawled out on the ground with their heads together, the two men become a strikingly fired-up image of throbbing sexuality in a closeted time.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The burden of representation has long been a problematic topic in queer cinema: Do we want gay criminals and murderers onscreen? Burnt Money is a resounding “yes”—groundbreaking in its pursuit of honesty, however ethically compromised.—Daniel Walber

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92

Nymphomaniac (2014)

Director: Lars von Trier
Bedfellows: Stacy Martin, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia LaBeouf, many others

The film
Danish provocateur Von Trier explores the increasingly troubled sex life of self-confessed sex addict Joe, played by two different actors at different ages. Von Trier’s epic was so long, he split it into two volumes.

The sex scene
Take your pick. The S&M scenes with Jamie Bell? The teasing, slyly comic double-penetration episode with Gainsbourg and two men? Perhaps most memorable is a parade of penises that Von Trier flashes onscreen one after another.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
None of the explicit scenes feel especially new. But taken together and combined with Von Trier’s seriocomic style, they feel relentless, playful and tragic. Most groundbreaking is Von Trier’s use of digital technology, making the division between his “real” actors and his porn performers seamless.—Dave Calhoun

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91

“Un Chant d’Amour” (1950)

Director: Jean Genet
Bedfellows: Java, Lucien Sénémaud

The film
Novelist and playwright Genet’s only film was banned for years due to its homosexual content.

The sex scene
The movie is about two unnamed men in adjacent prison cells, sharing a wall and a deep sexual energy. A prison guard, both angry and jealous, attempts to beat the attraction out of them. It doesn’t work. Though the men remain separate, Genet’s use of erotic close-ups, fantasy and metaphorical suggestion (a straw through the wall) effectively stands in for sex.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
More explicit than even Kenneth Anger’s “Fireworks,” this is an enormously significant landmark in queer cinema. Its censorship serves as a warning, and its images continue to influence the way filmmakers approach and present gay sexuality.—Daniel Walber

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Best sex scenes: 90–81

90

Hustler White (1996)

Director: Bruce La Bruce, Rick Castro
Bedfellows: Tony Ward, Bruce La Bruce

The film
La Bruce and Castro’s black-comedy porno remake of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd., starring Madonna’s ex-boytoy Tony Ward, isn’t so much a classic masterpiece of New Queer Cinema as it is its throbbing id.

The sex scene
There are many to choose from but perhaps the most controversial is a central hookup involving a hustler with a prosthetic leg and a john with an amputee fetish.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Hustler White isn’t the only sexually adventurous film in La Bruce’s filmography; indeed, next to later works like L.A. Zombie and The Raspberry Reich, it doesn’t even seem particularly confrontational. But that’s the point: The effect of this early success is not simply to entertain and titillate, but to take fetishes and naturalize them, tossing them up against the fading Americana of Santa Monica Boulevard as good, filthy fun.—Daniel Walber

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89

East Palace, West Palace (1996)

Director: Zhang Yuan
Bedfellows: Si Han, Zhao Wei

The film
One evening in a park near Beijing’s Forbidden City (the Chinese capital’s prime cruising destination), a cop arrests A Lan, one of the furtive men seeking companionship. The ensuing interrogation lasts all night.

The sex scene
The cop’s questioning of A Lan’s sexual history leads to flashbacks, in this case of a handsome teacher that he once took to bed. The sequence is the first truly explicit moment in the film—and the first time that the ostensibly heterosexual representative of the state is forced to react to images of gay sexuality.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
East Palace, West Palace was the first mainland Chinese film with an upfront gay narrative. Beyond that, however, this scene is important because of how director Zhang Yuan structures desire: His camera is obsessed with the lead actor’s face reacting to pleasure and pain, inviting the audience to identify with desire.—Daniel Walber

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88

They Call Us Misfits (1968)

Director: Stefan Jarl, Jan Lindkvist
Bedfellows: Stoffe Svensson, unnamed girl

The film
Although Sweden has produced more than its fair share of internationally exportable smut, this intimate documentary portrait of two long-haired, free-spirited teens, Stoffe and Kenta, mostly intercuts revealing interview material with footage of their frequently dull existence. But it’s a celluloid milestone of sorts for eavesdropping on their sexual exploits.

The sex scene
Sweet talk gives way to rawer pleasures as Stoffe and a female playmate get down to it with the film crew in remarkably close attendance.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The visual detail isn’t anatomical, but there’s no doubt these kids are keeping it real.—Trevor Johnston

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87

Notorious (1946)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Bedfellows: Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant

The film
In Hitchcock’s lurid post-WWII drama, Bergman plays a German immigrant tasked with seducing a Nazi spy for the U.S. government—an act, essentially, of state-sanctioned prostitution. Grant plays her sleazy handler, with whom she begins a torrid affair.

The sex scene
He may have gotten more gratuitous in later life (see 1973’s Frenzy) but Notorious was Alfred Hitchcock’s sexiest film, even if its steaminess was tempered, as ever, by manipulation and a thin veneer of disgust. The first kiss between Grant and Bergman is a textbook example of high-pitch eroticism without a scrap of clothing being shed.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Under the auspices of the Hays Code, screen kisses were limited to a strict three seconds. Hitchcock subverts this by having Grant and Bergman kiss, then break away for a few seconds, then dive in again. The effect is somehow more delirious and emotive than any liplock before or since.—Tom Huddleston

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86

Cloud 9 (2008)

Director: Andreas Dresen
Bedfellows: Ursula Werner, Horst Westphal

The film
This German drama tells of Inge (Werner), a woman in her late 60s. Her marriage has lost its spark, so she starts an affair with Karl (Westphal), a man a decade older.

The sex scene
There are several sex scenes between Inge and Karl, and they’re presented simply: no music, no coyness, no nonsense.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Cloud 9 tackles head-on an unlikely screen taboo: sex between the elderly. And director Dresen does so with a minimum of fuss and fanfare, unapologetically showing aging bodies and weary flesh. It’s only by seeing it depicted so straightforwardly that we realize we so rarely do.—Dave Calhoun

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85

Wild Side (2004)

Director: Sébastien Lifshitz
Bedfellows: Stéphanie Michelini, Edouard Nikitine

The film
Sébastien Lifshitz’s award-winning film is a portrait of Stéphanie (Michelini), a transgender Frenchwoman somewhat suspended in love between her two roommates: Djamel (Yasmine Belmadi), an Algerian hustler, and Mikhail (Nikitine), a Russian soldier gone AWOL.

The sex scene
Stéphanie picks up a client at a club who wants to watch her have sex with someone else. On their drive she happens to see Mikhail, and chooses him to be her partner in what begins as a completely impersonal experience.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
There are not enough films that portray transgender protagonists with respect and fullness of character. Yet Wild Side breaks ground beyond simple representation. Gender and sexuality are different things, after all. The sex in this film is almost entirely separate from love, despite the fact that the rest of its plot is essentially a plural love story. This specific scene both complicates that tension and drives it home, forcing us to rethink the boundaries of all relationships.—Daniel Walber

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84

Monster’s Ball (2001)

Director: Marc Forster
Bedfellows: Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton

The film
As thick a slice of misery porn as has ever been cut, Forster’s Southern-fried tragedy tells the story of a racist executioner who falls in love with the widow of a man he recently sent to the electric chair. Needless to say, the film was produced by Lee Daniels.

The sex scene
Hank (Thornton) has just quit his job after watching his son (Heath Ledger) shoot himself in the chest. Leticia (Berry) has been recently widowed, and even more recently has witnessed her young son’s death after being struck by a car. He’s a bigot, she’s broke, and they both need to feel good. Hank is going to make Leticia feel good. Intercutting the sex with shots of birds flapping around in a cage—a metaphor that’s even louder than Leticia’s moans—Forster launched this sequence directly into legend.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
For one thing, it remains the most graphic and prolonged sex scene to ever feature an actor named Billy Bob. For another, Monster’s Ball convinced Berry to go fully topless (and then some) in an indie film only a few months after she was paid $500,000 to briefly show her breasts in Swordfish. For her fearless work in in this scene and others, Berry became the first African-American to ever win the Oscar for Best Actress.—David Ehrlich

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83

What Now? Remind Me (2014)

Director: Joaquim Pinto
Bedfellows: Pinto, Nuno Leonel

The film
Pinto’s meandering mélange of art, science, biography, theory and beauty was arguably the best documentary of 2014.

The sex scene
Pinto, who has been living with HIV for two decades, spend much of the film musing on human sexuality. Still, it comes as something of a surprise when he cuts to a long take of himself and his partner in bed, engaged in real sex.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Its matter-of-factness, particularly in a doc, is unexpectedly thrilling and new. What Now? Remind Me is a seamless blend of widely scoped natural philosophy and intimate personal storytelling that gives sexuality equal standing.—Daniel Walber

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82

Rust and Bone (2012)

Director: Jacques Audiard
Bedfellows: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts

The film
After a catastrophic accident takes her legs, former killer-whale trainer Stéphanie (Cotillard) gathers the strength to rebuild thanks to Alain (Schoenaerts), a hunky, sensitive bouncer and kick boxer.

The sex scene
It may be hard to take your eyes off the computer-assisted trickery that erases Cotillard's limbs, but there's no denying that these well-toned lovers work their way into a lather, proving that amputee sex need not be a turn-off.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The sex is hot, but Rust and Bone brews an overall attraction that speaks well to the commitment of both lead actors. It's a textbook example of using physical intimacy to convey a blooming sense of confidence.—Joshua Rothkopf

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81

Fetishes (1996)

Director: Nick Broomfield
Dungeonfellows: Maria Beatty, plus two leather-clad technicians

The film
Broomfield’s HBO documentary is a profile of Pandora’s Box, one of New York City’s premier S&M establishments.

The sex scene
There are many to choose from, running the gamut from what seem like standard fetish sessions to troubling, politically charged fantasies. The most interesting, however, is a sequence in which professional submissive Maria Beatty arrives for a personal session with two of Pandora’s Box’s dominatrices.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Fetishes is important because of the way it demystifies the world of sadomasochism, but it remains relevant because of its interest in the personalities of the women who work at Pandora’s Box. This scene is significant because it shows sex workers not simply as the fantasies of clients, but as people on their own professional journeys.—Daniel Walber

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Best sex scenes: 80–71

80

Betty Blue (1986)

Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Bedfellows: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Béatrice Dalle 

The film
Beineix’s erotic drama, a sensation when the French film first debuted in 1986, details the deteriorating relationship between Zorg (Anglade), a handyman, and the eponymous spitfire (Dalle) who resents him for not living up to his artistic potential. 

The sex scene
Betty Blue opens with a bang: Zorg writhes on top of Betty, thrusting in the missionary position as the camera slowly dollies in. At this point, we don’t know who either of these people are, only that they seem to enjoy each other’s company. After Zorg has finished, his voiceover kicks in with a first line that echoes throughout the film that follows: “I had known Betty for a week.”

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The film was a hit in part because it espoused a carefree and earthy attitude toward sex, and its heroine seems like a pure manifestation of that spirit (although Betty is undoubtedly imbued with other dimensions as the story unfolds). None of its sex scenes are especially graphic, but Beineix’s decision to open the film with a raw and rather believable bit of fun insists that his characters be seen through the lens of their sexual identities. France’s decision to submit the movie for that year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar helped pave the way for decades of tasteful nudity to come.—David Ehrlich

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79

The Dreamers (2003)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Bedfellows: Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel

The film
Michael Pitt falls in love with future Bond girl Eva Green, but her brother (Louis Garrel) is part of the deal, in a romance set in the tumultuous Paris of May ’68.

The sex scene
Three sexy actors get up to a number of scantily clad—and fully nude—encounters in a book-lined hothouse apartment. It's hard to pick just one scene, but a cozy bathtub conversation harkens back to Bertolucci's classic Last Tango in Paris (don't worry—that one's coming up).

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Sex is politics in The Dreamers and even though the film gets ickily close to incest, the real thrust here (heh) has to do with opening your mind up to partners of a different stripe. The movie did remarkably well during its theatrical release in both uncut and NC-17 versions.—Joshua Rothkopf

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78

Flesh Gordon (1974)

Director: Michael Benveniste, Howard Ziehm
Bedfellows: Jason Williams, Cindy Hopkins

The film
This is a campy skin flick packaged as a spoof of the Flash Gordon stories and superhero tales in general. The original intention was to include hard-core pornographic scenes. In the end, a less-explicit version was released to cash in on the gimmick.

The sex scene
When Emperor Wang of the planet Porno uses his “sex-ray” on planet Earth, it inspires all sort of kinky behavior. You get the picture.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Arriving at the sweet spot when adult films like Deep Throat were being taken seriously, Flesh Gordon was fun and irreverent, with unusually accomplished special effects (some by future Oscar winner Rick Baker). For years, it was a sleepover rite of passage.—Joshua Rothkopf

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77

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Director: David Lynch
Bedfellows: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring

The film
Lynch’s neonoir mind-bender, considered by many to be the greatest film of this young century, needs no introduction.

The sex scene
Amid the film’s labyrinthine not-exactly-plot, Hollywood wanna-be Betty (Watts) and amnesiac Rita (Harring) find a dead woman in a stranger’s apartment. They freak out and return home, where eventually the mood changes and they have sex for the first time. It’s love, it’s confusion, and it’s extremely memorable.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s not insignificant that the central relationship of Lynch’s critical comeback was same-sex: He’s tying Los Angeles loneliness and glamour into a distinctly melodramatic format, infused with ’60s arcana and modern dislocation. And in that strange Lynchian universe, a lesbian sex scene is the least strange thing about the film—a radical maneuver.—Joshua Rothkopf

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76

Bed and Sofa (1927)

Director: Abram Room
Bedfellows: Lyudmila Semyonova, Vladimir Fogel

The film
A far cry from the politicized dramas of Sergei Eisenstein, this Soviet-era silent offers an intimate account of a Moscow ménage à trois, with a young housewife’s sexual and moral independence the key factor as her affections shift between her husband and the old war buddy who’s lodging on their sofa.

The sex scene
With hubby away, the yearning intensifies in the moments before the wife decides to cross the line with her houseguest.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
There’s no actual flesh onscreen, but when lead actor Semyonova bites her bedstead out of sheer longing, the erotic tension is palpable.—Trevor Johnston

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75

Circumstance (2011)

Director: Maryam Keshavarz
Bedfellows: Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy

The film
Two teenage girls, growing up in upper-class Tehran, experiment with sex, alcohol and politics in Keshavarz’s Sundance-winning feature.

The sex scene
Atafeh (Boosheri) and her family take a trip to their beach house, bringing along Atafeh’s orphaned best friend Shireen (Kazemy). One morning the two girls wake up with the dawn, in a scene that’s warmly lit and set to music reminiscent of the Muslim call to prayer. They make love, then they go swimming.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It goes without saying that a film about homosexuality in Iran is by definition controversial—both Circumstance and its director are banned from the nation. More than that, though, with its Sundance prizes and its international feel, this is a step forward for representation of lesbians in world cinema in general.—Daniel Walber

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74

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Director: John Schlesinger
Bedfellows: Jon Voight, Bob Balaban

The film
Voight plays the dumb Texas stud who moves to New York with dreams of becoming a gigolo. In the city, he meets Dustin Hoffman’s cripple lowlife Ratso Rizzo. The elephant in the room is that they are probably both gay. Directed by John Schlesinger—one of Hollywood’s first openly gay directors—Midnight Cowboy scooped three big wins at the Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The sex scene
Joe (in a cowboy hat, looking like an extra from “Y.M.C.A.”) is hustling in Times Square. A shy kid with glasses (Balaban) gives him the nod. Inside a movie theater, the kid nuzzles Joe, a lifetime of repression in his desperate affection, and gives him a blow job in the back row.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This is the only X-rated film to win an Oscar. Writing in Vanity Fair, Peter Biskind later argued that Midnight Cowboy was groundbreaking in the context of cinema, “marking as it did the symbolic transfer of power from Old Hollywood to New.”—Cath Clarke

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73

Anatomy of Hell (2004)

Director: Catherine Breillat
Bedfellows: Amira Casar, Rocco Siffredi 

The film
Catherine Breillat adapted this film from her own novel, Pornocracy, with intent to shock and challenge her audience’s notions of gender politics and sexuality. Despite (and because of) the ensuing controversy, it worked.

The sex scene
The whole film can be seen as one long sex scene. A woman (Casar) attempts suicide in a gay club, is saved by a man (Italian porn star Siffredi) and pays him to spend four nights with her in her apartment. The psychological warfare and emotional brutality from that point on is all one bundle of flesh and philosophy.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Breillat is no stranger to using explicit sex onscreen. But Anatomy of Hell takes her approach and essentializes it. The ultimate takeaway here is that sex can perform the function of narrative, not just shock.—Daniel Walber

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72

The Ice Storm (1997)

Director: Ang Lee
Bedfellows: Joan Allen, Jamey Sheridan

The film
Kids and parents misbehave in Ang Lee's chilly Nixon-era drama, based on the novel by Rick Moody and set during one booze-saturated Thanksgiving weekend.

The sex scene
Profoundly embarrassed by their wayward spouses, Elena (Allen) and Jim (Sheridan) take matters into their own hands, fleeing a key party and attempting to have some revenge sex in the front seat of a skidding car.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Hazardous, damaging and deeply unsatisfying to both partners, the sex somehow makes everything worse. It's over in a comically brief span of time. Sex scenes this uncomfortable rarely make it to the screen with as much honesty.—Joshua Rothkopf

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71

Taxi zum Klo (1981)

Director: Frank Ripploh
Bedfellows: Ripploh, Peter Fahrni

The film
A schoolteacher living in West Berlin (played by director Ripploh himself) flits between his relationship, his work life and his penchant for anonymous sex in public places.

The sex scene
Frank meets an auto mechanic and later takes him home. This leads to the kinkiest sex in the film, complete with leather and water sports.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Ripploh’s autobiographical debut, screened at the 1981 New York Film Festival, depicts a mismatched gay couple—one’s an industrious homebody, the other’s a cruiser who spends most of his spare time in public rest-room stalls. This is right before AIDS and fear infused the scene, and the movie has a retrospective idyllic freshness about it.

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Best sex scenes: 70–61

70

Intimacy (2001)

Director: Patrice Chéreau
Bedfellows: Kerry Fox, Mark Rylance

The film
Married Claire (Fox) and divorced Jay (Rylance) embark on a sex-heavy, chat-free anonymous relationship on a weekly basis in Jay’s seedy London flat. The film is based on a series of stories by novelist Hanif Kureishi.

The sex scene
Claire gives Jay a blow job—nothing is faked.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and has been gaining significant notoriety for its hard-core sex scenes, but the real punch is its emotional rawness.

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69

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)

Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Bedfellows: Mario Van Peebles, an unnamed woman

The film
The first revolutionary work of black-American cinema, dedicated to “all the brothers and sisters who have had enough of the Man,” Van Peebles’s problematic debut follows a mustachioed sex worker who goes on the run after beating up two cops.

The sex scene
Given that it features one of the most disturbing, controversial openings in cinema, it’s perhaps surprising that the film is still widely available. Growing up in a whorehouse, our young title hero earns his nickname at age 10 when one of the hookers seduces him into her bed, praising his “sweet, sweet back.”

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s a pubescent boy (Van Peebles’s own son Mario, 13, later an actor and director in his own right) having sex with a middle-aged woman. Arguably pornographic and indisputably grotesque, the scene is only acceptable (if at all) because of Van Peebles Sr.’s dedication to making the most rebellious, confrontational film he could get away with.—Tom Huddleston

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68

Go Fish (1994)

Director: Rose Troche
Bedfellows: Guinevere Turner, V.S. Brodie

The film
Troche’s debut feature, a lighthearted and low-budget lesbian love story, won the Teddy for Best Feature at the Berlin Film Festival.

The sex scene
When Max (Turner) and Ely (Brodie) finally reach the sexual climax of their long flirtation, Troche almost skips past it. It isn’t until the two women debrief their respective roommates that the actual sex emerges, in alternately comic and smoldering flashbacks.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
More than a simple romance, Go Fish is a playful symposium on lesbian sexuality and identity. A Greek chorus of intimate discussions among friends about sex, relationships and the politics of it all punctuates the film. The sex is not only a manifestation of the desire shared by two women, but a celebration of lesbian community as well.—Daniel Walber

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67

The Living End (1992)

Director: Gregg Araki
Bedfellows: Mike Dytri, Craig Gilmore

The film
Gregg Araki’s first hit is a major watermark in New Queer Cinema, a gay riff on Thelma & Louise with an AIDS-era fire in its belly.

The sex scene
Between the movie’s early comic blisses and troubling desert finale lies one memorable love scene in a cheap motel shower. Luke and Jon, both HIV-positive and on the run from the law, share an awkward but very memorable sudsy embrace.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Araki is the patron saint of aggressive, in-your-face queer cinema, and even though this HIV-fueled road movie isn’t his most accessible work for hetero initiates (that would be Mysterious Skin), it’s undeniably powerful. Also Luke and Jon don’t use a condom. This honest, unprotected sex midway through the film, between two HIV-positive men, is the high point of Araki’s furious commitment to reckless liberation.—Daniel Walber

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66

Antichrist (2009)

Director: Lars von Trier
Bedfellows: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

The film
Von Trier’s tribute to Tarkovsky is a classic tale of parental tragedy: A young couple retreats to a wood cabin to cope with the loss of their child, they make friends with a self-cannibalizing fox, and then the woman destroys everyone’s genitalia with a rock and a pair of scissors.

The sex scene
Antichrist opens with a balletic slow-motion sequence in which Mom and Dad (Gainsbourg and Dafoe) are too busy making love in the shower to notice their young son wander out of his crib and plummet out the window to his death. But, like, the sex looks really good.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Antichrist wasn’t the first time that penetration had been graphically depicted in a theatrically released film (hell, it wasn’t even the first time that Von Trier had done it), but there’s something strikingly confrontational about the black-and-white classicism with which Antichrist depicted it. While it may first appear as though the scene demonizes the lustful mania of sex—not just any sex, married people sex—Von Trier’s stylization is eventually revealed to be the first arrow in the director’s quiver aimed at the nature of physical intimacy and its itinerant psychoses.—David Ehrlich

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65

Psycho (1960)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Bedfellows: Janet Leigh, John Gavin

The film
Alfred Hitchcock’s genre-defining thrill-kill flick is most famous for its unforgettable shower scene, but there’s more here than meets the eye.

The sex scene
In a film crammed with Hollywood firsts—the early death of the heroine, the suggestion of necrophiliac incest, the practical use of a toilet—it’s the opening scene of unmarrieds Leigh and Gavin sharing a bed that really got moral watchdogs barking.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
In the Hays Code era and beyond, even married couples were supposed to sleep in separate beds—and if they did happen to tumble accidentally onto the same mattress, the woman had to keep one foot on the floor at all times (we’re not kidding, those were the actual rules). Exactly how Psycho managed to get away with it remains a mystery, but Hitchcock always did have a way with mystery.—Tom Huddleston

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64

“Le Coucher de la Mariée” (Bedtime for the Bride) (1896)

Director: Albert Kirchner
Bedfellows: Louise Willy, plus an unknown actor

The film
Three years after the Lumière brothers filmed factory workers in Lyon, the pioneering director Albert Kirchner figured out another use for the new medium, persuading actor and cabaret performer Willy to slowly take off her clothes in front of the camera. She plays the part of a bride preparing herself for a night of passion.

The sex scene
Layer after layer of frilly corsetry is removed, before…that’s it, actually. Less than two minutes of the purportedly seven-minute original have survived.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Essentially, porn started here. It’s historically significant, but not what you’d call hard-core (these days).—Trevor Johnston

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63

High Art (1998)

Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Bedfellows: Radha Mitchell, Ally Sheedy

The film
Mitchell plays Syd, a straight art-world ingenue who becomes tangled up in the tense emotional web of Lucy (Sheedy), a famous and reclusive photographer in Cholodenko’s debut feature.

The sex scene
A trip out of the city for inspiration leads to a late night of wine and physical connection, in which Lucy coaxes Syd through sex. The “first gay experience” setup makes it lovably awkward and the performances give it beauty.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
What could feel clumsy is instead a triumph of apprehension and an almost eerie sense of foreboding (supplied by original music from Shudder to Think). It’s a confident scene, a sign of strong vision early in Cholodenko’s filmography and perhaps a career-best moment from Sheedy.—Daniel Walber

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62

Showgirls (1995)

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Poolfellows: Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan

The film
Impulsively violent drifter Nomi (Berkley) heads to Las Vegas, where she's enraptured by the nude dance shows and money—but there's always a cost.

The sex scene
Casino big shot Zack (MacLachlan) has his eye on the hustling blond, an opportunity she seizes as they head to a private swimming pool. The splashy floundering that ensues is a high-point of ridiculously unreasonable expectations.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This scene, like many in Showgirls, unifies the audience in a heightened state of hilarity. It's not meant to be funny, but primo cheese like this is rare. Verhoeven's mainstream riskiness—no matter how tawdry—now seems like a thing of the past. He somehow managed to get his NC-17 ass-terpiece into malls, which is saying something.—Joshua Rothkopf

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61

Tiny Furniture (2010)

Director: Lena Dunham
Bedfellows: Dunham, David Call

The film
Dunham’s breakthrough DIY hit is like a dry run for Girls, the writer-director starring as Aura, a recent college graduate who’s flailing at her future.

The sex scene
Keith, the selfish sous chef Aura knows better than to like as much as she does, brings her to a large outdoor construction pipe somewhere in Brooklyn. She asks him if he has AIDS. He asks her if she has herpes. Then he humps her from behind for roughly 20 seconds before it’s all over.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Welcome to modern romance. Dunham would go on to elaborate on this subject at greater length, but this is the scene that helped usher in the merciless politics of antisocial sex in the era of social media.—David Ehrlich

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Best sex scenes: 60–51

60

Sebastiane (1976)

Director: Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress
Bedfellows: Ken Hicks, Janusz Romanov

The film
Gay British darling Jarman, working with Humfress, retells the story of St. Sebastian on location in sunny Sardinia, entirely in Latin and with a homoerotic porn sheen lent to the whole affair.

The sex scene
Two men make love in the water and we see a flash of an erection. As an act of rebellion, it was a happy accident, as Jarman recalled: “We left in the hard-on during editing and the censor unknowingly passed it because it was at the bottom of the screen and we showed it to him in the wrong screen ratio.”

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Remember that homosexual acts were only decriminalized in the U.K. eight years prior. Sebastiane is frank and unapologetic about nudity and gay relationships, and proudly depicts same-sex lovemaking as fun and sensual.—Dave Calhoun

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59

WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

Director: Dusan Makavejev
Bedfellows: Nancy Godfrey, Jim Buckley

The film
U.S.-shot documentary footage combines with a madcap satire of modern Belgrade in this uncategorizable art-house favorite. Themed around the sexual and political theories of Wilhelm Reich, its heady mix includes Soviet propaganda clips, upsetting material filmed in insane asylums and even a psychotic Russian ice skater.

The sex scene
Most notorious is when artist Godfrey makes a plaster cast of Screw editor Buckley’s erect penis.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Buckley’s not-unimpressive member became the first ever to make it through the British film censors, though the film’s one and only U.K. TV showing two decades later saw his manhood hilariously masked by superimposed animation.—Trevor Johnston

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58

Bound (1996)

Director: The Wachowskis
Bedfellows: Gina Gershon, Jennifer Tilly

The film
The Wachowskis’ small-scale crime thriller unites two women—a convicted thief and a mobster’s wife—in pursuit of $2 million and a new life together.

The sex scene
Corky (Gershon) and Violet (Tilly) fall into love and lust at first sight. It’s not long before they end up on Corky’s mattress, out of the sight of Violet’s blowhard husband.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Bound is important because it’s a noir-tinged thriller in which two women serve as each other’s femme fatale, rather than seducing and endangering a male lead. The sex is early in the plot, insistently erotic and immensely powerful, and works as motivation to subvert genre conventions.—Daniel Walber

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57

Little Vera (1988)

Director: Vasili Pichul
Bedfellows: Natalya Negoda, Andrei Sokolov

The film
Pichul’s nihilistic drama, an enduring emblem of the Soviet Union during perestroika, follows a wild Russian girl as she falls in love with a man whom her family violently disapproves of.

The sex scene
Vera (Negoda) straddles atop of Sergei (Sokolov) in a hostel room, rocking back and forth on top of him as they coolly discuss the recent lunch at which she had introduced him to her parents. Vera informs Sergei that she told them she was pregnant, and continues riding him while he tries to suss out whether or not Vera was lying to her family.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The reasons why Little Vera caused such a stir are largely contextual—the scene where a topless Vera gets into some cowgirl action with the man of her dreams flew in the face of puritanical censors. Though it’s quite chaste by today’s standards, it was considered the most blunt and unvarnished sex scene the Russian cinema had ever produced. More than anything, it’s the casualness with which Vera treats the encounter that shocks people most.—David Ehrlich

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56

9 Songs (2004)

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Bedfellows: Kieran O’Brien, Margo Stilley

The film
A love story? Or a porn film? Michael Winterbottom’s indie romance has been called both for its portrayal of a twentysomething couple in London having sex (real-life rather than simulated) and then going out to gigs.

The sex scene
Take your pick. The film splits half and half between sex and nonsex (the latter heavy on concert footage). Possibly the most memorable sex scene is a foot job in the bathtub.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
9 Songs is the most sexually explicit mainstream ever made in the U.K., with star O’Brien becoming the first man to be shown ejaculating. It caused a furor, but here’s Winterbottom, defending the film at Cannes: “Books deal explicitly with sex, as they do with any other subject. Cinema has been extremely conservative and prudish.… Part of the point of making the film was to say, ‘What’s wrong with showing sex?’”—Cath Clarke

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55

Fritz the Cat (1972)

Director: Ralph Bakshi
Bedfellows: A randy cat and three bitches (literally—they’re dogs)

The film
Ralph Bakshi’s adaptation of Robert Crumb’s raunchy comic strip is a crazy romp through gritty 1970s New York City and the first animated feature to ever receive an X rating.

The sex scene
Fritz picks up three women (well, anthropomorphic lady dogs) in Washington Square Park and takes them to a chill party happening around the corner in a friend’s apartment. Fritz successfully seduces the bunch in private, but it isn’t long before the rest of the guests find their way in.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
There’s a lot in Fritz the Cat that hasn’t exactly aged well, particularly its Tarantino-but-brasher statements on race relations. Yet most of that comes later. The madcap, sexually explicit opening sequences are lively, entertaining and refreshing beacons of dangerous adult content in the world of feature animation.—Daniel Walber

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54

Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Bedfellows: Eva Siva, Alaska

The film
This was the Spanish director’s second feature film and came at the height of La Movida, the cultural explosion in Madrid that followed the death of Franco. The film tells of an unlikely trio—Bom (Alaska), a punk singer; Luci (Siva), a policeman’s wife; and Pepi (Carmen Maura), a modern metropolitan woman—who hit the city’s party scene.

The sex scene
Urged on by a conspiring Pepi, punky Bom stands on a chair and pees on meek Luci. Why? Because Luci is overheating of course. Next thing you know, they’re an item.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Almodóvar’s first feature finds the director struggling to develop his signature style; the film is energetically raunchy without being particularly funny. Even so, take into account how deeply conservative Spain still was in 1980, and this anarchic comedy is nothing short of revolutionary.

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53

The Devils (1971)

Director: Ken Russell
Bedfellows: A lot of nuns

The film
Russell’s enduringly controversial masterpiece revisits the severe religious hysteria of 17th-century France, where a priest is bequeathed control of a small rural city only to find himself the defendant in a witchcraft trial.

The sex scene
The local nuns, convinced that they have been possessed by the devil, are having their demons exorcised by a witch hunter. But when their psychosomatic condition remains unresolved, they promptly descend into an orgiastic fever, some of them using a giant crucifix as a dildo, commencing a sequence that has since become known as the Rape of Christ.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Russell’s defenestration of the church remains one of the most ruthless attacks on organized religion the cinema has ever seen. By using unfettered sexual mania as the catalyst for his jeremiad, Russell insured that he would whip viewers into a frenzy on par with the one he was depicting onscreen (albeit a frenzy of a different kind). The scene was cut by Warner Bros. before they submitted the film to the British Board of Film Censors, and subsequently thought to be lost—until several decades later, film critic Mark Kermode found the missing footage while researching a documentary on Russell.—David Ehrlich

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52

Cruising (1980)

Director: William Friedkin
Clubfellows: Al Pacino, Richard Cox, James Remar

The film
William Friedkin’s tawdry detective thriller stars Al Pacino as an undercover cop on a mission to uncover a killer in New York City’s gay leather scene. Inevitably, he gets in too deep.

The sex scene
Before anything untoward happens to the bewildered straight-boy lead, Friedkin features explicit sex in the leather clubs of NYC’s then-infamous Meatpacking District. While the director claims 40 minutes were cut (including footage taken in real sex clubs), the finished film does include shots lifted from gay pornography.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Once protested by the gay community, Friedkin’s thriller serves as an unintended snapshot of a narrow slice of the pre-AIDS Village scene, with sequences filmed at the legendary leather club Hellfire. Al Pacino serves as the audience’s enigmatic window onto S&M culture, playing an undercover cop who may be repelled by (or drawn to) everything he’s seeing.—Alison Willmore

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51

Blue Valentine (2010)

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Bedfellows: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams

The film
Almost a decade in the making before it finally premiered in 2010, Cianfrance’s sobering antiromance spans five years, cutting between a couple’s magical first days together and the weekend that might prove to be the end of the line. 

The sex scene
It’s still early days in their relationship, and Cindy (Williams) is still somewhat unsold on the idea of Dean (Gosling), the handsome high-school dropout who’s trying so hard to woo her. Eager to impress, Dean deposits her on a bed and immediately begins going down on her. It isn’t long before she’s bucking against his face.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Famously earning an NC-17 rating, Blue Valentine provided one of the most graphic—but earnest—depictions of cunnilingus in a major American film. But here’s the rub: It isn’t very graphic. At all. More than anything, the film exposed the MPAA’s Victorian sensibilities when it came to depictions of female pleasure.—David Ehrlich

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Best sex scenes: 50–41

50

Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Bedfellows: Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Maribel Verdú

The film
More than a decade before he made Gravity (which could have used a sex scene), Alfonso Cuarón broke out with this hit—one that also marked the arrival of actors Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal as two friends on a delirious, sensual road trip.

The sex scene
The film’s climactic moment is, of course, its famous threesome between Luna, García Bernal and Verdú. In the scene’s climactic moment, Verdú falls below the frame and the two friends share a kiss.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This scene speaks to the fortunate ability of art to bypass the inane sorts of censorship imposed by stodgy institutions like the MPAA (which gave this one an NC-17, enraging such critics as Roger Ebert). The film presents a sexuality that flows between characters freely, rejecting an immutable alignment of gender and attraction. It hasn’t lost an ounce of its heat, either.—Daniel Walber

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49

American Pie (1999)

Director: Paul Weitz
Bedfellows: Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth 

The film
This chirpy high-school virgin-com follows four pals desperate to get their respective rocks off before graduation.

The sex scene
We could have gone for the scene that gave American Pie its title, because—let’s face it—the sight of a teenager screwing baked goods remains pretty groundbreaking. But instead we prefer the moment where Jim (Biggs) is seduced by his flexible East European houseguest (Elizabeth), but sadly steps off the love train a stop or two early.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The entire affair is broadcast live on the Internet to all of Jim’s friends—the first time to our knowledge that sex and the Web collided in such a mainstream movie. American Pie was released six years before YouTube was even invented. Talk about coming too fast.—Tom Huddleston

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48

Crash (1996)

Director: David Cronenberg
Bedfellows: James Spader, Holly Hunter

The film
David Cronenberg’s darkly comic adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel explores the subversive sexual potential in car wrecks.

The sex scene
There are a number of appropriate moments in this edge-of-madness, edge-of-genius antidrama. But the scene in which Spader rubs himself up against the stitched wound of fellow accident victim Hunter’s leg in a car park has to be the most worryingly memorable.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
No one combines the beautiful and the grotesque more powerfully (or more often) than Cronenberg, and while this scene isn’t exactly sexy, the collision of traumatized flesh with glittering metal creates a unique sense of transgression and strangeness.—Tom Huddleston

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47

One Thousand and One Nights (1969)

Director: Eiichi Yamamoto
Bedfellows: Aladdin, Miriam

The film
Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and a true legend of Japanese animation, cowrote this epic Arabian Nights fantasy tracing the misadventures (mostly sexual) of happy-go-lucky Aladdin, who tangles with a bodaceous slave girl, a clothes-shedding redheaded female warrior, and a whole island of naked nymphs. The psychedelic visuals suggest that hallucinogens had made their way to Tokyo by 1969.

The sex scene
Having rescued curvy Miriam from being sold to the highest bidder, Aladdin gets her alone and the animation turns extremely trippy: Think purple skin tones and lots of floral motifs.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
A mind-blowing precursor to today’s hentai subgenre.—Trevor Johnston

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46

Goodbye to Language (2014)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Bedfellows: Richard Chevallier, Zoé Bruneau

The film
Godard’s DIY 3-D experiment abstractly dissects the relationships between two separate couples in its effort to dismantle the conventions of stereoscopic filmmaking.

The sex scene
There isn’t any actual sex in Goodbye to Language, but one nudity-filled sequence invites so much audience interaction that people might remember things differently. As actors Chevallier and Bruneau have a conversation in the nude, Godard splits the image apart, assigning each of his 3-D cameras to its own eye. The resulting effect allows viewers to choose their own adventure, closing one eye to see Bruneau’s pubic hair, and another to see Chevallier’s flaccid penis.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Like pretty much every technological innovation invented for cinema, 3-D was eventually used to shoot sex (and much earlier than this). But Godard’s twist on it invites a unique sense of engagement, resulting in the first movie that allows you your choice of partners. At screenings, you can practically hear the crowd around you closing one eye and opening another (it’s as weird as it sounds).—David Ehrlich

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45

Wild Things (1998)

Director: John McNaughton
Poolfellows: Denise Richards, Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell

The film
A high-school guidance counselor (Dillon), a wealthy brat student (Richards) and a loner from the trashy side of town (Campbell) get involved in a double-crossing scheme, but the Florida swamp water soon overtakes them.

The sex scene
Adolescent boys of all ages still find themselves transfixed by the sight of Dillon, Richards and Campbell stripping down for a swimming-pool three-way, the most attractive advertisement for crime since Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty glammed their way through Bonnie and Clyde.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Hollywood still doesn't offer that much group sex (at least onscreen) and such teacher-student relations scream with inappropriateness. But Wild Things' pool scene is the fulcrum for all the bad behavior yet to come; it's a scorcher because it has to be, dramatically speaking.—Joshua Rothkopf

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44

It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. (2007)

Director: Crispin Glover and David Brothers
Bedfellows: Steven C. Stewart, Carrie Szlasa

The film
Written by and starring lifelong cerebral-palsy sufferer Stewart, Glover’s second film as director (here working with David Brothers) is a lurid sex-and-violence fantasy told from the point of view of a handicapped man dying on a hospital floor.

The sex scene
Paul (Stewart) may be disabled but he’s still able to get it up, as proven in the explicit scene in which he lures sex kitten Karma (Szlasa) into his bed, before wrapping his hands around her throat.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
If the sight of an erection is still fairly rare in cinema, to see a severely disabled man brandishing his broadsword with evident pride is surely unique. Glover’s film is divisive, crude and arguably misogynistic, but it’s also deeply affecting and sympathetic to its subject: Stewart died from his illness barely a month after principal photography wrapped, and never got to see the finished product.—Tom Huddleston

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43

Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter
Bedfellows: P.J. Soles, John Michael Graham

The film
Carpenter’s low-budget thriller about a faceless serial killer with a taste for teens may not have been the first slasher flick, but its huge success popularized the genre.

The sex scene
When chatty high-schooler Linda (Soles) and her boneheaded boyfriend Bob (Graham) get down to business in her parents’ bed, they have no idea that a killer is lurking downstairs. To paraphrase Basic Instinct, at least they get off before they get offed.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Whether Carpenter intended it or not, Halloween marked a key moment in the rollback of the ’60s dream. No longer were sybaritic, sexually promiscuous teens something to be celebrated. In an increasingly conservative era, their indecency would instead lead to an abrupt and bloody death, with only the virginal heroine spared.—Tom Huddleston

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42

Emmanuelle (1974)

Director: Just Jaeckin
Bedfellows: Sylvia Kristel and various others

The film
This hugely popular slice of 1970s French erotica tells of Emmanuelle (Kristel), an expat living in Thailand who liberally sleeps with men and women—mostly for our pleasure, of course.

The sex scene
It’s more the buildup of sex scenes that made Emmanuelle such a hot property. Moments of masturbation, several lesbian scenes and a shot of a woman smoking a cigarette with her vagina fell foul of the censors.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s the life the film had, and the imitators it spawned, that wins it a place on this list. Swimming in the wake of the more respectable Last Tango in Paris, it brought soft-core porn into the mainstream and lent respectability to big-screen erotica, even if most critics thought it was poorly made and questionable in its intentions.—Dave Calhoun

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41

I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967)

Director: Vilgot Sjöman
Bedfellows: Lena Nyman, Börje Ahlstedt

The film
A promiscuous 20-year-old plunges body and soul into sex, politics and the vagaries of adult life. Meanwhile, the film's crew grapples with the subject matter in behind-the-scenes footage.

The sex scene
Lena (Nyman) dips her head and offers tender kisses to her boyfriend's sleeping member.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Sweden's provocative export got hung up in the U.S. court system, where it prevailed against charges of obscenity. Still, it was banned in Massachusetts and one Houston theater burned to the ground as a result of arson. Full-front male nudity remains rare in movies—unless you're Jason Segel.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Best sex scenes: 40–31

40

Blow-Up (1966)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Bedfellows: David Hemmings, Jane Birkin, Gillian Hills

The film
Italian maestro Antonioni’s first English-language film, about a photographer who stumbles on a murderous conspiracy, defined Swinging London for audiences around the world.

The sex scene
Hipster photographer Thomas (Hemmings) invites unnamed cover girls Birkin and Hills up to his flat for a “shoot.” Following an extreme wardrobe malfunction, the women run riot in the studio in a tangle of diaphanous sheets, ripped leggings and flying limbs.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The scene is famous for being the first time British audiences got to see pubes on the big screen (yes, said hairs are exclusively female). But it’s really more about the era than the act—a moment of pure permissiveness and physical celebration marking the end of the old society and the messy, ecstatic birth of the new.—Tom Huddleston

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39

Women in Love (1969)

Director: Ken Russell
Bedfellows: Oliver Reed, Alan Bates

The film
D.H. Lawrence’s 1920 novel about the love lives of two sisters is given a sensual spin by British director Russell (working with pioneering gay playwright Larry Kramer).

The sex scene
It’s become infamous: Rupert (Bates) and Gerald (Reed) sit in a drawing room next to a roaring fire. Gerald: “I have a feeling that if I don’t watch myself, I’ll do something silly.” Next thing you know, they’re wrestling each other nude, rolling on the floor and slapping each other. “Was it too much for you?” asks Gerald at the end.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s not actually sex, but the metaphor is so strong it’s almost laughable these days. At the time, though, this must have seemed pretty trangressive. Russell gave us the ultimate movie bromance before anyone had even invented the word.—Dave Calhoun

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38

The Idiots (1998)

Director: Lars von Trier
Bedfellows: Jens Albinus, Anne Louise Hassing, Troels Lyby, Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis

The film
The second official effort of the Dogme 95 movement, Von Trier’s impish provocation tells the story of a woman named Karen who, eager to escape from her life, falls in with a group of able-bodied adults who pretend to be mentally handicapped in public.

The sex scene
In the ultimate show of commitment to their characters, the Idiots retreat to their house in the suburbs of Denmark and launch into a haphazard orgy, all while still pretending to be handicapped (they refer to the performance as “spazzing”). Karen isn’t explicitly involved in the action, but the rest of her newfound pals are a jumble of naked bodies on the living-room floor, erect penises poking out in all directions as the men and women groan and shake with fake palsies.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Planting the seed that would flower as Nymphomaniac 16 years later, The Idiots was the first time Von Trier depicted an erect penis onscreen, and the first time he spliced in stunt genitals to give the illusion that his cast was engaging in unsimulated sex (there’s only one shot of penetration and the faces of both performers are hidden from view). But it was Von Trier’s decision to co-opt the characteristics of the disabled that ultimately proved most controversial—regardless of your opinion on the ethics of the project, The Idiots was proof that the director would stop at nothing to get a rise out of his audience (and his cast).—David Ehrlich

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37

Happy Together (1997)

Director: Wong Kar-wai
Bedfellows: Tony Leung, Leslie Cheung

The film
Wong won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for this romantic whirlwind, starring Leung and Cheung as two Hong Kong expats living in Buenos Aires.

The sex scene
The two leads are in bed on a hot South American night. First they kiss, with an explicit passion somewhat unprecedented in the filmography of a director whose masterpieces are frequently more about longing. Then they grow mad together. It is as abruptly erotic as their relationship, rocking in bed with reckless abandon.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Leung was a huge star in Hong Kong at the time, and had never done something quite so transgressive as starring in a gay romance. Pop star Cheung, on the other hand, had not yet publicly acknowledged his bisexuality. The same year that Happy Together played Cannes, he would tell a concert audience about his relationship with Daffy Tong Hok-Tak, the man who would remain his partner until Cheung’s untimely death in 2003.—Daniel Walber

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36

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Director: Russ Meyer
Bedfellows: Edy Williams, David Gurian

The film
Rocking girl group the Carrie Nations heads to L.A. to make their fortune, but the wild party scene and its attendant pleasures prove a distraction to discipline.

The sex scene
Rapacious pornstar Ashley St. Ives (Williams) puts the moves on band manager Harris (Gurian), sidling up to him in a Rolls-Royce, inviting him to the back seat and shedding her panties for some shrieky, orgiastic coupling.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Boobs king Meyer made racier movies than this (his fans already know and love them), but Dolls hits a cult G-spot probed by everyone from John Waters to Martin Scorsese. The latter icon name-checked the movie in Life Itself, the documentary about Dolls screenwriter turned film critic Roger Ebert.—Joshua Rothkopf

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35

Unfaithful (2002)

Director: Adrian Lyne
Bedfellows: Diane Lane, Olivier Martinez

The film
A wealthy suburban NYC couple dissolves when wife Connie (Lane) finds herself drawn to the libidinous charms of French used-books-seller Paul (Martinez).

The sex scene
The movie is loaded with illicit trysts but the sexiest thing in Unfaithful is Lane's flushed face as she rides Metro-North home, the memories of a sweaty afternoon playing in her head.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Director Lyne made his reputation with Fatal Attraction, so it's nice to see him giving the power (and our sympathies) to a noncrazy female for a change. There's also something daring about demoting Richard Gere to the role of cuckold. For her sensitive portrayal, Lane got all the way to a Best Actress Oscar nomination.—Joshua Rothkopf

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34

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Bedfellows: Lots of naked extras

The film
Stanley Kubrick’s final movie follows a wealthy Manhattan doctor (Tom Cruise) as he embarks on an unfulfilled sexual odyssey after learning that his wife (Nicole Kidman) was once tempted by a sailor.

The sex scene
For a movie about sex, Eyes Wide Shut doesn’t have all that much of it—if anything, the hero’s journey into the New York night is an epic tour of missed opportunities. Be that as it may, apparently there was still too much sex for the MPAA, who slapped the film with an NC-17. Warner Bros.’ solution? Obscure much of the iconic orgy sequence with dark CGI silhouettes. Kubrick had only been in his grave a few months, but it’s safe to assume he was already rolling in it.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Digitally altering a sex scene without the informed consent of the film’s director sets a mighty dangerous precedent. Even worse are the flourishes that future filmmakers have since agreed to: Remember Leslie Mann’s computer-generated breasts in The Change-Up? Follow-up question: Remember The Change-Up?—David Ehrlich

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33

Secretary (2002)

Director: Steven Shainberg
Bedfellows: Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Spader

The film
A hard-charging lawyer (Spader) hires an unstable young assistant (Gyllenhaal) who turns the tables on him in a sadomasochistic relationship conducted after hours.

The sex scene
Viewers are treated to some rather sweet body-worshipping by film's end, but most remember it for Gyllenhaal bent over a desk, slowly sliding down her panties.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Consensual dominance and submission is the undercurrent of many indie films. Impressively, though, Secretary does double duty: It celebrates the occasionally violent intimacy between two partners while somehow launching the career of a fully empowered female actor, Gyllenhaal, who's never less than confident. Fifty Shades of Grey will have to be extra impressive to eclipse this.—Joshua Rothkopf

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32

Law of Desire (1987)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Bedfellows: Eusebio Poncela, Antonio Banderas

The film
A one-of-a-kind masterpiece, Pedro Almodóvar’s sex comedy-cum-melodrama is a gay love triangle—and a prime example of his genre-bending 1980s style.

The sex scene
Film director Pablo (Poncela) meets a young man named Antonio (Banderas) and takes him home. The sex, Antonio’s first time with a man, is a lighthearted affair that sets in motion a much tenser series of events.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This wasn’t Almodóvar’s first film to foreground sexuality. It was, however, his first that feels set in the real world, a linchpin between the stylized madness of Matador and his more polished later work. It may still be his freshest effort.—Daniel Walber

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31

Pink Flamingos (1972)

Director: John Waters
Bedfellows: Cookie Mueller, Danny Mills

The film
There's only room in Baltimore for one person to claim the title of Filthiest Person Alive. Will it be Divine's Babs Johnson or jealous sleazoids the Marbles?

The sex scene
Cookie (Mueller) infiltrates the pink trailer and hooks up with Crackers (Mills), a taste-challenged layabout. Their sex is wild, no doubt enhanced by the presence of a live, squawking chicken that gets crushed in between the wildly humping duo.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Pink Flamingos remains one of the most controversial films ever made—particularly for a moment at the very end that has nothing to do with sex. (We won't poop on anyone's pleasure by ruining it.) But the chicken-sex scene is impossible to forget, no doubt contributing to the movie's notoriety and world-wide bannings.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Best sex scenes: 30–21

30

From Here to Eternity (1953)

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Beachfellows: Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster

The film
As the U.S. Navy prepares to meet a date with destiny at Pearl Harbor, an upstanding officer (Lancaster) gets a in a little too deep with his CO’s wife (Kerr).

The sex scene
Their relationship reaches its onscreen climax during a day at the beach, as these two illicit paramours get freaky in the sand. There’s no actual action, just a discreet fade to black.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s not just the sight of an unmarried couple making out like a pair of slippery sea otters. The scene itself is also surprisingly steamy for classic-era Hollywood, with those skimpy costumes and all that crashing metaphorical surf.—Tom Huddleston

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29

The Brown Bunny (2003)

Director: Vincent Gallo
Bedfellows: Gallo, Chloë Sevigny

The film
“The worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival” according to Roger Ebert (before Gallo trimmed 26 minutes from his original cut, prompting Ebert to reconsider), this meditative art-house drama follows a motorcycle racer’s cross-country journey as he’s haunted by the memory of his ex-girlfriend.

The sex scene
Our hero’s former lover (Sevigny) meets him at a seedy hotel, smokes some crack and then—very graphically—becomes his current lover. In a too-hot-for-YouTube moment, Sevigny unbuckles Gallo’s pants, unleashes his erect penis and begins to perform aggressive oral sex. Dramatically, the scene is hard to swallow, but it sure ties the film together.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This was hardly the first time that a respected actor performed an unsimulated explicit sexual act, but seldom had it been done with such commitment, despite the potential consequences it could have had for her career. Insisting that the film should be played in museums and admitting that she and Gallo had been intimate before, Sevigny was openly proud of her involvement in the project. That first Cannes screening provoked William Morris Agency to drop Sevigny as a client, but Sevigny would soon prove she was just getting started.—David Ehrlich

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28

Caligula (1979)

Director: Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione, Giancarlo Lui
Bedfellows: Anneka di Lorenzo, Lori Wagner

The film
Here’s a Hollywood curiosity: a historical drama chronicling the depraved reign of the Roman emperor who fell in love with his sister. It all looks so proper on paper, with literary heavyweight Gore Vidal writing the script and British thespians Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole and Sir John Gielgud starring. But Caligula was bankrolled to the tune of $10 million of by Penthouse boss Bob Guccione, who, unhappy with the film, secretly filmed explicit scenes after the shoot wrapped. These days we can choose between the arty and hard-core versions.

The sex scene
From the latter cut, naturally, comes the famous lesbian scene, starring Penthouse Pets Anneka di Lorenzo and Lori Wagner, who engage in a three-minute romp with zero relevance to the plot.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Caligula was panned by critics, Variety calling it “a moral holocaust.” Banned in the U.K. for 30 years, the film is now a cult classic. Helen Mirren described it as “an irresistible mix of art and genitals.” In 2005, the artist Francesco Vezzoli made a trailer for a fake remake starring Mirren and Milla Jovovich.—Cath Clarke

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27

Boogie Nights (1997)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Bedfellows: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore

The film
Launching PTA into the firmaments, this epic rise-and-fall saga of big-dicked, small-brained Dirk Diggler depicts the porn industry’s comedown into the age of home video.

The sex scene
For his first sex scene, Diggler (Wahlberg) is paired with veteran porn icon Amber Waves (Moore). As the astonished crew witnesses the emergence of a major new talent, Amber’s warm maternal instincts help put her young costar at ease. The movie is full of professional penetration, but this scene—the Big Bang at the beginning of Dirk’s new life—is unique for its sweetness.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Released just before the Internet pulled porn into its most popular incarnation, Boogie Nights arrived at the perfect time to make adult movies feel cool again. The film is hardly a blind endorsement for the industry, but watching an actor of Moore’s caliber disappear into a scene like this introduced a little sincerity into smut.—David Ehrlich

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26

Coming Home (1978)

Director: Hal Ashby
Bedfellows: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight

The film
Ashby’s antiwar drama escaped from the colossal shadow of The Deer Hunter by virtue of its intimate focus on the blossoming affair between an army wife and the paraplegic soldier she meets when her husband is serving in Vietnam.

The sex scene
In what Variety described at the time as “a masterpiece of discreet romantic eroticism,” Sally (Fonda) and Luke (Voight) finally consummate their burgeoning romance. His handicap is the elephant in the room, but it does nothing to diminish the quality of their sex—in fact, Sally enjoys her first orgasm.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The Vietnam War returned a generation of American men back to their lives with devastating wounds, physical and otherwise. Coming Home was the first film to confront this epidemic, targeting men at their most sensitive areas in order to illustrate that they may be wounded, but they’re still alive.—David Ehrlich

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25

Shortbus (2006)

Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Orgyfellows: Too many participants to name

The film
Determined to make a place for sex in cinema outside of pornography, John Cameron Mitchell created this panorama of sexual problems and possibilities centered around an underground salon in New York City.

The sex scene
In the midst of a citywide power outage, everything comes together in a final climax of togetherness. The characters arrive one by one, wordlessly smiling at each other and approaching one last sexual burst. A band arrives, the tempo quickens, and the room spins. Happiness is a chorus and an orgy.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Explicit, unsimulated sex isn’t always pornography. All of Shortbus makes this argument. The point here is sex as character development, as metaphor, as art. It’s something filmmakers shouldn’t be afraid of.—Daniel Walber

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24

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Director: Spike Lee
Bedfellows: Lee, Rosie Perez

The film
A Bedford-Stuyvesant block explodes on the most sweltering day of the summer, as a local pizzeria becomes a magnet for racial tensions.

The sex scene
Long before the movie eases into its more serious register, delivery boy Mookie (Lee) goes AWOL from his route, teasing girlfriend Tina (Perez) with dripping ice cubes skillfully applied to bared parts of her body.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The scene, no doubt, gave plenty of couples a few new ideas. It's also a perfectly judged comic interlude—a refresher, if you will—in a tightly plotted drama. But for all the nudity on display, it never feels gratuitous. Rather, it's a crucial reminder of the joys we have to live for.—Joshua Rothkopf

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23

Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986)

Director: Adrian Lyne
Bedfellows: Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke

The film
An ’80s version of Fifty Shades of Grey, Lyne’s soft-core erotic classic chronicles the brief relationship between a wealthy Wall Street arbitrator (Rourke, still human) and the young art-gallery employee (Basinger) he bends to his will.

The sex scene
Today, the kids call it “sploshing.” Revisiting a foodie motif from earlier in the film, Rourke sits Basinger at the foot of his refrigerator and begins feeding her all sorts of squishy, gooey foods (anything that you wouldn’t want to eat in bed is fair game). Basinger slurps strawberries out of Rourke’s hand as the Newbeats’ “Bread and Butter” plays over the soundtrack. It’s all fun and games until Rourke switches to honey and the two lovers begin tasting each other.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Featuring the sex scene that launched a thousand imitators, Nine 1/2 Weeks did for food what Marilyn Monroe did for blonds.—David Ehrlich

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22

When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Director: Rob Reiner
Boothfellows: Meg Ryan, with an audience of Billy Crystal

The film
Ryan and Crystal play friends pondering the benefits in screenwriter Nora Ephron’s sparkling New York rom-com.

The sex scene
Okay, it’s not quite a sex scene, but the world was still shocked and titillated when that nice Meg Ryan got all panty and overexcited while faking an orgasm at Katz’s, just to prove a point to her surly platonic chum Billy Crystal.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Female orgasms have always been a bit taboo for Hollywood, unless they’re presented in time-honored, hand-clenching-the-sheets fashion (and always supplied by a man). By taking it out of the bedroom, Ephron and Ryan rubbed their pleasure right in the audiences faces.—Tom Huddleston

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21

Max Mon Amour (1986)

Director: Nagisa Oshima
Bedfellows: Charlotte Rampling, a chimpanzee

The film
Having brushed aside sexual taboos with Empire of the Senses, Japanese maverick Oshima subsequently posited a bourgeois wife’s love affair with our nearest animal relative (courtesy of vivid prosthetic costumery). Aware that our imaginations are filthier than anything they could put onscreen, the filmmakers deliver an urbane comedy of manners facilitated by Rampling’s ability to seem like she’s always up for anything.

The sex scene
When hubby discovers Rampling in her secret Parisian love nest, he pulls back the sheets to reveal her simian playmate.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
How many comedies about bestiality are there?—Trevor Johnston

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Best sex scenes: 20–11

20

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Director: Stephen Frears
Bedfellows: Daniel Day-Lewis, Gordon Warnecke

The film
This mid-1980s London-set British comedy tackles issues of race, sexuality and politics with a pleasingly light touch as it tells the story of Omar (Warnecke), a young British-Pakistani man seduced by the capitalist dream—David Ehrlichspite his father being a left-wing radical. That’s not all he’s seduced by: He falls for Johnny (Day-Lewis), a local roughneck whose aggression and racism mask tenderness.

The sex scene
When Omar’s uncle opens a gleaming new laundry, Omar and Johnny fall into each other’s arms in the back room as the opening party kicks off next door.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Frears presents an interracial, same-sex relationship as nothing special: not an issue, not a dilemma—just fun, youthful and impulsive.—Dave Calhoun

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19

Team America: World Police (2004)

Director: Trey Parker
Bedfellows: Two puppets

The film
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone tackle the War on Terror through the medium of herky-jerky all-strings-attached puppetry.

The sex scene
Having been recruited by the titular forces of truth, justice and heavy weaponry, greatest-actor-of-his-generation Gary finds himself attracted to his quip-happy comrade, Lisa. It’s not long before the two of them are getting together for a night of steamy and surprisingly flexible passion.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
In a scene seemingly designed to set Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson spinning in his grave, these two perverted Pinocchios run the gamut of eye-opening acrobatic indulgence. Insert your own “getting wood” joke here.—Tom Huddleston

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18

North by Northwest (1959)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Bedfellows: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint

The film
Alfred Hitchcock’s oh-so-debonair chase movie sees besuited adman Grant hooking up with saucy sidekick Saint while on the run from mysterious forces.

The sex scene
It’s the most notorious visual double entendre in cinematic history: Having saved her from certain death atop Mount Rushmore, Grant finally gets Saint alone in a train’s sleeper car. They joke a little, he pulls her back on the bunk—and we cut to a shot of the train plunging into a tunnel.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Because you weren’t supposed to be able to get away with gags like that back in 1959. It might have gone over some audience members’ heads—that’s the joy of it, really—but it also had a profound effect on film: Here is the birth of all those deliciously crude Airplane-style sight gags.—Tom Huddleston

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17

Harold and Maude (1971)

Director: Hal Ashby
Bedfellows: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort

The film
This hippyish, let-it-all-hang-out romance tells the love story of Harold (Cort), a depressed 20-year-old whose hobbies include faking his own death and gate-crashing funerals, and fun-loving 79-year-old eccentric Maude (Gordon).

The sex scene
In a state of postcoital bliss, Harold sits up in bed blowing bubbles while Maude sleeps, her hair spread across the pillow. Ashby had written a longer sex scene between Harold and Maude, but the studio forced him to cut it. 

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Harold and Maude bombed at the box office but you can see its influence in pretty much every quirky oddball-couple indie movie ever since. And even though the deed itself was censored, it’s hard to think of another film that has portrayed an over-60s woman as a sexual being with perfectly ordinary desires.—Cath Clarke

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16

Belle de Jour (1967)

Director: Luis Buñuel
Bedfellows: Catherine Deneuve

The film
Buñuel’s mischievously deadpan erotic comedy stars Deneuve as Severine, a bored housewife who takes a job—afternoons from two to five—in a high-class brothel to play out her fantasies.

The sex scene
The opening sequence: In a horse-drawn cart on a country estate, a young couple whisper sweet nothings to each other. “I love you more each day,” he coos. Suddenly, they quarrel and the man orders his driver to drag the woman out of the cart, tie her to a tree and whip her. “Be rough with the little tramp,” he adds. And then Severine wakes up. This is her masochistic fantasy.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s one of the most famous erotic films of all time. You can trace the influence of Belle de Jour in the work of David Lynch, while feminist commentators claim Severine as a trailblazer, getting away with her double life.—Cath Clarke

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15

Deep Throat (1972)

Director: Gerard Damiano (as Jerry Gerard)
Bedfellows: Linda Lovelace, Harry Reems

The film
Possibly the most famous X-rated film of all time, comedic sex-romp Deep Throat stars 23-year-old Lovelace as a woman who discovers her clitoris is in her throat.

The sex scene
Linda is unable to orgasm, so she pays a visit to a psychiatrist, Dr. Young (Reems)—a real kook but horny as hell. He discovers her unusual condition. His solution? A technique called “deep throat.” He suggests Linda practice on him.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Deep Throat brought hard-core sex to the mainstream. Celebs like Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson and Truman Capote went to see it, as did millions more. The clampdown—Deep Throat was banned in certain parts of the U.S.—only fueled the phenomenon. Shot for $25,500 (of mob money), it made an estimated $500 million at the box office. Years later, the film was still making headlines when Lovelace claimed that her then-husband Chuck Traynor forced her into taking part.—Cath Clarke

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14

Kids (1995)

Director: Larry Clark
Bedfellows: Leo Fitzpatrick, Sarah Henderson

The film
Clark’s disturbingly frank study of middle-class teens running wild in NYC is still shocking two decades later.

The sex scene
In the film’s very first scene, self-proclaimed “virgin surgeon” Telly (Fitzpatrick) talks his way into deflowering his latest victim, an unnamed 12-year-old girl. His gruesome voiceover (“fucking is what I love”) makes the moment even more unsettling.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Because it still feels completely, unnervingly real. Future director Harmony Korine was just 19 when he penned the script and the result proved hugely controversial, with Clark accused of flirting with child pornography. Whatever your take on it, Kids walks a striking balance between beauty and horror.—Tom Huddleston

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13

Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

Director: Kimberly Peirce
Fieldfellows: Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny

The film
Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon Teena, a transgender man murdered in Nebraska in 1993.

The sex scene
At night in a field so dark and striking it feels like a faraway dream, Brandon (Swank) and Lana (Sevigny) have sex for the first time. Lana tells it in flashback to her friends, her emotional arc doubled by the way the scene bounces between present and past.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Boys Don’t Cry is a tragedy. Yet it is still the most culturally prominent portrayal of a transgender man in American cinema. Its brutal conclusion claws at the memory 15 years after its premiere, but its hopeful moments remain just as important.—Daniel Walber

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12

Body Heat (1981)

Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Bedfellows: Kathleen Turner, William Hurt

The film
A decade before Basic Instinct launched the era of the mainstream erotic thriller, Lawrence Kasdan reinvented film noir for a sophisticated modern audience with this sweaty tale of scheming femmes fatales.

The sex scene
After chasing her around for days like a puppy in heat, Hurt’s smug lawyer Ned Racine finally tracks temptress Matty Walker (Turner) to her lair. Enticed by her come-hither eyes (“You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man”), he smashes a window and dives into her waiting arms.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Most movies use sex either as cheap titillation or as a form of punctuation. In Body Heat, it’s all about character. These characters are both playing roles here: he, the mad-with-lust macho man; she, the shrinking coquette. The thing is, only one of them knows it’s all an act.—Tom Huddleston

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11

Ekstase (1933)

Director: Gustav Machaty
Bedfellows: Hedy Lamarr, Aribert Mog

The film
Czech director Machaty’s overheated melodrama about an impotent husband, a frisky young wife and the beau who spots her skinny-dipping made an international icon of 19-year-old Hedy Kiesler. U.S. customs burned an uncensored print, but it didn’t stop MGM’s Louis B. Mayer from signing up the starlet, renaming her Hedy Lamarr and launching a new Hollywood goddess.

The sex scene
Hedy’s much-cut nude swimming brought her notoriety, though even more groundbreaking is a semiclothed love scene, where the camera rests on her face as passion mounts. Note also the highly symbolic string of pearls falling to the floor.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s nothing less than the first onscreen female orgasm.—Trevor Johnston

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Best sex scenes: 10–1

10
It Happened One Night (1934)
1/10

It Happened One Night (1934)

Director: Frank Capra
Not-quite-bedfellows: Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable 

The film
Heiress-on-the-lam Colbert meets moustachioed cad Gable on the night bus to nowhere. Will their initial loathing last? 

The sex scene
There’s no actual sex here (it was 1934, after all) but merely the thought of unmarried strangers Gable and Colbert sharing a motel room was scandalous when Capra’s riotous road movie was first released. The fact that Clark hangs a sheet down the center of the room for modesty’s sake didn’t quiet the moral majority one bit.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Only a few years after the infamous Hays Code was brought in to restrain Hollywood’s seedier tendencies, films like It Happened One Night were already kicking against censorship. The film won heaps of Oscars including Best Picture, so take that, you fusty prudes.—Tom Huddleston

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9
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
2/10

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Bedfellows: Willem Dafoe, Barbara Hershey

The film
Bluntly adapting Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel of the same name, Scorsese’s most controversial film portrays the Son of God as a fallible man, liable to the vices and temptations with which all human beings must contend.

The sex scene
While nailed to the cross, an angel appears to Jesus and leads him on a guided hallucination of the life he might have lead. That life includes Jesus fathering a child with Mary Magdalene, and it turns out that sex is the best way to do that. Sure, it’s all a dream, and thus rather theologically protected, but that didn’t stop people from losing their minds over it.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s Jesus Christ having sex. That’s not exactly what he’s known for.—David Ehrlich

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8
Basic Instinct (1992)
3/10

Basic Instinct (1992)

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Bedfellows: Sharon Stone, a short skirt, a bunch of drooling detectives

The film
Sharon Stone stars as writer Catherine Tramell, a noirish femme fatale suspected of murdering a music mogul with an ice pick during a bondage sex session.

The sex scene
Even if you haven’t seen the film, you know the scene: Stone is being questioned by five cops and she’s eating them alive. Dressed to kill in a slinky white suit, she basically performs a striptease, slipping off her jacket as she bats their questions aside. Finally she uncrosses and recrosses her legs, showing them—and us—that her lips are sealed (sorry).

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The scene is one of the most controversial and iconic of the 1990s. Basic Instinct was championed by feminist critic Camille Paglia, who argued that it features “one of the great performances by a woman in screen history.” Others called it misogynist.—Cath Clarke

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7
In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
4/10

In the Realm of the Senses (1976)

Director: Nagisa Oshima
Bedfellows: Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda

The film
Oshima’s 1976 masterpiece—the crown jewel of a career hell-bent on upsetting the establishment—recounts the true story of the all-consuming sexual obsession that blossomed between a hotel owner and his new employee in 1936 Tokyo.

The sex scene
How do we pick just one? A marvel of escalation, In the Realm of the Senses is an almost constant stream of increasingly perverse sex acts. To isolate any moment from the maelstrom of deviant (and unsimulated) behavior would be arbitrary by default. Nevertheless, we’d argue the sequence that most pushes the boundaries occurs when Kichizo (Fuji) inserts a hard-boiled egg into the vagina of his new bride, Sada (Matsuda), in full view of the people serving them dinner. He then instructs Sada to squat like a hen and lay the egg on the floor before he eats it. In most films, the pain that Sada experiences would immediately classify the act as sexual assault, but In the Realm of the Senses renders our judgments irrelevant.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Even for generations raised on free Internet porn, the acts on display in Oshima’s movie are still taboo. In the Realm of the Senses was the first nonpornographic film to include blow jobs, and there’s a very graphic one prior to the scene of food insertion. But it’s only when you watch that egg disappear that you begin to comprehend the full extent of the film’s transgression.—David Ehrlich

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6
“The Kiss” (1896)
5/10

“The Kiss” (1896)

Director: William Heise
Bedfellows: May Irwin, John Rice

The film
In 1896, at just 47 seconds long, this was the very first kiss to be caught on film, in Thomas Edison’s Black Maria studio in New York.

The sex scene
Actors May Irwin and John Rice re-create the closing scene from a musical they starred in, The Widow Jones

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It looks so innocent now. But as well as giving us cinema’s first smooch, “The Kiss” provoked one of its earliest scandals, with outraged editorials in newspapers and calls for police to intervene.—Cath Clarke

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5
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
6/10

Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Bedfellows: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux

The film
This undeniably erotic but also deeply sensitive French film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for its free and frank portrayal of two young women, Adèle (Exarchopoulos), a schoolgirl, and Emma (Seydoux), an art student. They fall in love and face the challenge of sharing something in the long term other than sex.

The sex scene
When Adèle and Emma first hit the bedsheets, Kechiche shows their lovemaking in intimate detail: a long, no-holds-barred sex scene.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
On paper, six minutes doesn’t sound long. But when you’re sitting through kissing, sucking, licking and slapping, six minutes feels very long indeed. Audiences who thought they’d seen it all suddenly realized they hadn’t.—Dave Calhoun

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4
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
7/10

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Director: Ang Lee
Tentfellows: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal

The film
A heartbreaking modern love story for some, an effort to “advance the gay agenda” for idiotic others, Brokeback Mountain at last introduced homosexuality to the Hollywood mainstream. 

The sex scene
It gets lonely up on that mountain and nature takes its course. When young cowpokes Ledger and Gyllenhaal are hired to watch over a flock of sheep over a long, remote summer, their relationship takes a turn that neither of them saw coming.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This was the first gay sex scene in a major movie, and while it was hardly the full-frontal gruntfest some audience members may have been hoping for, it was more confrontational than many viewers expected. It helps that the surrounding film is nothing less than a modern classic.—Tom Huddleston

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3
Persona (1966)
8/10

Persona (1966)

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Bedfellows: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann

The film
After the catatonic breakdown of stage star Elisabet (Ullmann), she and nurse Alma (Andersson) enter into a fluid, mesmerizing power struggle, also a meeting of the minds.

The sex scene
In a semidarkened room, Alma relates a tale of sex on the beach with her girlfriend and a pair of underage boys, an incident with dire consequences.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
A classic sex scene with no actual sex in it? That's expert-level, folks. It helps to be Ingmar Bergman, the master director who could wring a heartbreaking monologue out of a shoe. Andersson's matter-of-fact relation of graphic acts makes the scene unbearably hot. The moment was often cut from prints by concerned censors. Famously, Roger Ebert wrote, “The imagery of this monologue is so powerful that I have heard people describe the scene as if they actually saw it in the film.”—Joshua Rothkopf

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2
Don’t Look Now (1973)
9/10

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Director: Nicolas Roeg
Bedfellows: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland

The film
Working with a Daphne du Maurier short story, Roeg gives us Laura (Christie) and John (Sutherland), a married couple who travel from Britain to Venice for his job after losing their young daughter in a drowning accident.

The sex scene
It’s a simple predinner sex scene in a hotel room, but the way Roeg shoots and edits it, and the manner in which the actors perform it, makes it extremely powerful.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It just feels so real. It’s also a rare sex scene that chimes in perfect harmony with the film around it. Their sex feels like both an expression of grief and a welcome respite from it. Most of all, the actors just look like they know what they’re doing. No wonder they’ve been denying the sex was real ever since.—Dave Calhoun

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1
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
10/10

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Floorfellows: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider

The film
Bertolucci’s steamy tale of two strangers meeting in a Paris flat for impersonal sex remains a byword for confrontational coupling onscreen.

The sex scene
Brando pins Schneider facedown on a hardwood floor and indulges his fondness for dairy products in an unforgettable fashion. You’ll never look at cinema sex—or read the word “unsalted”—the way same again.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
When Last Tango in Paris was first released, it was a cause célèbre: Never before had sex onscreen been so raw and emotionless. In the age of Tinder, the film has lost some of its impact, and there’s a streak of misogyny that feels undeniably ugly. But with its two powerhouse performances, Last Tango still, um, stands up.—Tom Huddleston

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Comments

14 comments
Dan C
Dan C

There was a foreign movie with 12 year olds. I can't remember the name. 

rick t
rick t

Blue is the Warmest Color should be here.

Shirley D
Shirley D

@rick t It is there. I guess you didn't click through the final ten films.

Isadora W
Isadora W

It very sad you picked "The Last Tango in Paris" as Maria Schneider was coerced in that scene - in real life, by Brando and the director. She has repeatedly talked about not even knowing it would turn out as an anal scene.

Apart from confusing sex scene and a rape scene here, as Movie specialists you should know the History of the scene.

angelo c
angelo c

I liked the scenes between Anne Hayward and Keir Dullea in The Fow  1967. I was 15  when it came out It was intense. Even Sandy Dennis and Hayward in a lesbian scene was  good.

angelo c
angelo c

I thought you would include The Fox with some lesbian pairing between sandy Dennis  and Anne Haywood or Hayward with Kier Dullea. The sex scenes were riveting to me as an eighteen year old…intense man.

julio d
julio d

I Think 9 1/2 Weeks should be in the top 10.. it is those movies you can not play in your living room full of people without feeling uncomfortable... thats how sexual tensed it is... 

Carol G
Carol G

Misogyny is not the right word. RAPE is what you ment to say.

No I am not some man hating feminist.

When a women is crying and shouting "no" and you have to pin her down to have sex. It's rape. It's that simple.

Really saddens me that the Last Tango in paris scene would be included as a sex scene.

Rape is not sex. It's violence and overpowering another human being.

Shows us exactly what is wrong with society today.

Shame on you.

mce343 e
mce343 e

I was getting ready to agree with you when I realized you just called me a man hater simply because I'm a feminist. I do agree on everything else but that hurt.