Well, in an obvious, dictionary way, we know that unsimulated sex is sex that is not feigned. If a man and a woman are depicted in a movie as having conventional intercourse, unsimulated intercourse is when (as they are depicted) the man's erect penis penetrates the woman's vagina. Simulated sex is when the depiction is merely that, depiction; the couple is not actually having sex. These considerations appear to identify unsimulated sex, discussed by directors and critics in the IFC's "Indie Sex" series (about which I wrote earlier). But this description raises more questions than it answers, because of the nature of movie illusion.
The issues are (1) how much of the scene of sexual activity is simulated and (2) to what extent the audience must enter into the illusion. Let's move beyond the mechanics of sexual congress. Suppose that the male actor's and woman actor's characters in the scene, according to earlier development of the script of the movie, are in love. Not only in love, they are in early, passionate stage of love about which poets write and singer's sing. Let's suppose in the scene that the sex in which they engage is real. It was actuated in front of the camera and the camera recorded what they did. In the narrow sense, their sex was unsimulated. But was it really?
What if the actors on the screen are really having sex, as recorded by the camera, but they are not the actors who have played the characters up to this scene in the movie? If the imagery on the screen, in a scene of fake sex, shows a man's erect penis penetrating a woman's sexual orifice, the sexual anatomy probably belongs to body doubles or models who are having sex. The clip of the body doubles' sex is inserted into the appropriate place in the movie, so as to make it appear, falsely, to the audience, that the main actors are having unsimulated sex. Alternatively, it is possible, given "life-like" plastic sexual toys, that the simulated sex seen on the screen was performed with sex toys, like puppets. Is the simulated sex by sex toys so different from the unsimulated sex by body doubles?
And we shouldn't confuse the actors with the characters they play. The actors are not really in love with each other (though their characters are). The actors don't have passion for each other. The words they speak as they make love are not from their hearts, but from the script. The moans of passion and outbursts of excitement are not genuine, but prompted by the script. Indeed, we may suppose that the scene, as it appears on the screen, required days of rehearsal to place and move the camera and arrange the bodies of the actors. The scene required repeated takes. The sequence of sexual activities in the final cut of the movie does not correspond to the sequence of takes in which the scene was shot. (It looks like he is kissing her nipples at the beginning of the scene, but that take was filmed at the end of 132 filmed takes; that sort of thing.) The sweat of passion was sprayed from a spritzer bottle on the faces of the actors. The flush of blood to the breasts of the woman, to depict the progress of her arousal, was painted with cosmetics. The male actor's erection was obtained for rehearsals over these several days by manual and oral manipulation. A sex worker was employed off stage to bring the actor's penis to arousal just prior to his appearance in the bed where he performs passionate sex with the actress. When this much production went into the sexual performance, what sense does it make to call the sex "unsimulated"?
Catherine Breillat's film, "Sex Is Comedy" (French with English subtitles, 2002; search for the film at the Independent Film Channel website), illustrates all of these illusions. The movie concerns making a sexually intimate scene for a movie, in which the two main characters, who would engage in sex, do not care for each other (the leading female actor's character, indeed, appears to be in love with the film's director, a woman, who is having an affair with the lead male actor [such a French soap opera of the ways of love!]). The male actor's erect penis is a silicone shaft fitted over his real penis and attached at the base with velcro. He wears a fake shaft, so that his real penis will not touch the actress who is his partner in the sex scene, because she is repulsed by him. Many takes of the scene are attempted, during which we see the progress of the scene, both directly as it is being filmed and indirectly through the monitor viewed by the director. The actress has great difficulty acting--that is faking--her sexual role. At the end of the movie, we see the final take of the scene as we might see it on the theater screen. At this point, of course, we know that the sex is simulated in several ways.
For us to believe the screen sex is unsimulated, we must enter into the illusion of the movie. For us to ignore that the scene's sexual act is a performance by actors that took place over days, perhaps weeks (one indie director spoke of preparing the actors for two years[!] for a group sex scene), we must be in a state of illusion. We must suspend disbelief. (I wouldn't say that we need to be in a state of arousal, though subjectively sexual arousal requires certain illusions, too. Being aroused might help us suspend disbelief, because we want to believe the sex on the screen is real, because that would reinforce our arousal; but that's not necessary.)
So, as we follow the progress of the movie, we come to the unsimulated sex scene in a state of illusion. For us to enjoy the unsimulated sex scene, we must maintain that illusion. To maintain the illusion, we must not break out of the spell of the movie and say to ourselves, "Oh, wow, this sex is unsimulated!" If we were to break the spell of illusion, the unsimulated sex would not effectively carry the story of the movie forward. If the movie is effective, we must view the unsimulated sex scene just as we view all other scenes, with suspension of disbelief, with the illusion of reality for what we are watching on the screen. In other words, even if the sex scene is unsimulated, we will view it, from within our state of illusion, as another simulated scene by actors. In a genuine theatrical film, all scenes are simulated, even unsimulated sex scenes. That's the point of movies. So why bother with unsimulated sex at all? If unsimulated sex were not simulated, the film wouldn't be a film; it would be porn.
Revised, August 26, 2007, September 14, 2007.