In the Louis Vuitton luggage advertisement on the back cover of The New Yorker, she looks to be indeterminately forty-four or so years, on youthful side of looking old. On Wikipedia, I learn she is approaching sixty-four, just a year younger than me. The raised collar of her trench coat, in the ad photo, covers her faintly sagging neck skin. Her wrinkles near her eyes are air-brushed away. Her beautiful legs--the legs are the last to go, I once read a Paris fashion designer say--are prominently displayed. Her legs could launch a thousand slips on the runways of desire. Even now. I love her look in the advertisement. A thousand fantasies. For a moment, just a moment, though her eyes do not look at me, I forget the inexorible march of my body toward the tattering age.
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.
As I understand it, the women MPs were off-duty and wearing shorts and halters. They weren't torturing Iraqi Muslim male prisoners by forcing them to watch women with bare breasts or butts. And, judging from the pictures I saw, which showed the women smiling and laughing, they were having consensual fun. So what's wrong with this? Are fully-clothed regulation softball and table-tennis the only sports soldiers are allowed for recreation? Aren't our hard-working, war-zone, no-front-lines-so-everyone-is-at-risk soldiers allowed some fun? Well, I'm a guy, so that makes my reaction suspect, I suppose. So I asked my wife about it. Over dinner (at a modest restaurant, btw, so I was not bribing her opinion). And she said the military and Americans should lighten up. There you have it. We vote off-duty covered-up consensual fun mud-wrestling is okay.
I recall a peculiar conversation when I was dating the woman whom I would later marry. She and I were talking with someone else, exchanging details of how we met, who made overtures to whom, what we did on our first date, and second date, and other hugely interesting facts of our social lives. At some point I said something about how I chose my girl friend. She riposted quickly, you didn't choose; you were chosen.
That was news to me. I had gone through all the normal male soul-searching and deliberations, weighing this quality against that feature, to focus my attention on this one woman. How could she say that I did not do any choosing? Of course, she was right. To me, with my consciousness at the center of my world, I experienced our courtship from the point of view of what I wanted from her. But I was being drawn toward her by her pheromones she emitted, actually or metaphorically. It was chemisty, actually or metaphorically.
I should have known. I had the experience, as a single male, of inexplicable dating experiences. Some women turned me on; others didn't. I didn't respond to some women, who fit all the qualities that I expected to respond to. A chance encounter on an airplane with a trim, petite blonde, neat and sexy, instantly drew sparks. Yet when we got to bed a few hours later, my body would not respond to her. An encounter with a dark-haired girl at a horse show drew a different response. She was smeared with horse saliva and manure, dirty from preparing a friend's horse for showing, sweaty on a hot day - hardly the picture of feminine allure. Not at all neat and sexy. When we eventually got to bed, I had one of the great sexual experiences of my life. Sexual relations are a circus of illusions. It was an illusion, as I learned when I grew up, that I had much to do with being attracted to a woman. I was just responding out of body chemisty to the chemistry of the right match. It was another illusion that what a woman looked like had anything to do with how alive our sex would be. A woman might look like she dropped off of a Hollywood movie screen and be dead, for me at least, in bed. I suppose the same is true from a woman's point of view. A man can look, for all appearances, hot, sexy and desirable; yet be a dud for the woman in bed.
Freud had a theory to explain this human experience, which he saw as universal. (I understand that Freud's work is no longer accepted as scientific truth, but I think this theory has a great deal of objective merit.) Freud thought that each person's primary sexual personality, their gender, was established before puberty, that is, before the mature development of breasts and hips, cock and muscle bulk, which Freud called the secondary sexual characteristics. As adolescents, we learn how to present our new sexual body and behaviors to other persons to make us attractive to them; and we respond consciously to the sexual attractions displayed to us by others. Cosmetics and clothing emphasize these attractions. But these attractions are not the qualities that make us who we are, as sexual personalities, or determine how we respond to others. It is the primary sexual character, established while we were unaware before puberty, Freud says, that draws us to others and determines how we and they will respond. By the time we are ready for heterosexual love in adolescence and adulthood, our minds are just going along with the chemistry for the ride, no matter what we tell ourselves.