Sex in American Cinema: 1990 - 2016

Connor Winterton


'Sex in American Cinema: 1990 – 2016' will examine the representation of sexual acts in American cinema, both within mainstream and independent sectors, post-1990. The 1990s was arguably a time of liberalism; President Clinton campaigned as an 'agent of change' (Brill: 2009, p.17), and the socio-cultural environment of the 1990s allowed a shift in sexual representations on-screen that endures today.

Linking together social, cultural and historical contexts, my research will analyse sex as a narrative and structural devise, alongside what it communicates about different forms of sexual pleasure. My three key areas will be the representation of sex as an act of love, the depictions of taboo sexual desire, and the rise in visibility of 'queer sex'. My research questions are therefore: how is sex (stylistically) represented in contemporary American film, since the 90s, and how have these depictions altered? What dialogue do mainstream and independent sectors have with each other when it comes to sex on-screen, and how do they change across platforms? How is queer sex being presented and what does this say about the state of queer politics in American culture? At the same time, my thesis will assess the importance of spectatorship, and what ideologies are confirmed to audiences regarding sexual acts (for example, what does the sex in scene in Titanic (1998) say about heterosexuality and love-making?).

Contemporary academia and discourse has primarily examined sex in film through its relationship to genre or pornography, and because of this, my thesis will pay close attention to the sexual acts themselves, and how important they are in relation to narrative, spectatorship and ideology. Unlike other scholarly work, my thesis will also not only investigate how the sexual acts are reflecting broader socio-cultural values and how they are aesthetically presented, but also what the acts are actually communicating about sex itself, and how they often challenge or perpetuate myths or ideologies surrounding sex in society.

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