Objectification Of Women In Sex Scenes? ‘The Affair’ Actress Ruth Wilson Says It’s A Thing


They’re the very thing that makes many people squirm awkwardly when watching with senior members of your family, or a first date. We’re talking about sex scenes of course. When you think of sex scenes in film and TV, you think of sensuality, perfect bodies, groans, sighs and the like. Visions of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in the new ’50 Shades of Grey’ film and what the literary bondage sex scenes will look like on screen also probably spring to mind. But do you ever think of discrimination against women?

Sorry to be total boner killer right there…

The thing is, there is a huge movement to examine the representation of women in sex scenes, especially since we are at a time where women are becoming empowered like never before in entertainment. Although we still have a long way to go, the more female writers, directors, and producers we have, the more realistic a character depiction and storyline becomes from the female perspective. And that is vital to a sex scene.

An a recent interview with Net-A-Porter’s The Edit magazine British actress Ruth Wilson dived into the deep end with this issue from the very start.

She stars in Showtime’s ‘The Affair’, which, as the name suggests, has a hot and steamy story line, featuring a lot of sex scenes.


Steven Pan writes: “Wilson wants to emphasize that these are not your average bump-and-grind, mindlessly cheap TV thrills – they have been carefully choreographed and planned out” and this sets up the impetus for Ruth to talk at length about why women need to be represented better when it comes to this type of content on screen.

She says it is of course an important part of her character’s relationship, but it was vital the show made the sex just as interesting as the rest of the relationship.

“I argue this stuff all the time; that these scenes need to be real and they need to have a narrative as much as any other scene. They can’t be purely titillation. They need to move the story forward and the characters forward.”

“So for Dominic [West, her co-star] and myself, every time it came up we asked, ‘Do we need this? What are we saying with it? And how can we choreograph it so that it has something to say, so that we can act within it?’”

It is really great to hear that as actors, both of them are mindful of every action they undertake playing a role in the life of their on-screen relationship.

“I have a big concern about how women are treated in the industry generally, and how they have to provide the titillation because penises can’t be seen on screen but breasts can. It’s assumed that women will get their breasts out, and have to get their breasts out, and I balk at that. It’s unnecessary and it’s unfair,” she said. Hmmm, we can think of many shows that have no holds barred when it comes to female nudity, but it’s a different story when it comes to men.


HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ is great example, where the majority of female characters are required to get their kit off. And it’s not just audiences noticing, but cast members themselves have spoken about how there needs to be a “balancing out” of the nude scenes. Kit Harington who plays Jon Snow told GQ Magazine that if nudity is part of a story, then it’s only fair all characters partake. Dutch actress Carice van Houten, who plays the Red Priestess Melisandre called for more male nudity in she show and that nudity in general should be functional, not just objectifying.

Ruth Wilson’s statements are about showing equal representation of both participants enjoying the scene, not just the women.

“I [keep] insisting, ‘Why have I always got to do the orgasm face? There should be a male orgasm face. Why is it always the woman who’s orgasming? Let’s analyze the male orgasm. Why aren’t we thinking about that a bit more?’ It’s hard to make good sex scenes work – there are so many crap ones out there.”

Ruth’s co-star on the show Maura Tierney was part of a recent Showtime industry panel titled “Sexuality and Television: A Female Perspective” in early January. It featured executive producers Michelle Ashford (‘Masters Of Sex’), Nancy Pimental (‘Shameless’) Sarah Treem (‘The Affair’) as well as actresses Emmy Rossum (‘Shameless’), Shanola Hampton (‘Shameless’), and Caitlin FitzGerald (‘Masters Of Sex).

One male critic asked the group of women whether certain scenes from shows like ‘Girls’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ are exploitative and mere titillation.


“You have to be in the scene to decide if a scene is exploitative,” Maura replied, basically saying it wasn’t a critic’s (or audience’s) role to determine. “It’s up to the actor to decide.”

“We use sex as communication in our show. We hope our sex scenes move the story forward,” said EP Sarah Treem. She also said referring to women as “strong female characters” is a good thing because “what it says to me is a character that’s taking action and isn’t passive or reactive to a male character.” Great point.

“We don’t do the scenes unless they’re necessary. If they’re not furthering the story, they can be emotionally exploitative. The obvious thing to do is to find the honest thing to do,” said Emmy Rossum whose character on ‘Shameless’ is known for her promiscuity.

“We show sexuality as a part of art. It’s no different from showing any other part of life. It’s interesting that the women who write on these shows get to explore different facets of sex: Sometimes (as humans) you have sex for reasons that have nothing to do with sex. It’s about power, insecurity or maybe to feel good. These women don’t show it in a gratuitous way.”

The topic of female sexuality being explored and represented on screen is a very important one, especially in the age we live in where the current iteration of feminism is furthering the conversation of women owning and controlling their own sexuality in public.

This discussion shows us more than ever that we need women behind the scenes in Hollywood to present a more in-depth point of view, a more human side to a sex scene, a possibly more balanced representation, and to prevent mere objectification.







  1. Pingback: The Hollywood Effect: How Movies Damagingly Influence A Girl's idea of Sex

  2. Hi, I used the study in your comment (above) titled “The Hollywood Effect: How Movies Damagingly Influence A Girl’s idea of Sex” along with other studies I found on the Parents Television Council website to create a 5 minute video on YouTube showing how misleading and damaging Hollywood is to women. Thanks for your article!

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