The last several days of 2012 I was sick as a dog! Therefore, I nestled up on the couch with a sick person’s best friend, Netflix. A few weeks ago I had watched the movie Conception, which tells 9 different stories of how 9 different couples conceive, and thought it was a great way to show some diversity of experience related to becoming parents. Therefore, Netflix of course made some recommendations to me based on that movie- so with lots of sick-tv-time, I jumped down that rabbit hole!
In browsing this personalized section of movies, I ended up watching three movies about long term relationships that have lost their sexual spark. Therefore, the main characters dabble in non-monogamy in order to FIX their relationship (SERIOUS SPOILER ALERT!):
Swinging with the Finkles (2011) The Finkles, a married couple of 10 years and therefore they don’t have sex like they used to (and the one scene in which they do have sex it is portrayed to be ridiculous), decide to partner swap, and go through an interview process via an online swinging website. They meet a couple they both like, invite them over for a night of fun, swap their respective partners. The next day, and ensuing weeks, are awkward and uncomfortable. He moves out for a bit, and they reunite on New Years Eve. All is well because guess what, she’s pregnant.
The Freebie (2010) Annie and Darren are an affectionate married couple that do crossword puzzle races instead of having sex. Darren admits he looks at other women and Annie wholeheartedly agrees that it’s only human. They decide they need each need a one-night-stand. The chosen night selected, they go their separate ways, and guess what, the next day it’s all ice and snow between them! They had agreed they wouldn’t talk about what happened, and their relationship quickly goes downhill. In the end they neither trust or believe each other at all.
Fling (2008) This movie starts out with Mason and Samantha already in an open relationship, and throughout the movie they each develop a relationship with someone else. They had opened up their relationship because Mason, a self-loving novelist, ooops! hooked up with someone at the same time that Sam almost did (but didn’t). All of a sudden, they end up in an open relationship, which Sam repeatedly says works brilliantly. Sam’s budding relationship with her traditional-relationship ex-BF becomes more and more serious while Mason is seeking the same from the younger sister of his best friend. All hell breaks loose when the best friend finds out about Mason and his sis, and turns out that Sam is, you guessed it, pregnant! Mason tries to pull it together with a too-late proposal, and Sam ends up with the ‘traditional’ relationship.
So, what are we, the viewers, supposed to ascertain from any one of these movies?
- Long term relationships are doomed to be sexually unsatisfying.
- Talking about sex in a long term relationship is too hard, even with this awesome person that has all these other great qualities.
- Communicating about sexual decisions happens in one short conversation (or not at all).
- Non-monogamy will fix problems with sex in a long term relationship.
- Problems with sex in long term relationships aren’t related to underlying/overarching problems in the relationship itself. (Although some connections are drawn in each of the movies, they are not apparent.)
- In the end, non-monogamy doesn’t work, and will damage, if not ruin your relationship.
- Traditional, monogamous relationships are better.
- Oh, and everyone is skinny and sexy and has perfect hair in bed. (but that’s not what this post is really about)
Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely entertained by each of these films, and I didn’t turn any of them off (although, I started watching Last Night (2010), and only got through the first 30 minutes). But being entertained doesn’t mean that I agree with or like their depiction of relationships, and the ‘solutions’ offered. If a problem arises in a relationship, whether it is related to sexual activity or not, the people involved should communicate openly and honestly about it. Opening up a relationship won’t fix the relationship problem- communication will. If a couple is going to become monogomish, open, poly, or any interpretation thereof, it should be considered carefully, and when there are strong, established boundaries and expectations. Not on a whim, on the fly, or accidentally, as is portrayed in all three of the movies described above.
But the entertainment industry isn’t going anywhere and these are not the only relationship movies that depict poor solutions. Therefore, we must be diligent in teaching people how to think critically about the messages that are explicitly and implicitly shared in movies such as these. So, as sexuality educators, we need to help participants digest media. Here are some recommendations:
When watching a movie…
- Examine the relationship(s) between/among the protaganists…how healthy is it?
- Look for the explicit and implicit messages about sex…what is their take-home?
- Determine what’s missing from the plot/dialogue…what did the movie communicate by omission?
- Evaluate the relationships with supporting characters…what values are demonstrated?
- Decide for yourself whether you agree with the movie’s messages about sexuality, and if that’s enough for you to give it a thumbs down!