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Erotic sex scenes have been presented in films since the silent era of cinematography. Many actors and actresses have exposed at least parts of their bodies or dressed and behaved in ways considered sexually provocative by contemporary standards at some point in their careers. Some films containing sex scenes have been criticized by religious groups or banned by governments, or both.
Sex scenes have been presented in many genres of film; while in some genres sexuality is rarely depicted.
Sex in film can be distinguished to a sex film, which usually refers to a pornographic film and sometimes to a sex education film. It should also be distinguished from nudity in film, though nudity can be presented in a sexualized context. For example, nudity in the context of naturism would normally be regarded as non-sexual. Some people distinguish between "gratuitous sex" and sex scenes which are presented as integral to a film's plot.
Pedro Almodóvar of Spain is a prolific director who has included eroticism in many of his movies. Tinto Brass of Italy has dedicated his career to bringing explicit sexuality into mainstream cinema. His films are also notable for feminist-friendly eroticism. French filmmaker Catherine Breillat caused controversy with unsimulated sex in her films Romance (1999) and Anatomy of Hell (2004). In Italy, nudity and strong sexual themes go back to the silent era with films such as The Last Days of Pompeii (1926). Lars von Trier of Denmark has included strong sex scenes in some of his films, such as Breaking the Waves (1996), The Idiots (1998), Manderlay (2005), and Antichrist (2009). He is also a co-founder of film company Puzzy Power, a subsidiary of his Zentropa, with the goal of producing hardcore pornographic films for women.
In North America, erotic films may be primarily character driven or plot driven, with considerable overlap. Most dramas center around character development, such as Steven Shainberg's Secretary (2002). Comedy films, especially romantic comedies and romantic dramas, tend toward character interaction.
Mystery films, thrillers, drama films and horror films tend toward strong plots and premises, such as Last Tango in Paris (1972), Dressed to Kill (1980), Body Heat (1981), Angel Heart (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), Single White Female (1992), Color of Night (1994), Showgirls (1995), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Different Strokes (1997), Wild Things (1998), Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and In the Cut (2003). Others, like About Last Night... (1986), Monster's Ball (2001), Chloe (2009), Love & Other Drugs (2010), Blue Valentine (2010), Shame (2011), Compliance (2012) and The Sessions (2012) combine both strong plots and characters.
A popular American sub-erotic film genre is erotic thriller with films such as Dressed to Kill (1980), Basic Instinct (1992), Single White Female (1992), Color of Night (1994), Wild Things (1998), Eyes Wide Shut (1999), In the Cut (2003), Chloe (2009) and Compliance (2012). In some films, the development of a sexual relationship (or even a one-night stand) is often used to create tension in the storyline, especially if the people involved should not be sleeping together, such as in Out of Sight (1998), where a U.S. Marshal has sex with the criminal she is pursuing.
In horror films, sex is often used to mark characters that are doomed to die. Characters that engage in sex acts are often the first to be claimed by the antagonist(s), or will die shortly after their sex scene and sometimes in the middle of it. This convention of it being bad luck to have sex in a horror film is notably illustrated in the Friday the 13th film series, where supernatural villain Jason Voorhees takes a special dislike to teenagers and young adults having sex because, as a young boy, he drowned in a lake while the camp counselors who should've been supervising him were having sex.
In some interpretations of this 'rule', the sex acts themselves directly cause the character's demise. In Cabin Fever a man catches the deadly illness because a woman who was infected (but not yet symptomatic) seduces and has impulsive sex with him. They don't use a condom because the careless woman believes she is healthy. Ironically, the woman (and the audience) only realize that she is infected because of red welts that are bought out by their rough lovemaking. Species (1995) and its sequels also feature many sexual deaths as virtually every human who mates with an alien in the franchise subsequently dies - female aliens kill human suitors regardless of whether they have poor genes, resist the alien's advances, or mate successfully. Human women who mate with alien men die shortly after sex as their abdomens burst during the unnaturally rapid pregnancy that always follows.
Most times in horror movies the typical survivor is a young girl who is still a virgin. In the film Scream, which satirizes horror movies, this rule is somewhat broken as the character Randy Meeks points out that one of the rules of horrors is to not have sex. In an intersecting scene, the film's main protagonist Sidney Prescott loses her virginity to Billy Loomis. After they finish, Billy is stabbed by Ghostface and Sidney is then chased.
The entertainment industry is an important part of Modern India, and is expressive of Indian society in general. Historically, Indian television and film has lacked the frank depiction of sex; until recently, even kissing scenes were considered taboo. On the other hand, rape scenes or scenes showing sexual assault were shown. Currently, some Indian states show softcore sexual scenes and nudity in film, while other areas don't. Mainstream films are still largely catered for the masses of India, however, art films and foreign films containing sexuality are watched by Indians. Because of the same process of glamorization of film entertainment that occurred in Hollywood, Indian cinema, mainly the Hindi-speaking Bollywood industry, is also beginning to add sexual overtones.
In Mexico, many comedy films are based around sex, typically portraying men as unstoppable sex-seeking creatures and women as willing targets. Although the numbers of such comedies waned during the 1990s, domestic servants, bar workers, dancers and neighbors' wives continue to be depicted as potentially willing sexual partners. The films La Tarea (Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, 1991), Miracle Alley (Jorge Fons, 1995) and Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001) are the most important examples.
Many drama series, and daytime soap operas are based around sex. Partial nudity once acceptable on daytime television in the 1970s disappeared after 2000, partially due to more conservative morals, but also to the prevalence of cable and satellite subscriptions. Only PBS occasionally features nudity. In 2008 and 2009, the French TV channel Canal+ featured a series titled X Femmes (English: X Women). It consisted of ten short films shot by female directors with the goal of producing erotica from a female point of view.