The Daily Evergreen

The role of sex and nudity in theater and literature

CATHERINE KRUSE | Evergreen columnist

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Few books come with warning labels, whereas an R-rated movie trailer can have at least three scenes of naked people.

By genre alone, we can determine the kinds of things we’ll see in a story. But each genre has multiple elements. Comedies could be slapstick or ironic. Action may be intense or kid-friendly.

The same goes for romance: from cute, innocent couple in middle school to sex-every-night affairs.

Unfortunately, books and plays don’t normally come with content warnings like movies.

Movie ratings offer guidelines for audiences, explicitly stating when a film features topics that are seen as inappropriate for certain age groups. Films earn their ratings for including things like nudity, graphic sex scenes and even innuendo.

We get these warnings with every movie trailer we view. In this way, we can avoid movies that include features unsuitable for younger audiences or don’t appeal to personal tastes.

Those warnings rarely appear with literature and theater.

To find out if a book or play has sexual elements, we would have to dig into the actual plot. Of course, this usually spoils the story. Who in their right mind spoils a play or book before actually experiencing it?

In film and television exists the benefits of body doubles. “Game of Thrones” actress Emilia Clarke, who plays the mother of dragons, Daeynerys Targaryen, has a no-nudity clause in her contract, resulting in most nude scenes being written out.

According to a Cosmopolitan news article, she ignored the clause in order to film a nudity scene in season six that she described as “a real empowering, girl-power wow scene.”

This benefit doesn’t apply in theater performances. There is no way to shout “cut” and then have a stuntman come in. It’s all up to the actors already onstage.

Some actors may choose to use a skin-colored bodysuit rather than strip down. Depending on the plot and the characters, there could be anything from passionate kisses to full-on groping.

In “Les Misérables,” the song and scene “Master of the House” features vulgarity not normally seen in a stage production. There’s some innuendo scattered in the lyrics and you will most likely see a few couples in a sexual position during the song.

While there may not be full nudity, there are a number of plays that feature characters who are either scantily dressed or half their bosom hangs out. Nude scenes don’t always have to be in a sexual environment. Similar to Clarke’s case, there are times when going naked is empowering.

Despite all this, I have seen few shows that have onstage sex scenes. Many times characters will kiss passionately and then disappear offstage insinuating sex to come. As opposed to films where an R-rated romance can feature a four-minute intercourse scene, you will rarely see such a scene onstage.

I suppose the benefits of sex only on-screen means they can be skipped over with the magic of the fast-forward button. You can cover your eyes as much as you want during a play, but that won’t make it go by faster.

This same benefit can be applied when sexual themes appear in literature. The disadvantages apply too, since the only way to really know is to spoil the plot.

Writing scenes of sex and nudity relies on reader imagination and explicit descriptions. Similarly to stage productions, these themes can inspire passionate romance or empowerment.

Sexual themes do not stay in the realm of the erotica genre. Erotica, by definition, pertains to a work of literature or art that deals with sex and is intended to cause sexual feelings.

Lauren Getzin, WSU senior creative writing major, defines erotica as a story that revolves around sex for the purpose of entertainment.

“It’s kind of taboo, but exciting to read about,” Getzin said.

If a book is going to involve sex, it has to be done right. Take into account the genre, and the sex could come off as funny or shocking.

Most importantly, the story cannot be lost. The characters need to be real and so do their relationships.

“In a fiction that’s serious, the sex has to complement the piece but not revolve around it,” Getzin said. “Just add to the character’s development and make them realistic in their thoughts and daily lives.”

Getzin believes “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not a good example of a book with sex done right. When trying to read it, Getzin said she saw little character development and plot and only looked forward to the sex scenes.

Getzin notes that relationships and sex are things everyone deals with. People like to read about relationships and the inclusion of those aspects makes a piece of literature relatable and realistic.

When using sexual themes in her own writing, Getzin said she believes it’s something relatable and entertaining. Those themes are something most people can understand.

The sexual content can also reflect exploring sexuality, an important topic for young adults and teenagers. Problems can arise if this demographic of readers don’t know how to deal with these subjects.

However, it is important that there is an age limit for books with these sexual themes. Getzin believes younger than 13 is an inappropriate age for the topic, but censoring can’t change the fact that sex does become a part of a teenager’s life in one way or another.

When looking at books and plays, the only hints we get for the level of “graphic” content depends on reviews, the genre, and summaries of the story. While sex and nudity have multiple connotations, they are ultimately part of life.

Catherine Kruse is a senior creative writing major from Woodland. She can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected]

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The role of sex and nudity in theater and literature