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Hollywood’s Confusing Treatment of Sex

Hollywood’s Confusing Treatment of Sex

In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Steve Carell played the title character—a sweet, innocent guy named Andy who had disastrously bumbling luck with women earlier in his life and had long since given up on finding true love. But when his buddies found out about his status and tried to “help” him by trying to get him random hookups, Andy found that the pursuit of sex in and of itself was even less satisfying than not having sex at all.

Thanks to the insightful minds of Carell and Judd Apatow, who co-wrote the movie together while Apatow directed, Virgin connected with a huge audience that appreciated its fresh take on sex as something to be valued, not just to be had. That was an all-too-rare message from Hollywood, which often treats sex as absolutely essential to any relationship, married or single, and too often depicts sex solely through the lens of lust or fleeting emotions.

Five years after Virgin, the studios are still putting out conflicting messages about how sex is portrayed. Right now in theaters are two films aimed at teens and college audiences, but which have wildly different approaches. Easy A is a bright, bouncy, sharply written and terrifically performed (especially by its breakout star, Emma Stone) comedy that deals substantively with the issues of sexual peer pressure and the desire to lie in order to look cool.

Meanwhile, The Virginity Hit features a no-name cast and a shoddily filmed faux-documentary approach that serves up one stupid scene after another in which a group of teenage guys try to "help" their friend lose his virginity. It makes American Pie look like Shakespeare.

In Easy A, Emma Stone plays a small-town California teen named Olive, who has hip parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) who are maybe even too supportive of her. She’s cute, smart and funny, yet can’t seem to find true love or even a date. And after one boring, lonely weekend too many, she decides to sound cool to her somewhat wilder best friend and leads her to the assumption that she’s had sex on a one-night-stand.

The problem is, Olive didn’t realize that one of the biggest gossips in school just overheard her made-up tale of sexual adventure and is now spreading it all over campus. This all happens as Olive and many of her classmates are studying the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic The Scarlet Letter, about a woman forced to wear a letter “A” in shame for committing adultery, so Olive starts wearing an “A” herself and starts pretending to be a wild girl, but one with a mission.

At the request of a gay guy in her class, she pretends to take him as her date to a wild party and the two pretend to have sex with wild abandon. This makes Olive more intriguing to everyone, and shakes off the threat of rumors and bullies from her gay friend. But soon every male loser in school is trying to make a deal with Olive to have fake sex and reshape their reputations as studs, leading to a mix of funny twists that ultimately have serious consequences.

Easy A shows the incredible strain that peer pressure can place on good kids, and (SPOILER ALERT) when Olive finally stops and assesses what she’s doing and the damage to her reputation, it also creates a message that’s refreshingly not heavy-handed. Olive repeatedly admits she doesn’t know what a lot of sexual slang even means, and really wants an old-school dating relationship that doesn’t hinge on sex.

So far, so good. But at the same time, Easy A undercuts itself by making Olive’s prime tormentor—the girl who overhears her initial lie and spreads the gossip like wildfire—a fundamentalist Christian girl. And she and her fellow Christian students in the school’s Cross My Heart abstinence club are portrayed as so stupid, shallow, self-righteous and hypocritical that it nearly ruins the goodwill engendered by the film’s positive messages on sex.

Ultimately, the movie shows that Hollywood is capable of making a positive statement against teen promiscuity and the effects it can have on one’s self-esteem and reputation, as well as the damage that deceit can bring. But we have to keep hoping that Hollywood can wake up and realize there are plenty of Christians out there who aren’t lying, two-faced and hypocritical. And maybe they’ll realize that plenty of us manage to completely fit in the social mix and, frankly, if we’re truly living the right way, helping shine a light that improves our peers’ lives rather than destroying them.

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