<i>Blue Valentine</i>'s NC-17: A Tale of Hypocrisy and Sex Negativity

Judging by the MPAA's ratings, brutality is apparently fine for children to see with an "adult" in tow, but sex within the context of a burgeoning relationship is not.
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There's nothing I hate more than hypocrisy, except maybe our culture's willingness to tolerate violence but condemn sex. So lucky for me, I came home from a screening of Blue Valentine last night and got the opportunity to rant about both.

As a sexologist, I couldn't wait to see Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine. For weeks I had heard that Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams engage in one of the hottest sex scenes in film -- so hot that the MPAA gave the movie an NC-17 rating. (In layman's terms: No one under the age of seventeen may be admitted -- even with an adult.) This rating has huge implications for ticket sales, marketing, and general recognition, so you would think that Blue Valentine had to be... well, pretty damn blue.

There is no question that I had a physical response to Blue Valentine, but it wasn't sexual arousal. I watched an excruciatingly painful demise of a marriage. I watched a tormented husband trying to connect with his wife physically and emotionally, failing miserably each time. I watched a tormented wife shut herself off from any sexual or emotional connection. So sure, I had a reaction. Blue Valentine made me uncomfortable. I was a voyeur in ways that didn't turn me on, but rather, made me anxious. Blue Valentine forces us to consider our own relationships and the roles we play in them. Cianfrance -- and the brilliant performances by Gosling and Williams -- force us to recognize our own flaws. They show us what it's like to fall passionately and blindly in love and fall as tragically out of it, all the while grasping for some lifeline back to what it once was.

You're probably wondering: What about the sex? I know. I was wondering the same thing. What scene could have been so salacious that it warranted an NC-17? There is sex, including a scene where Ryan Gosling is performing oral sex on Michelle Williams at the beginning of their relationship. Was it consensual? Yes. Was it a glimpse of an incredibly intimate and vulnerable moment for the couple? Yes. But while it's a scene (man performing on woman) that doesn't get portrayed on film very often, and though it's certainly sexual, it is by no means exploitative or gratuitous. And in the most provocative scene the couple doesn't even have sex, because Gosling doesn't want the woman he loves to just lay there "like a body." Don't get me wrong, it's an emotionally brutal scene. But does it warrant the NC-17? No way.

Now brace yourself: Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky's ballet thriller with Natalie Portman, has its own girl on girl oral sex scene and the MPAA rated it (wait for it...) R. Can you smell the hypocrisy?

The lowdown? The MPAA's decision has no merit. And if the hypocrisy doesn't convince you, here's something else.

Saw 3D: chock-full of decapitations, torture, and murder in the most grotesque ways was rated R. For Colored Girls..., an R-rated (for "some disturbing violence") film that I sat and actually paid money to watch, showed a brutal rape, a back alley abortion, and a drunken father murder his children by dropping them out of his apartment window. (That's more than "some" disturbing violence. I screamed and sobbed hysterically.) All of these brutalities (done primarily to women) are apparently fine for children to see with an "adult" in tow, but sex (or as it appears to be, oral sex) within the context of a burgeoning (or failing) relationship is not. This seems like pure misogyny from the MPAA. It's detestable.

And in the end, what's wrong with sex? We are all sexual beings, from birth on. We should want our children to know that sex is a wonderful and pleasurable part of a mature relationship. (That's how I was taught; it's also the same philosophy I use to teach others.)

So while The Weinstein Company petitions the MPAA this week to change their rating, please consider making your voice heard as well. Sign the petition here.

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