Five Movie Sex Scenes that Were Actually Significant to the Film

No matter what movie you’re watching, there’s usually some sort of romantic subplot developing as the real story unfolds. It doesn’t matter if the characters are wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland or if they’re under attack from alien warships; somebody somewhere is dealing with a poorly-timed crush.

But that’s fine because that allows writers and directors to throw in some raunchy, usually—no, almost always—unnecessary sex scenes to spice up the flick. That’s the problem with sex scenes: they usually aren’t crucial to anything else that’s going on.

But sometimes, just sometimes, we get a sex scene that is actually significant to character or plot development.

Careful, spoilers lie ahead.

5. Up in the Air (2009)

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert who travels across the country firing people for a living. He enjoys his life flying from place to place, traveling lightly, and carrying no personal baggage with him. He’s a loner, and he likes it that way. Then he meets Alex Goran.

The Scene:

They meet during a layover and start talking about their memberships and loyalties with different airlines and hotels. They immediately click. They go off to a room and do the deed. The scene doesn’t show much, and it isn’t at all graphic. Afterwards, they decide to find places they can meet during layovers again, and this becomes a ritual.

Why It’s Significant:

It’s not that Ryan doesn’t care about anyone; he just prefers to be alone. But he finally finds someone he wants to be with in Alex. She touches some human part of him, and it changes him. They even develop what seems like a normal relationship.

Until he surprises her at her house. And she surprises him with a husband and a house full of kids. Needless to say, their relationship stopped after that. But seeing her with him made Ryan seem less cold, less distant, and more human than we had seen him the entire movie. It made him more relatable and more likable. Had they not met, audiences wouldn’t have seen that side of Ryan so clearly.

4. Kinsey (2004)

Liam Neeson is Alfred Kinsey, an Indiana University professor who wrote extensively about human sexuality. While his book on male sexuality was well-received, his book on female sexuality was not so much.

There are several significant romantic and sexual scenes in this movie, but I think the one that is the most significant is when the Kinseys consummate their marriage.

The Scene:

The Kinsey newlyweds go to bed together and make their first attempt to have sex. Both of them are virgins, and sexuality was not something widely or openly discussed at the time like it is now. The scene is awkward, and after only a few thrusts, Mrs. Kinsey has to push Alfred off of her because of the pain.

Why It’s Significant:

The shame and guilt from their failed attempt at intercourse prompts them to visit a doctor for help. The doctor explains the problem and its solution, and Alfred Kinsey is blown away by how little he and the rest of America know about sex.

Kinsey begins counseling students with sexual questions, then he starts to accumulate research of his own. He writes papers, books, and even teaches classes on the subject. All because of a rough time in the sack.

3. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

Seth Rogan is Zack, and Elizabeth Banks is Miri, and together, they are roommates who have known each other since grade school. They can’t afford rent or bills, but that changes when they meet a gay porn star. They decide that they’ll make money by filming a low-budget, poorly produced porno.

The Scene:

Like the last one, this scene is kind of awkward to watch. The talking is really distracting, but that’s just how porn is, I suppose. This is the scene in which Zack and Miri finally have sex.

Why It’s Significant:

This is when Zack and Miri realize they have feelings for each other. Deep down, they’ve known it for a while, but this really brought it out. The scene is the least explicit in the whole movie, and it manages to be romantic even though there’s a room full of people filming it.

Usually there are other ways to make two people realize they’re in love, but this fits well with the title. Plus, they live together; what are they going to find out about each other that they don’t already know?

2. Watchmen (2009)

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Watchmen takes place in an alternative 1985 in which super heroes are real. Dr. Manhattan is a former scientist who was transformed into a nonhuman entity in a freak accident. He is brilliant and powerful, and he experiences time nonlinearly. At the beginning of the movie, he is working in a military research center for the U.S. government. He works with Laurie Juspeczyk, the second Silk Spectre.

The Scene:

Blue hands (Dr. Manhattan emits a blue glow) are seen touching Laurie seems to be enjoying it in her sleep. The hands multiply, and Laurie wakes up, confused. She goes into the other room and finds Dr. Manhattan still hard at work.

Why It’s Significant:

First of all, it’s pretty cool Dr. Manhattan can do that. He can work and play at the same time. But it also shows us something about him that he’s already told us: He’s not really human anymore, and since he experiences time and space differently, nothing really matters to him. He’s completely apathetic, and this act shows just how detached he is from humanity.

Laurie is pissed, too, that he couldn’t take a few minutes to have an actual moment with her. Even though he totally transcends time and stuff.

1. Black Swan (2010)

Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, and uptight ballet dancer with an overprotective and overbearing mother. She is awarded the leading role in Swan Lake, and the stress leads her into a downward spiral. Her instructor tells her she needs to loosen up, and he instructs her to masturbate in order to do so.

The Scene:

There are three, actually: two masturbation scenes, and one strung-out sex fantasy. Nina tries it in her bed only to find her mother sleeping in a nearby chair. Then she tries it in the bathtub, but she’s interrupted by a hallucination. While she’s out partying, Lily (Mila Kunis), a fellow ballet dancer, slips a drug into her drink. Later, she brings a guy back home and sleeps with him, but Nina thinks it is Lily the entire time.

Why It’s Significant:

Well, besides the fact that it’s Natalie freaking Portman, the scenes reveal a lot about Nina’s character. She wants to be confident, comfortable, and independent, but she was raised by her mother, a worrisome control freak. Nina is definitely a byproduct of her mother’s rearing. It’s important though to realize that Nina really wants to change. She so desperately wants to be something she obviously isn’t that it’s (literally) killing her.

Well, that’s my list. If you can think of any other sex scenes that actually develop plot, character, or conflict, go ahead and comment!

  • John

    The Terminator should be numero uno. Reese and Sarah Connor beget John Connor. Significant.

  • David R

    Any of the ones that have shown up over the years in Cronenberg’s library of work.

  • Tyler M.

    Follow up list – Least significant Sex Scenes lol

  • Mutant Turd

    I would say all the sex scenes that are in the movie The Room are significant to how Lisa is tearing him apart.

  • trashcanman

    I was actually thinking of the other sex scene in Watchmen where Silk Specter and Nite Owl finally get it on. It shows that the costume/superhero identity itself is what gives the otherwise nerdy and awkward Daniel the confidence to actually got through with the act.

    Come on, man. I know we Americans are a touchy lot when it comes to onscreen sex, but unless you are watch an actual porno, the sex scene usually serves a narrative or character function. This isn’t anime where the romantic ideal is whispering each other’s names breathlessly and blushing at each other for 100 episodes before the girl awkwardly announces she “likes” him or they possibly share a chaste kiss (romance accomplished!). To visibly depict either the passion two characters have for watch other or a character’s promiscuous lifestyle showing is better than telling. The other technique would be having characters saying stupid things like “I had GREAT sex with him last night!” which is hardly as satisfying (or titillating) as seeing it happen.

  • Mr Jim

    Haven’t seen the first two, and I don’t think I could agree more with the latter three. Those three scenes incredibly much so illustrate the emotion of the moment.

    One suggestion for a honourable mention: the later scene with Forrest and Jenny in Forrest Gump. Not only does it beget Forrest Jr. (reiterating the point John brought up), but it is essentially the moment where Jenny after all those years finally sees Forrest as a lover and more than a friend (perhaps her only true friend, but a friend nonetheless).

    And I guess a more obvious one would be Shame…but then which one to pick?

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  • Angelina

    Gotta include The Terminator – that sex scene is literally the whole reason the plot exists at all.

  • Steve2

    Well considering Fight Club is pretty much my favorite movie ever, I need to include this. During the BIG REVEAL, there’s a very quick flashback where we see Norton boning Carter. This quick shot of them having sex (along with a few others) reveals the BIG TWIST that I shouldn’t have to be vague about since the movie came out 13 years ago, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Even those late for the party (or has the party already ended? lol).

    Also gotta add the short sex scene from the original Total Recall (God it kills me to even have to disclaimer that). Seeing Arnold start to bone Sharon Stone proves that Quaid has been feeding his thing with blondes.

  • K-hadz

    The movie that stands out to me is A History of Violence. In this one, it’s actually the two sex scenes that are important that show the dichotomy of the two personalities in the main character, and how those violent/non-violent tendencies come out during sex.

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  • JHunter1

    The sex scenes from Blue Velvet stand out in my mind.

  • cage

    Shoot em Up

  • Sarah

    The movie Monster’s Ball, with Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. There are multiple sex scenes in the movie, and the sex changes as the movie progresses, illustrating their development as characters and of their relationship. The sex scenes are essential to the movie and very tastefully done.

  • Did she bang a dude in Black Swan, or just masturbate ???
    Did I miss some big reveal, like a condom on the floor or a pair of tighty whiteys ? Help me Unreality, you’re my only hope!

  • I’m with rearadmir0l. I assumed she came home by herself and hallucinated Lily while being high as a kite and masturbating. She brought a guy home?!

  • Glen Miller

    You know what, I’m going to have to re-watch that movie because, now that I think about it, I’m not sure.


  • Legally Insignificant

    Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Kids.

  • Tom

    I’d have to agree,…when I first saw the title of this article I was thinking to myself, “I bet terminator will not make the list”. Sarah and Kyle basically Kick off the next movies, and it develops Sarah’s character some.

  • Greg

    The bathtub masturbation scene in Pleasantville…