Movies Featuring Real Sex Scenes

a woman in a movie theatre staring at the screen looking very excited.
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Whether by design or by default, the topic of mainstream movies that contain real sex scenes tends to bring out the voyeur in all of us. Moviegoers and movie fan websites produce endless lists of what they consider the best movie sex scenes but it's interesting that those scenes are rarely the same as the famous (and infamous) mainstream movies that capture actors having real sex on the screen.

Our fascination with these mainstream movies with real sex scenes seems a little odd in light of the multi-billion dollar porn industry, which offers "real" sex on film in every imaginable way. Of course, it's worth asking the question about whether the real sex scenes in adult films are more or less real than sex scenes in mainstream movies, given the staged nature of their production.

The issue raises questions about what constitutes real sex or sex at all. And who gets to say which films had real sex? The actors who were in the film? The publicists? There's no icon on IMDB to guide us in this realm. But for the curious, here is a list of mainstream films from the 1970s and 80s that are purported to contain real sex scenes.

El Topo (1970)
This cult classic, considered by some to be the goriest western ever made also features a notable real sex scene between the director-star Alexandro Jodorowsky and Mara Lorenzio, which is apparently un-simulated.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)
Melvin Van Peebles, the director and star of this seminal blaxploitation film refused to submit it to be rated and apparently used the explicit (and in some cases un-simulated) sex to his marketing advantage, advertising on posters "Rated X By An All-White Jury!" It is also rumored that he acquired an STD while filming, and filed for and received workers compensation benefits.

Pink Flamingos (1972)
Another cult classic, this was John Waters' feature film debut. The characters in the film are competing for the title of the "Filthiest Person Alive" and in the process expose us to any number of sexual and (really) non-sexual acts designed to incite, arouse, disgust, and make us laugh like we've never laughed before.

In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
Confiscated by U.S. customs while on its way to the New York Film Festival and later released unrated, this influential film by Oshima Nagisa follows a passionate and sexually obsessive relationship to its destructive end. Apparently, the film has never been shown in its entirety in Japan and was not approved by the British film board until 1991.

Caligula (1979)
Directed by Tinto Brass and starring, among others Malcolm McDowell, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, and Helen Mirren, this was Penthouse founder Bob Guccione's star-studded pornographic look into the world of Ancient Rome.

Spetters (1980)
Better known for movies like Robocop, Total Recall, and the classic Showgirls, this lesser known Paul Verhoeven film follows a group of sexually-charged Dutch teenagers as they deal with dramatic life changes that involve sex in a lot of different ways.

Devil in the Flesh (1986)
This film, loosely based on the infamous novel by Raymond Radiguet, follows the highly passionate love affair between a shy and studious young man and an explosively sexual woman. Directed by Marco Bellocchio and starring Maruschka Detmers.

Idiots (1998)
This Lars von Trier film about a group of intelligent, bored individuals who decide to stir up their lives by acting as if they have developmental disabilities in public, was the second film made under the strictures of Dogme 95, requiring natural lighting, handheld cameras, and no special effects or makeup. Appropriately to the natural approach, the film also features real sex scenes.

Pola X (1999)
This film, based on a Herman Melville novel, and directed by Leos Carax, receives mixed reviews ranging from intense to just intensely pretentious, and most of the attention in the U.S. had to do with the steamy and apparently real sex scene between the two main characters. 

Romance (1999)
Catherine Breillat's film about a woman's exploration into the depths of her own sexual meaning, has, like many films in the list, been panned and praised. In addition to many obviously real sex scenes, Romance featured the mainstream debut of porn superstar Rocco Siffredi, whose acting certainly did the porn world proud (which is saying something).

Baise-Moi (2000)
Called "a kind of Thelma & Louise on crack," Baise-Moi is full of explicit real sex, and while it may be worth seeing, it's far from erotic. The film is violent, difficult to stomach in parts, and some critics say it's just plain bad. But there's no question that Virginie Despentes directorial debut (the film is based on her novel of the same name) uses sex to challenge viewers in ways unthought of by the makers of, say, 9½ weeks.

Intimacy (2001)
The censorious British Film Review Board decided to leave a real oral sex scene intact in Patrice Chereau's film about two people who meet for casual (and in the case of one of them, adulterous) sex every Wednesday.

The Pornographer (2001)
A Bertrand Bonello film about a pornographer who took off 20 years from the industry returns to making porn films but finds that the meaning and business of the industry have completely changed -- for worse. The filmed porn scenes apparently feature real sex.

Ken Park (2002)
Director Larry Clark has a habit of putting young people on screen in ways that are disconcerting to many, and Ken Park, which apparently includes two real sex scenes, is no exception.

The Brown Bunny (2004)
This Vincent Gallo film captured plenty of attention for its real oral sex scene starring Chloe Sevigny, and generally less for its, you know, everything else.

9 Songs (2005)
Michael Winterbottom's latest film experiment mixes live music and real sex. It's also responsible for what may be my favorite closing line of any film review: "The on-screen ejaculations might be more than mainstream audiences are comfortable with, but Winterbottom's intentions are pure."

Battle in Heaven (2005)
Carlos Reygadas' film about the daughter of a politician who leads a double life as a high-end prostitute, filmed with a cast of non-professional actors. 

Destricted (2006)
Destricted is the first short film collection of its kind, bringing together sex and art in a series of short films created by some of the world's most visual and provocative artists and directors. Explicit in content, they reveal the diverse attitudes by which we represent ourselves sexually.

Shortbus (2006)
The most recent reminder that if you put real sex in a movie, that's all anyone is likely to talk about. This John Cameron Mitchell film chronicles the sex lives of a group of New Yorkers. 

Nymph()maniac (2014)
One of the benefits of being a director known for provocation may be that when the content of your work is about sex people may be used to being shocked, and therefore might be able to just take it in without the gasps.  There is plenty of gasping in Lars Von Trier's two-part film whose title says much of what needs to be said but of a different kind.