Sex scenes may convince audiences of a glamorous narrative, but the reality is often very, very cringeworthy.
The art of the sex scene has been revolutionised in recent years, with intimacy coaches in high demand to choreograph each move while ensuring the safety of actors.
But the awkwardness that comes with doing a sex scene still lingers, and most actors will agree that simulating sex is one of the trickiest tasks in the business. And the aftermath of embarrassment and nervousness is almost unavoidable.
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From ‘vag pads’, modesty socks and as Paul Mescal has revealed, a special body gel to mimic fake sweat, the steamy sex scenes audiences see from the comfort of their cinema seats are not the reality for those starring in them.
Most recent TV hits Euphoria, Bridgerton and Normal People have many, many sex scenes. But how do actors react when they reflect back on filming the scenes, or when they first watched them?
Here are eight scenes that even the actors still cringe at:
The Wolf of Wall Street star Margot Robbie was so embarrassed by the sex scenes that she lied to her parents that it was down to CGI. In one scene her character Naomi Lapaglia has sex with the film’s protagonist Jordan Belfort (Leonard DiCaprio) on a bed covered in dollar bills.
“I just flat-out lied to my family for a really long time and I said, ‘I don’t care what you hear; there’s no nudity; I’m not doing any nudity. Ignore anything anyone’s saying; there’s no nudity,” she told the Hollywood Reporter.
“And then I thought, ‘The movie’s going to come out and they’re going to see that there’s nudity,’ so I changed that to, ‘It’s actually a body double and they just CGI’d my head onto someone else.’”
“My family doesn’t have anything to do with the entertainment industry … and they were like, ‘They can do that? And I was like, ‘Oh, technology these days. You wouldn’t believe what they do in Hollywood!”
Starring in Normal People as Connellalongside Daisy Edgar-Jones, Mescal had some hilarious yet awkward moments filming the show. “On the Friday of the first week, me and Daisy had to do a day of sex scenes and we were covered in this gel called Egyptian Magic.”
“It’s basically fake sweat. We had to switch positions and our bodies were in close contact.”
Normal People first trailer
“When we separated, it made a really loud fart noise. Me and Daisy started hysterically laughing, but the crew and director all thought that one of us had farted and really were trying to preserve our dignity,” Mescal told The Mirror.
After Mean Girls star Amanda Seyfriend played the eldest daughter Sarah Hendrickson in HBO’s 2008 series Big Love, she watched the episodes back with her parents and felt horrified when her sex scene finally arrived.
“‘I was sitting there watching and all of a sudden, it cut to a scene where two people are having sex, and it’s me! Having sex! I just thought, ‘No, no, no!’” she told The Telegraph.
“‘It was so much more graphic than I remembered. I was horrified.”
TV series Girls star Jemima Kirke found performing orgasms extremely embarrassing but when watching it back, she was proud when it was released in 2012, she says.
“When I do it myself, on set, and I’m doing a real orgasm – not “real,” but the way I know it sounds in real life, because I don’t know how to fake it – I’m embarrassed in front of the cameraman. That’s embarrassing.”
“For some reason, when it’s on TV, I’m proud of it as part of the work,” she told HuffPost.
Actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse who played Fogell (aka McLovin) in Jonah Hill’s Superbad , had his mother present while he filmed his sex scene, because he was just 17 years old at the time of release in 2007.
“It’s definitely uncomfortable, at the time I was actually a virgin so I had no idea what I was doing. I was very nervous, very scared and I look over to video village and my mum is eating a handful of popcorn and talking to the producers. It was very surreal,” said Plasse on the Rich Eisen show.
In Fifty Shades of Grey the movie, there were 20 minutes of pure sex, out of the 125 minutes run time. And even though Dakota Johnson has had her fair share of sex scenes starring in the Fifty Shades trilogy, she told Interview Magazinethey are “not comfortable”.
“It’s pretty tedious. I’ve been simulating sex for seven hours straight right now, and I’m over it.”
Johnson said she was so embarrassed after she gave herself whiplash during a scene. “I got whiplash once from him [Jamie Dornan] throwing me on the bed; so f*cking painful,” she told Glamour Magazine.
Titanic star Kate Winslet did sex scenes with Leonardo DiCaprio for the 2008 film Revolutionary Road, which she has recounted as awkward – because her husband Sam Mendes was the director.
“I just kept saying, ‘This is too… weird,’” said Winslet, 32. “And Leo was like, ‘Oh, get over it.’ And I’m going, ‘Yeah, a little reminder: You’re my best friend. He’s my husband. This is a bit weird.”
Peaky Blinders’ Grace Shelby, like many stars, has found navigating the sex scene while watching with her parents to be a squirmish experience. “I was in a sex scene,” she explained on The Graham Norton Show. “Watching it with [my parents] was so awkward and afterwards my dad said, ‘Well, we know where you get that from! Good girl!’”
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This article was originally published in May 2022