Celebrity sex icons: How often do they actually appear in sex scenes?
Over a summer trapped inside due to COVID-19, The Ringer writer Carrie Wittmer did what most of us did, sit & watch movies all day. While we watched for the sheer enjoyment and to beat the quarantine’s boredom, Wittmer watched movies for science.
Wittmer was on a mission this summer to uncover a trend in Hollywood. She spent a productive quarantine researching if Hollywood sex icons were actually having sex in their movies. Yes, it might not be the world’s most important research right now, but as the film industry gripes with its return to production after COVID-19, Wittmer’s work is fascinating.
Wittmer’s research sparked from seeing many of the “sexiest man” awards going to actors in IP (intellectual property) driven films. Examples include actors like Chris Hemsworth as Thor or Oscar Issac in Star Wars or Dune.
Wittmer came up with a few hypotheses before starting her research. The first hypothesis was sex scene frequency or infrequency: actors in more commercially driven films would receive fewer sex scenes than those in smaller budget & Oscar bait films. Wittmer theorizes Leonardo DiCaprio would have the most sex scenes, and Dwayne Johnson & Hemsworth would have the fewest.
Wittmer reasons DiCaprio stars in more R-rated films, with auteur directors like Martin Scorcese and or movies that are awards-season contenders. Hemsworth & Johnson primarily star in big-budget action films that are geared for a mainstream, worldwide audience.
Her hypothesis on Hemsworth & Johnson leads right into Wittmer’s final theory. She hypothesizes leading actors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe receive fewer sex scenes overall.
Actor and movie selection
To start, Wittmer needed a list of actors to research. She wanted about thirty actors on the list to get a sufficient sample size. Her base was Hollywood’s highest paid actors, including Hemsworth, Johnson, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Tom Cruise, Mark Wahlberg, and Will Smith.
These actors don’t cover the complete spectrum of movies released and those movies’ budgets. Wittmer added recent Oscar winners and those classified as “internet boyfriends” to the list to paint a complete picture of a typical release year for a studio.
An initial Google search for actor names & sex scenes yielded only porn sites. Wittmer had to get more creative in selecting the movies to watch. She went to IMDb and read the detailed Parental Guides for each movie in an actor’s filmography.
What is a sex scene?
There are so many ways to define a sex scene because filmmakers use many tricks to visually depict or imply sex in movies. Wittmer needed a definition for her research. She defined a sex scene as a scene including “visible humping/suggested penetration, off-camera sex with sex sounds made by the actor or another visual cue that makes it clear sex is occurring, and oral sex under the same criteria.”
Masturbation did not count as a sex scene unless it was with other people or if an actor was using an object, like when Armie Hammer uses a peach in Call Me By Your Name. Also, scenes such as when Downey sticks his arm in a dragon’s rear end in Dolittle didn’t make the cut either. Wittmer’s research pertained to films only, so no television scenes were included. Finally, for good measure, she timed each scene in seconds.
Wittmer was not spot-on about which actors would receive the most or fewest sex scenes, but she was correct about star status & MCU stars and their correlation to sex scenes. Keanu Reeves leads the list with twelve of his fifty movies including a sex scene. He also clocks in at about 570 seconds of onscreen sex – about nine and a half minutes or one and a quarter minutes of sex per movie.
DiCaprio was near the top but only had five movies including a sex scene for 260 seconds of on-screen sex. Hemsworth & Johnson rank near the bottom with three and one movies with sex, respectively. John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Mahershala Ali all had zero movies with a sex scene.
Reeves is not the only actor with double-digit movies with sex scenes – Jake Gyllenhaal has ten. Reeves is also not the only actor with a long career on the list. Downey eclipses Reeves with fifty-three movies and only has five of them with a sex scene. Other actors in the high forties range include Tom Hanks, Mark Wahlberg, and Denzel Washington are in the same range as Downey.
Timothée Chalamet tops the next list with a sex scene in 50% of his movies. It might be because he’s only been in ten movies, but compared to Micheal B. Jordan with eight movies, Jordan’s only gets a sex scene 12.5% of the time. So the length of a career isn’t skewing the data. With the type of roles Chalamet takes, it’s no surprise the number is high, but it should be expected to drop slightly over time.
Wittmer was not wrong about MCU actors. Between the six MCU lead actors that made the list, they averaged a sex scene in 14.6% of their movies. The whole list averages a sex scene in about 17% of their films.
Compared to the height of erotic thrillers in the 80s & early 90s, celebrity sex icons are not appearing in sex scenes as often. IP-driven movies dominate the box office and they need to be accessible to a wide audience, therefore the amount of sex scenes is dwindling for big Hollywood actors.