Robot 6

‘Scriptnotes’ and sex columnist Dan Savage discuss the problem with Marvel’s sexless superheroes

marvel studios logoEach week in the podcast Scriptnotes, screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin get together to talk about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. For this week’s episode, August, Mazin and sex columnist Dan Savage set their sights on the portrayal of sex – or, rather, the lack thereof – in the industry and Marvel’s sexless superheroes.

When asked what he’d like to see movies and TV do more to portray sex in a positive but realistic way, the following exchange occurred:

Dan Savage: We are paranoid about young people’s sexuality. I really haven’t thought about this but off the top of my head, there is, maybe it’s a reaction to the AIDS epidemic that’s still sort of broiling through the culture. This attitude that sexual expression, out of the context of a committed relationship, is not okay. And so when I’m thinking about the sex I’ve seen in movies, it’s kind of limited to Rom-coms or relationships that are established, which aren’t very sexy. Sex in an established relationship is considered routine and not remarkable, not an extraordinary event, or film worthy. So we get these heroes who don’t have time for sex, or aren’t interested in sex.

John August: I would say there are small exceptions. The Tony Stark character in “Iron Man,” you feel like he has sex with Gwyneth Paltrow. That’s a thing that happens. But it feels like he’s sort of a bad boy for having sex. And if you look at the other characters in the Marvel Universe, they don’t have sex basically.

Savage: I don’t go see those movies. Does Thor have sex?

Craig Mazin: I don’t think so, because technically Thor is a Norse God and, I think, they make weather.

August: Captain America is a Boy Scout. Even Black Widow, it’s Scarlett Johansson, she is inherently a sexual creature, but they don’t actually use any of that as part of the story because it’s a PG-13 Universe it has to be able to sell toys and you don’t want to sexualize toys I guess.

Dan Savage: Spider-Man would be like the world’s greatest bondage top. Does he have sex? I haven’t seen a Spider-Man movie. I’m a terrible guest for your show. I don’t get to see a lot of movies.

Mazin: It’s great. Spider-Man, actually, is a great example of what John’s talking about. He is a high school senior. He’s got this super hot girlfriend that’s totally in love with him. I think at one point they actually move in or live together — maybe even get married? I can’t remember because there’s been a lot of them. But you get the feeling that all they do is kiss and then go to bed like Ricky and Lucy in separate beds. I mean there’s just no balls to that character. It’s all Jesus-based heroism. Like I am a pure person — that’s part of the problem. A lot of these heroes that we put out there in movies are just a retelling of the Jesus story. I am a pure person who will absorb the sin of the world around me, suffer for your sins, and then save the world through my resurrection.

Savage: I cannot compromise my desire.

Mazin: Bingo. Bingo. And this is part of what goes on, I think, these days at least, a lot of the narrative we put out to kids. You just Augusted me.

To give the whole bit a listen, check out their latest episode. Savage comes in around the 480minute mark, just shy of the segment quoted above.

What do you think? Do Marvel’s PG-13 heroes need to get laid, pronto?

Comments

52 Comments

no. while superheroes are loved by people of all ages, they were created for the young. give the kids their rock em sock em to the bad guys and leave the explicit sex for some old pervs to jerk off to in the back room

I know most of the movie fans don’t read comics but a lot Marvel (and DC’s) character’s sexuality have been explored in the past. Teens included. Look at Runaways,Young Avengers,Teen Titans,ect. It’s there. Just not as much in the movies.

Also,the Fox Xmen haven’t exactly shied away from it.

Stupid article. People that don’t know or care about comic book characters snarking about them.

Super hero movies want a PG-13 rating which increases the number of viewers and box office profits. So, no sex, obviously…

Just as there is no blood, or death, or gore even though there is major property damage (most striking example Man of Steel where exactly 0 people died and there was 0 amount of blood after a whole city full of people collapsed).

The scene between Jean and Wolverine in X-Men: The Last stand and the suggestive Mystique/Magneto scene are as far as PG-13 will let things go.

It’s not that the studios don’t have an interest in exploring the topic, it’s just that they like their PG-13 ratings more…

Or to answer the questions posted:

“What do you think? Do Marvel’s PG-13 heroes need to get laid, pronto?”: Yes… If PG-13 would allow sexual content and sex stops being a dirty word…

Precisely. As much as we old folks like it, the MCU is at some level children’s entertainment. American children’s entertainment. So even romance is considered icky, much less sex. There’s just no use in pretending that the MCU is an-R rated place.

Of course, the Netflix series coming up may be more grown up. But my guess is the comics themselves will still be far more adult than the netflix series.

That romance and sexuality are excised from children’s entertainment in the US is a larger issue — and it does seem to me like Japan, Brazil and Europe aren’t exactly the same on this.

Obviously you can’t have characters hop into bed all the time in this kind of film, but I do agree that these movies are “sexless” even compared to many of the Code-era comics they’re based on. “Sex” isn’t just about how much sexual intercourse characters have, but how interested they are in sex and romantic love. Two characters who obviously, prominently desire each other are sexy regardless of whether the story is PG-13 or not. Marvel movies are unsexy because they have deliberately made the choice to downplay the romance aspect of the comics – so THE WINTER SOLDIER has essentially no romance in it at all if you don’t count Natasha trying to set Steve up on dates. But are, say, Spider-Man comics about sex? Of course they are; they’re all about Betty and Veronica triangles, and what is Archie/Betty/Veronica but a sex story?

I suppose AKA Jessica Jones will be the exception to this rule. Can’t imagine them doing those stories without that element to it.

I think it’s less about the depiction of the sex act, and more like a feeling that sex is factor in some characters’ life and not so much in others. It is totally possible to have “sexual” characters in PG-13 movies. But sexlessness is not as widespread among Marvel cinematic superheroes as these guys make it out to be.

There is Tony Stark banging reporters and groupies in the movies, for one. And the first movie is PG-13. The X-Men movies also are PG-13, but you get a pretty strong sexual tension in them. But maybe there is something to what those guys are saying. Tony is a playboy. The X-Men are sexy outcasts in leather. But Cap and Thor have never been very sexual. Spider-Man I think it’s more something about Tobey Maguire when he is in nerd mode, he was like that in Pleasantville and the Ice Storm too. He is sort of virginal even when hot women are throwing themselves at him.

I think it’s strange that the comic book movies have little no no sex at all. That doesn’t mean full on nudity or anything beyond a PG-13 rating, but just the presence of sex. The 1989 Batman had it, Superman II had it, but none of the more recent movies tend to include it. The first Iron Man is the only exception I can think of.

This is odd because sex and sexuality are very common in the comics they’re based on. Tony Stark is a playboy and has had numerous relationships over the years. The Avengers are always involved with each other in some way, often sexually. The comics are for the same basic audience, unless rated otherwise, and I think these superhero movies need to remember that it makes for more interesting character development to see how these costumed crime fighters interact socially.

For what they are, I don’t think sex would be beneficial to the plot development, and not getting into it makes it comfortable for family viewing. I think they show a decent amount. There’s no doubt in Guardians of the Galaxy that Star Lord isn’t getting laid a lot prior to the events that get set in motion.
Iron Man got laid pretty consistently in at least the first 2 films. But it doesn’t need to be overt, because that isn’t the focus.

That having been said, I was left feeling pretty bad for Steve Rogers at the end of Captain America when I realised that this poor guy is still a virgin, and a sequel hasn’t changed that yet.

Ultimately, we’re talking about stories with plot lines and character development. Regardless of the controversy over whether sex should be censored in stories, if a character’s sex life doesn’t contribute to the story, it shouldn’t be included.
Must we sexualize ALL of our superheroes anyway? I like to think that superheroes can range from being as sexual or prudish as any other group of people. The superhero stories with exposed sex lives should already fulfill the more sexual demographic you’re concerned with, while the sexless stories fulfill the less sexual demographic. In terms of movies, I’m sure you understand that Disney and Marvel attempt to make high grossing movies that will attract as many demographics as possible, so they’re not going to limit that with unnecessary sex scenes.

“Even Black Widow, it’s Scarlett Johansson, she is inherently a sexual creature,”

excuse me, what does that even mean.

Banon –

One thing I was thinking about is that, despite the frank depiction of sex in TV shows at HBO, pop culture in general in the 2000s and 2010s has taken a turn to sexlessness. It’s more like I feeling I get. In the 1980s and early 1990s people were a lot more conservative about sex, but maybe that made it a forbidden fruit and movies actually were bursting with sexual tension, even when no actual sex was depicted.

Maybe because people are more liberal about sex in real life now, there is no need to make movies shock full of sexual tension. Or maybe it’s the Internet being so widespread now. Porn is always one click away, you don’t need to go watch a movie to see some tits.

What a ridiculous nothing article. These guys sound like a trio of high school metro sexuals praying for a Penthouse mag.

Top ten dumbest things I’ve ever read

The Black Panther must have romance in his film. He cannot be made into a gelding, as often happens with black leads in various films and TV shows.

I have never read an article where the interviewer and interviewee both sound so completely like they’ve not researched the topic being discussed.

Can we please, for once, in just even a handful of media outlets, have some form of entertainment that doesn’t have to be “sexy” and promiscuous? I don’t want to read a comic book that has some alterior motive of altering our perception of sex to be ” fun and carefree”. I don’t want to read a marvel comic book that is trying to tell me anything about sex. I don’t read comics for the sex scenes, am not interested in seeing people engage in sexual encounters and find it totally unnecessary for sex to be shoe horned into these books. LEAVE THE BOOKS ALONE. We read comics for the action and the story and for our beloved characters, if you want something “adult” and “sexy” go somewhere else. There are even comic books out there you could seek out that have it. I truly don’t understand this current fascination with media about trying to sexualize EVERYTHING. Like sex is their God, and if somebody in every show or book isn’t having meaningless sex outside of a committed relationship then the show should be penalized and belittled. It’s pathetic. It’s a relief to be able to pick up a marvel comic and not be slapped in the face with gratuitous sexual content. I say go and worship sex somewhere else we don’t need it in every page of already good books.

Gurkle is on the money. There’s a difference between sexually explicit content and getting the sense that the characters are rounded adults with love lives and desires outside of “gee whiz that gurl sure is purdy.” Marvel movies don’t have that and don’t even really try. There’s a very adolescent timidity about sexuality in those films even as they try to appeal to adults and young children alike.

Even at that, kids can get that two people could be in love and desire each other without you having to actually show them boning on screen. I know it’s a dated example, but I think Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke did this well in The Dick Van Dyke Show-they had good chemistry and you got a feeling of their affection for each other beyond “this is someone who looks good that I want to kiss” that didn’t/couldn’t veer into R-rated territory. There are shades of grey, you know. There’s a middle ground between “only kissing” and “full frontal”

Also lol at commentors saying that PROFESSIONAL HOLLYWOOD SCREENWRITERS need to do their research about how Hollywood works

Thor didn’t have sex but it had two people who met on a Friday become passionately in love with one another by Sunday.

“Dominic Vargaz
February 6, 2015 at 4:48 pm

no. while superheroes are loved by people of all ages, they were created for the young. give the kids their rock em sock em to the bad guys and leave the explicit sex for some old pervs to jerk off to in the back room”

This kind of reductive, closed minded attitude towards sex is exactly why restrictive desexualization in pop culture does more sociological harm than good.

Wolverine wakes up with a woman in Days of Future Past and as he’s naked we all know what had been going on ;)

Green Lantern had Hal offering a woman water from the sink after a night together (Hal’s always been classy)

Iron Man hinted at it when Pepper shows up to take out Tony’s trash, as she put it. That may be the farthest it got in the MCU.

Well, this is poorly thought out. First off, why are we having this discussion with a guy who hasn’t even seen the films. I mean…not even Spider-Man? Half of those films came out over a decade ago.

And, there is A point to be had here, but you have to be careful in how you do it. There’s nothing WRONG with sex, but at the same time not EVERYONE views sex the same way. It rang pretty falsely in Guardians of the Galaxy when Gamora pulled away from Star Lord–she’s a sexual dynamo in the comics and would destroy Peter Quill’s world, but she had to play that “I won’t be fooled by your pelvic wizardry” nonsense.

But then you have a guy like Steve Rogers who grew up in the fucking 40’s. He can have a girlfriend, but I don’t know that he’s going to just be free with sex like that. It’s all about contrast, and actually THINKING about your characters. I’m pretty sure Thor has sex–it’s just every film you see him in he’s always dealing with the impending destruction of not one, but NINE different worlds, and dude’s kinda busy.

TV heroes aren’t much different. Oliver has relationships with numerous women, while Barry’s still holding out for Iris. The rules work differently for different characters.

Also, Spider-Man is LITERALLY the superhero version of a guilty Catholic, so I’m a little baffled by the fact that one guy went on about him being a retelling of the Jesus story like he’d stumbled on to some great secret. Chillax guy. That said, most superheroes are in fact, NOT the Jesus story. Grant Morrison talked about that quite directly when discussing Superman. Superheroes don’t turn the other cheek–they tend to actually smack the bully in the face.

No, I’m afraid you’re laying the blame in the wrong direction when you say something like they’re “too pure” to have sex. The real truth is there are kids watching these films and the parents don’t want to take their children to films where they might have to explain what sex is.

I’m surprised no one brought up how the comics / movies are fine with violence, but not sexuality.

I just rewatched Captain America: Winter Soldier. Great movie. But lots of the violence. And in the movie universe, it makes sense that they don’t stick to the “superheroes absolutely never ever kill” rule from when I was a kid.

I’m not expressing my point well cause I’m tired… But basically, it’s weird that society and ratings are fine with extreme and fantastical violence, but shy away from sexuality that is actually a part of every day life.

I don’t know, Americans get all weird when it comes to sex and nudity.

That’s BS… You never see them going to the bathroom, buit you know it happens… Should we see Captain America taking a crap?

Others here have pointed out that Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies and Peter Quill in GOTG are sexual beings( even if we dont get overt sex scenes in thier movies.

I distinctly remember very few (if any) sex scenes in the 80’s era action ficks that starred Chuck Norris, Sly Stallone, Arnold and those guys ( the first Terminator film is the notable exception here).

This is not something unique to Marvel films at all.

Savage is obsessed with sex. For him it seems everything should be about it. It’s a important part of people’s lives but it doesn’t have to permeate every inch of one’s life. And in fact, for most people, it doesn’t.

“Comic books were created for the Young.” Really? Because I thought it was a bunch of pulp publishers with organized crime connections who wanted to make money. Turns out it was for the kids the whole time.

Melsner –

True. People are weird about sex.

But the violence in most superhero movies is fake and bloodless, and sort of detached.

Americans are weird about sex. Very conservative on the surface, except they spend tons of time watching porn on the other hand. They do not have it integrated into their psyche because they feel weird and conflicted about it. Sex is “bad” or “naughty”, yet biology rewards us for sexual needs and desires on a basic level (dopamine reward system). Europe for the most part has a more evolved sensibility regarding this matter than the U.S. I say this as an American.

Should all superheros have sex or sexuality featured. No, of course not. Should some. Yes. Batman is sexual. Daredevil is. Spider-man is a man-child, and is usually not (except when he hooks up with Black Cat but even then… he seems confused about the whole thing and not really able to handle it). Iron Man is.

Just reading these comments you can see many of the knee jerk reactions. As others have said, Comics and comic books were not originally created for children or children’s entertainment. That came later with the comics code and Frederic Wertham. That legacy is still here to a certain extent. Now the censorship is more from the MPAA and the ratings system. PG-13 is a potentially billions of dollars of profit vs an R rated movie which is a loss of who can see the film. Educate yourself.

Some things are for the imagination ( which may be in short quantity ) but I have been reading Comic Books since the age of 5 in the mid 1970s and I honestly have never bought a Comic Book too be sexually-aroused, I do indeed buy them for the action-sequences, and I am saying this as I am very comfortable now with Bisexuality ( especially my own ) but no I don’t need too see Porn in my regular Comic Books, go watch X-Tube, Porn Hub or some other website where they actually have Adult Comic Porn available for those whom seek that. (:

Okay, I’m sorry, but why has nobody pointed out how wrong this article is? Tony Stark talks about and engages in sexual activity constantly. Hulk, Edward Norton and Liv Tyler try to have sex but get scared off by his heart rate monitor. In Thor, both Natalie Portman And Kat Dennings express desire toward Thor, but the timeline of that film is so compressed there’s hardly time to show sex. Captain America I’ll give them. He’s a 1940s traditionalist who does believe in premarital sex. Black Widow CLEARLY uses sexuality as a weapon in both Iron Man 2, flirting with Stark and Avengers when she’s in the slinky dress at the beginning. Star-Lord explicitly talks about sex, referring to his many conquests and talking graphically about how a black light would make the inside of his ship look like a Jackson Pollack painting. Even Agents of SHIELD features sex several times between characters.

So when these guys said they hadn’t seen a lot of these movies everyone should have listened. They apparently only go to movies for the nude scenes. I appreciate the inclusion of sexuality because these characters would seem like cardboard cutouts otherwise, but they should be kid friendly and skirt anything too risqué. I think Marvel does a great job with it.

Yeah, this is pretty stupid. Why is this a problem? All stories should have sex in them? They obviously are aiming for a wider, “all ages” kind of audience. Personally I’m more annoyed by the apparent unbreakable rule that every superhero story needs a love interest at all.

No sex in Spiderman? Don’t both the first film and Amazing Spiderman have scenes where Peter has to stop someone entering his room because he’s shot web fluid everywhere? That’s a masturbation joke, folks.

Lord Malthus disproved the thesis quite handily, but even if they were right, so what? Superhero movies take place during periods of busy. There really isn’t much down time to get down. Ugh. I hate it when people get mad at media for not catering to their pet cause. Yes, sex positivity is important to foster in our overly repressed culture, but that means there is a responsibility to not make media that demonizes sexuality. It doesn’t mean that every type of media needs to go out of it’s way to show sex positivity.

I think the beginning of the first Cap movie makes it clear that Cap and Bucky have healthy sex lives but people get weird when you actually admit that people in the 40s slept around. Hell pretty much any time the comic shows Cap having sex someone publishes an article or something saying men from Cap’s era didn’t do that without a ring. I’m sure if Cap woke up in bed with his neighbor or The Black Widow in one scene you’d get some Fox News people talking about it.

Levar Burton actually leveled some of the same complaints about Star Trek recently, particular when it comes to black male sexuality.

Yeah…

Two guys who have no interest in or knowledge of the comic books or the movies they are talking about and whose whole agenda seems to be centered around sex, (since, well, that is the whole point of this… well whatever it is they’re doing in this article) commenting on why isn’t there more sexuality in comic books and comic book based movies. And, why..?

Seriously, is this such an under served sector of the comic book consuming public??? There are comic books and creators that are producing material highlighting and exploring sex and sexuality, including some mainstream stuff. And the consuming public votes with it’s dollars; it pays for what it wants,and leaves what it doesn’t.

And the question that needs to be asked: More comic books and comic book based movies exhibit more sexuality– will either of this articles authors read those comics or see those movies. No. So, why are we giving what they say any consideration??

Why do we have to turn outlet entertainment into a lame grad student paper on sexuality? Thea movies should be pure entertainment for the young and young at heart.

Please leave the social commentary for the Oscar bait no one watches.

There are plenty of sexual or romantic moments in comic book movies, but what surprises me is this idea that all movies have to have sex in them. Why are they saying that it’s weird that a movie about superheroes doesn’t have any boning? People are intent on forcing romantic subplots into every show/movie and sometimes, it’s just not necessary.

Sex isn’t important in most of the Marvel movies as a component to move the story forward. You don’t need it. And I’m glad they didn’t jump at making their only real female hero sexual just because Scarlett Johansson is a sexy woman. Instead, they opted to explore the hell out of her character, instead of just using her as a prop.

So Dan Savage, who has not seen any of the super-hero movies, and thus knows nothing about the plots or stories, wants to have a 2 hour movie abruptly come to a screeching halt, just so the main character can have sex? All for the sake of teaching kids that sex is not a bad thing? Are you serious?

There is not wrong with sex. At all. I quite enjoy it. However, the inclusion of sex in a movie should normally be done when it is important to the story. As in to advance the plot or character development. Adding it into a film of any kind just for the sake of having sex does nothing but slow down the plot and waste time and come off as exploitative. And in Super-hero movies, lets be honest, they have more important things to do that having sex. For example, trying to stop the evil bad guys with the doomsday devise from destroying New York.

If Savage wants to see Thor getting laid, he should just rent one of the super-hero porn parodies that are out.

hey superheroes don’t have time for sex YET if you look through marvel and DC comics comic books as well as family tress for heroes and villans there is usually an extreme long line of daughters and sons for most and lets face it they didn’t just poof into existence lol. Plus there are plenty of sexual scenes in comicsthe movies just don’t portray it

The writers of this article must have been frozen in blocks of ice since World War II.

I actually thought they were being sarcastic when they said modern society teaches people that it’s not okay to have sex outside a committed relationship.

Three hipsters talking about comic book characters having sex. Pass.

The Dark Knight Rises tackled this in a very nice way. I kind of liked it. Hope other superhero movies take a cue from it.

Well, the times that the heroes are seen as sexual (Starlord, Iron Man) they’re also shown as essentially womanizers until an “honest girl” (i.e. one who doesn’t have sex on camera) comes along and sets them straight. Since that’s all the comics movies seem to be capable of producing, then I think it’s maybe a good thing that they keep away from sexuality.

Besides, as made evident in the exchanges above, many hero comics fans tend to get really nervous about sexuality. That’s not the kind of fan service they’re looking for ;)

Why is this guy’s opinion in any way relevant? He admits himself he did not watch the damn movies.

So, to sum up your podcast,

DAN SAVAGE: Superheroes don’t have enough sex in movies!
CBR: What about these heroes (lists a few)
DAN SAVAGE: OH I DON’T ACTUALLY WATCH SUPERHERO MOVIES, WHAT HAPPENS IN THEM?

Interesting and good topic. I’ve always wondered if superheroes have sex and what their sex lives would be like on film. Judging from the trailer for “Deadpool” and hearing last year that there’s a possible sex scene in “X-Men:Apocalypse”, this lack of sex in superhero films situation just might change. If those two films are any indication, hopefully, we’ll probably see more superheroes have sex onscreen.

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