Americans don't like dirty sex, to judge from recent popular films about sex. So why are French women so sexual, if you believe French cinema.


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, October 31, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

Passionless Sex -- The American Ideal

Americans don't like dirty sex, to judge from recent popular films about sex. So why are French women so sexual, if you believe French cinema.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno was made by Kevin Smith and stars Seth Rogan. Rogan (who appeared in director Judd Apatow's The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up) is the zhlubby protagonist who screws the good-looking blond (in Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl, in Porno, Elizabeth Banks).

But it isn't dirty sex (despite the Porno in the title). Although they talk dirty, they don't really lose their heads. It's good friendly sex, between two people who care for each other and who will end up in a tepid, suburban relationship. Nothing wrong with that - but it is different from the kind of sex one sees, for example, in French movies.

In French films, people have affairs, cheat on their spouses, form passionate entanglements, and - for God's sake - take their clothes off! Remember in their night of drunken, heedless sex in Knocked Up, Rogan and Heigl don't get nude? Whereas Heigl felt it would tarnish her image to bare her breasts, French actresses feel they would discredit themselves by keeping their clothes on while making love - "Do you think I have sex with my brassiere on?" you can hear them huffing.

In Porno, two friends (who secretly love one another but need to break the ice) decide to make a porn film together as a career move. In Knocked Up (which also has an innocuous porno subplot), sex is a drunken mistake. But neither is really about sex. To see a contemporary film that's really about sex, you have to watch the 2006 French remake of Lady Chatterly's Lover, directed by Pascale Ferran.

French women are actually taking sex one step farther in film - they are saying, "Love is great for passionate sex, but even without love, I want to get laid." Charlotte Rampling (who is English but speaks fluent French and stars in French films) portrays middle aged women who want sex. In the 2005 film, Heading South (Vers le Sud), she plays an American professor who travels to Haiti to purchase sex from young Haitians.

In the 2003 Under the Sand (Sous le Sable), Rampling loses her comfortable, long-time husband - and fantasizes about strange, explicit, diabolical sex.

ClienteBut the apotheosis of French sexuality in film is the popular new French movie "Cliente," directed by a woman, Josiane Balasko. The italicized "e" makes clears that the attractive middle-aged woman (the leading French actress Nathalie Baye) shown in a poster recovering from mind-blowing sex with a young man pocketing money is a "johne," that is, a female commercial sex customer.

In recognition that I am writing this just prior to the 2008 presidential balloting, I wonder which American political party will be the first to pick up and run with this issue - that many single, middle-aged women are needlessly doing without hot sex. Of course, if you believe popular recent films, so are young American women - and men.