The Sex On Screen Awards 2021

Celebrating the best - and worst - representations of sex in 2020 film and television

And the winners are...

Best Depiction of Sex on Screen

Marianne and Connell | Normal People

Episode 2, released 26 April 2020 on BBC Three
Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, and Paul Mescal
Director: Lenny Abrahamson

“This scene exposes the young Marianne and Connell’s vulnerabilities in a very real and relatable way. Although their awkwardness is clear, it's mutual and mutually recognised. Marianne experiences pleasure following a gradual, tender, and consensual buildup, which the scene gives plenty of time to show. Marianne acknowledges that the sex is slightly painful. These reasons make this scene feel the most natural and authentic depiction amongst the strong set of nominations.”

Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, and Paul Mescal
Director: Lenny Abrahamson

“This scene exposes the young Marianne and Connell’s vulnerabilities in a very real and relatable way. Although their awkwardness is clear, it's mutual and mutually recognised. Marianne experiences pleasure following a gradual, tender, and consensual buildup, which the scene gives plenty of time to show. Marianne acknowledges that the sex is slightly painful. These reasons make this scene feel the most natural and authentic depiction amongst the strong set of nominations.”

Worst Depiction of Sex on Screen

Spenser and Cissy | Spenser Confidential

Released 6 March 2020 on Netflix
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, and Iliza Shlesinger
Director: Peter Berg

“While the aim of this scene may have been to depict sexual spontaneity, it instead plays as a male fantasy of a woman being (or thinking she is being) followed by a man, and forcing herself on him. The scene is aggressive and entirely phallocentric, depicting a woman feeling pleasure purely from harsh vaginal penetration, reinforcing a harmful old myth. There is no conversation or consideration of safe sex or contraception. The fetishisation of a sexually active woman reinforces male-centric and violent perceptions of sex.”

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, and Iliza Shlesinger
Director: Peter Berg

“While the aim of this scene may have been to depict sexual spontaneity, it instead plays as a male fantasy of a woman being (or thinking she is being) followed by a man, and forcing herself on him. The scene is aggressive and entirely phallocentric, depicting a woman feeling pleasure purely from harsh vaginal penetration, reinforcing a harmful old myth. There is no conversation or consideration of safe sex or contraception. The fetishisation of a sexually active woman reinforces male-centric and violent perceptions of sex.”

Honorable Mention

Most Female-Empowering Sex Scene

Our team of experts has also chosen, without public voting, the scene which they consider to be the most female-empowering sex scene in the past year of film and TV.

Lily and Ola | Sex Education

Season 2, Episode 8, released 17 January 2020 on Netflix
Starring: Tanya Reynolds, and Patricia Allison
Directer: Ben Taylor

“Sex Education has been an important series in raising awareness of an array of individual sexual experiences. It is rare to see any mentions of vaginismus or pain in depictions of sex on screen, but calling attention to this acts as an important way of tackling taboos around talking about sexual wellbeing. Lily and Ola explore each other's bodies, and their own, as they agree to mutually masturbate. Of course, women do not need penetrative sex to orgasm, and it is great to see this scene entirely focus on pleasure through masturbation. We wanted to give this scene an honorary mention for its honest depiction of non-penetrative sex, and the communicative recognition of a sexual partner’s limits.”

Starring: Tanya Reynolds, and Patricia Allison
Director: Ben Taylor

“Sex Education has been an important series in raising awareness of an array of individual sexual experiences. It is rare to see any mentions of vaginismus or pain in depictions of sex on screen, but calling attention to this acts as an important way of tackling taboos around talking about sexual wellbeing. Lily and Ola explore each other's bodies, and their own, as they agree to mutually masturbate. Of course, women do not need penetrative sex to orgasm, and it is great to see this scene entirely focus on pleasure through masturbation. We wanted to give this scene an honorary mention for its honest depiction of non-penetrative sex, and the communicative recognition of a sexual partner’s limits.”

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