I didn't know there was a sex scene in Titanic until this year. My sex life has proceeded accordingly.
The first couple I ever watched having sex was a Confederate deserter and a preacher's daughter. Up until that point, I had been sheltered by my parents' policy of cinematic sex-clusion. If the McIntyre elders spotted even a suggestively raised eyebrow in a scene, I was immediately ushered out of the room to do an arbitrary chore, timed precisely for me to return just as the screen was fading to black. Then I secretly purchased Cold Mountain off pay-per-view, and one scene changed everything. Jude Law's ass melted between Nicole Kidman's splayed legs like a scoop of ice cream, and suddenly I was a teenager.
I thought of this recently when I went to see Titanic 3D, because it was then that I learned that Jack and Rose have sex in that movie. At first I looked on suspiciously: what was sex doing in my Titanic? But as I sat in that theater, watching Kate Winslet pull the glowing orb of Leonardo DiCaprio's head onto her breast, I realized I had missed more than three-to-five-minute chunks of well-lit humping and sideboob; I had been denied answers to questions that plagued me throughout my earlier sexual experiences. Had I been allowed to watch these movies in full, I might've saved myself a lot of trouble:
"Tender" is not an adjective that I would use to describe the dawn of my sex life. The little I thought I knew about getting it on I had learned from stories shared at my lunch table. One point was oft-repeated: guys don't want to snuggle. Being affectionate meant being needy, and being needy was the first step to Dumpsville.
Convinced that any show of vulnerability would condemn me to spinsterdom, I slipped out of beds and cars faster than I did my Old Navy camisoles. I pretended to be a Cool Girl who smirked a lot and kept her cool when guys didn't call back, because everything was cool, and whatever. I've been thousands of Cool Girls for my various Hims, none of whom needed to spoon.
Maybe if my parents hadn't kicked me out of our VHS viewing of Titanic, I wouldn't be so uncomfortable with sex that involves a lot of eye contact. Jack and Rose's brief but extremely steamy sex scene is more tender than Enrique Inglesias' gaze in this photo, and even after trying all that tenderness, Jack still begs Rose not to let him go. (Okay, he's dying, but still.) Seeing the whole story, I might've known sooner that while sex doesn't have to be candles and rose petals, you don't always have to bolt at the end.
2. Dirty Dancing
I was sixteen and at a party, sitting alone with my male companion, when I was suddenly overcome with desire. I threw back the rest of my watery cocktail and, with my mouth still full of ice and rum, I straddled him. He looked into my face with the most horrified expression. All he said was "Jesus" — not in a gruff, turned-on way but instead in the tone you use when someone has just spilled red wine all over your dress. Then he pushed me off his lap like I was some stranger's yapping pet. I'd tried to own my sexuality and I'd ended up alone on a loveseat. I felt like a freak.
This guy's rejection convinced me that what I did wasn't normal; that I should be ashamed of acting upon my desire; that my role was to be the recipient, not the aggressor. But it is normal. The kid was just a weenie. The fact that he felt uncomfortable by my initiation doesn't reflect poorly on my femininity. In the words of Toni Braxton, he just wasn't man enough for me.
If only I had known that nobody pushed Baby off their lap. While the road to her transformation is a long one, Dirty Dancing's Baby eventually ends up in Johnny's cabin, pouncing on her dance instructor like a feral cat. She feasts on the sumptuous buffet that is Patrick Swayze's shoulders; she puts her pleasure on full display. With guidance like this, I could've spared myself so much bad, hesitant sex that starts in the cab, pauses awkwardly in the foyer, and ends with anticlimactic missionary performed in silence.
3. Forrest Gump
A few years ago, the guy I was kissing whispered to me that he had mistakenly reached his "final destination." Instead of reassuring him that it was okay, I made a disapproving noise and slid out from underneath him. I turned a normal physical reaction into something he'd done to spite me. I turned into a frigid schoolmarm and was — deservingly! — never called again.
I really wish I had seen what happens when Forrest Gump first touches a breast. With that experience under my belt I might've been more sympathetic and less scolding after my man's accidental emission. I was insecure, so I felt like he'd done it on purpose; if I'd been properly acculturated to the idea of premature ejaculation the way everyone else was at a young age, I might've recognized it as an accident, and maybe even a flattering one.
4. Jerry Maguire
I used to be a loud girl everywhere except the bedroom. Behind closed doors, I became a figure of propriety and repression. I was trained to keep quiet by a few tense encounters with roommates and one hookup's palm placed over my mouth. I was once picked up at a bar based solely on the sexiness of my voice, and even then, I barely uttered anything above a murmur. Each whispery tryst would end with me dashing madly for my t-shirt and underwear, clutching a comforter to my body as if I hadn't just been naked and humping.
Unfortunately, when my family watched Jerry Maguire, my parents shielded me from the rather intense scene between Jerry, his fiancée Avery, and a bookcase. Avery is stunningly vocal; I bet she would've bit any muffling hand straight off. Now, to qualify, the scene's probably going for laughs, but it wouldn't have mattered; it just would've helped to have known that this existed in the ether, that there were other women who were dirty and loud and wild and not being silenced by their partners in the process. The bedroom isn't the library — you can't shush someone you're currently penetrating.
5. Cruel Intentions
Neither party in the me-losing-my-virginity process went in with appropriate delicacy. He didn't, because he was a teenaged boy, and I didn't, because I was embarrassed. I didn't want to make a big deal of the fact that his penis felt like a dagger, so I tried to emulate the Fonz, making a series of "hey, whatever, it's fine, fuggedaboutit!" faces that I'm sure confused my partner.
Just a few years before the death of my hymen, my mother was swayed by the ever-convincing argument that everyone I knew saw Cruel Intentions and, like, I would die — just die — if I didn't see it as well. The viewing lasted all of thirty minutes. If my mother and I had hung in there, she would've learned that the film isn't all cocaine crosses and lesbian kisses, and I would've gone into my deflowering a bit more prepared. When virginal Annette finally gives in to bad boy Sebastian, the moment is intimate and gentle. Sebastian pauses and asks Annette if she's okay. Apparently that's normal! Good to know!
And God, they kiss so much. No one told me how essential kissing is in sex. I never knew that in a home run, you have to round all the bases — you don't just take a step away from the plate, turn around, and high-five the umpire. And then, Sebastian calls a car for his girl! I can't count the number of times I've been left to scrap it out on a crowded train with my shirt inside out and no underwear on, hungry as hell because the only food he had in his apartment was Corn Chex with no milk. Cruel Intentions is how it is done, ladies and gentlemen. If I'd seen it — or any of these movies — at the right age, I might have demanded more.