It’s Time for the Clitoris to Get Its Due in American Cinema

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) meets his clitoris-free lover for the first time.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) meets his clitoris-free lover for the first time.

Here’s what I learned about the future from Her, the Spike Jonze science-fiction movie about a man falling in love with his operating system:

1. We’ll all wear ugly high-waisted pants

2. Our operating system lovers will fake orgasms.

In the climactic Her sex scene, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is lying on his back in bed, dreamily talking with Samantha (voiced by Scarlet Johansson), his operating system. I wish I could touch you, he murmurs, wherein the conversation shifts into full-on Harlequin Romance mode and the screen goes black. Theodore then begins intoning about kissing her lips and her nipples, while Samantha moans appreciatively. All is well and good, if you enjoy watching phone sex masquerading as sex from the future.  Then Samantha purrs, “I want you inside of me,” and we hear Theodore and Samantha have what sounds like a simultaneous orgasm.  That’s when I began to get annoyed. “Why does Samantha have a virtual vagina but no virtual clitoris?” I whispered to my friend. Samantha never asks Theodore to fondle, lick, or in any way stimulate her clitoris, leading to the conclusion that the future looks bleak for all but the minority of women who receive orgasms from penetrative sex.

This isn’t a problem specific to Her. Clitoral stimulation is routinely absent from sex scenes in film, in favor of scenes where women are shown rapturously orgasming from missionary-style sex. Although Master’s and Johnson dismantled the myth of the vaginal orgasm 48 years ago, Hollywood continues to pretend otherwise.

So, who’s to blame? The MPAA is primarily at fault, although ingrained cultural attitudes about women’s sexuality also play a part. Movies with cunnilingus scenes frequently get slapped with NC-17 ratings. Most recently, the MPAA required that the director of Charlie Countryman cut a scene of Shia LeBeouf performing cunnilingus on Evan Rachel Wood in order for it to receive an R rating. Scenes of characters annihilating each other with bullets to the head were allowed to stay. The MPAA considers cunnilingus more harmful to children than gun violence, beheadings, and rape.  I guess there’s nothing more detrimental to the youth of America than showing a blissful woman with a man’s face firmly ensconced between her thighs.  Clearly, our society is bat-shit insane. Instead of preventing teenagers from seeing a movie with cunnilingus in it, we should be screening these movies at high schools.

It’s time for the clitoris to get its due in American cinema. In that spirit, I propose the Lieberman Test. For a movie to pass this test, it has to meet the following criteria:

At least one sex scene depicts a woman receiving sexual pleasure from having cunnilingus performed on her.

The Lieberman Test is inspired by the Bechdel Test,  a test that gives a movie a passing grade if the movie “has… at least two women in it, who talk to each other, about something besides a man.”

Although the absence of clitoral orgasms on screen may seem like a minor problem, it’s not. Hollywood’s portrayals of sexuality influence cultural norms.  What’s even worse is that we’re targeting the vaginal-orgasm myth to teen girls, leading them to believe that their genitals are defective, and setting them up for a life of frustratingly orgasm-less sex. People have campaigned successfully to remove positive depictions of cigarettes in movies targeted to teens. Why not have a similar campaign to remove false depictions of sexuality in movies and show more clitoral orgasms instead?

To inaugurate this campaign, here are three movies that pass this test:

1. Blue Valentine (2010): For its scene where a husband (Ryan Gosling) performs cunnilingus on his wife (Michelle Williams). This scene initially earned the movie a NC-17 rating.  Harvey Weinstein protested and got the movie reclassified as an R.

2. Cruel Intentions (1999): High-school student Cecilie (Selma Blair) receives cunnilingus from Sebastian (Ryan Phillipe) when he’s teaching her about sex.

3. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013): In addition to cunnilingus, this movie is full of masturbation and scissor sex between the two main characters, Adele and Emma. It got an NC-17 rating. (Note: It’s a French movie, so it doesn’t really count).

-Hallie Lieberman

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