The sensual start.
The ins and outs of any given “sexual awakening” are, of course, personal. That said, given that most of us are raised on similar media diets — cable programming, of-the-moment films, pop albums, etc — it is, indeed, likely, that some cross-over exists among the reference points that ushered us towards the sensual world of adulthood.
Be it a particular movie scene, a certain literary vampire, or some celebrated on-screen romance, the cultural isms to which we owe our sex drive origin stories deserve a bit of acknowledgement.
To celebrate, here's a sampling of some much-referenced pop culture sexual awakenings.
Forever by Judy Bloom
This classique coming-of-age novel was a staple item on pre-teen shelves and summer syllabi throughout the early aughts for good reason: A very appropriately teenage tale of love, lust, and a boy named Ralph, sure to make young and hopeful romantics weak at the knees.
Cruel Intentions (1999)
It’s a movie about sex, sultry step-sibling dynamics, drugs, and well, girls — and frankly, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn’t turned on in the midst of their first viewing. We’re talking: Selma Blair, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Reese Witherspoon.
50 Shades of Grey by E.L. Stein
Whether we’re citing E.L. Stein’s book series or the film franchise, it’s no secret that this raunchy romantic tale has played a pivotal role in the sex lives of countless folks (be it a matter of sexual awakening, or late-in-life re-awakening). Plus, the work deserves ample credit for both normalizing and opening up conversations re: BDSM.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Both Meyer’s novels and the Robert Pattinson/Kirsten Stewart-led films have served as major romantic cornerstones for teenagers of yore. Age-less glittering vampires? The emotional edging that accompanies lust paired with lethal vampiric bite risk? Fangs?
Ten Things I Hate About You (1999)
If Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger playing sexy paintball isn’t the stuff of (wet) dreams, we don’t know what is. Adapted from Shakespear’s Taming of The Shrew, this classic high school rom com is rife with lies, missed connections, and hard-won vulnerability. Plus, Joseph Gordon Levitt makes an appearance.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Not to place too heavy an emphasis on Heath Ledger…but we’re talking: Heath Ledger and Jake Gylenall dressed in full Canadian tuxedos. The timeless, hella horny love story is as beautiful and intimate as it is endlessly sultry — sure to convince you perhaps sheep-herding is a worthwhile future endeavor.
Top Gun (1986)
Ok beyond the locker room scenes (saucy), the volleyball scenes (borderline graphic), or Tom Cruise’s actual sex scenes, the film — which centers around an elite pilot school seemingly catering almost exclusively to alarmingly attractive men — has plenty of sultry queer subtext lurking beneath the performative masculinity.
Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi
This Japanese manga comic-turned TV show — featuring a host of gorgeous illustrated (magical) women in sultry school girl-turned-super-hero get-ups — has been long-beloved, internationally. And frankly, it’s hard to imagine flipping through OG issues of Sailor Moon without fantasizing about attending a future comic-con.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
While a more recent addition to the oeuvre of sexual awakening content, Rooney’s novel-turned-Hulu-series is about sexual chemistry as much as it is about fraught romantic pursuit. And while the work isn’t exactly raunchy in nature, it is indeed a deeply intimate portrait of the cross-section between sex, romance, and friendship for young adults, (especially those exploring the thresholds of their newly minted sex lives).
Step Up (2012)
There is simply not one scene in the entirety of this movie without someone who is egregiously attractive partaking in some form of highly skilled, fundamentally sultry dancing…
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
While reinvented, performed, and reimagined in countless ways throughout the decades since its release, this indie musical-comedy-horror film (confusing, we know) offers some of the most thrilling, glamorous costumes — and thus, strip tease scenes — known to man.