Interrogating the whole “caught in the act” act.
Sex on-screen hasn’t always been a nuanced enterprise. In fact, the very nature of cinematic sex has evolved in a myriad of dramatic, varied ways throughout the last two decades, alone. But for all the recent variety in on-screen intercourse –– from increasingly realistic depictions of inclusive body types and sexualities to focus on kinks, consent, and even body hair –– it would seem that one form of pleasure earns a less generous rendering: masturbation.
Think about it: Nearly every iconic TV or movie scene fits a certain trope. It’s the whole “caught in the act” spiel. When it comes to female masturbation, self-pleasure is often attributed to fundamentally promiscuous characters (case-in-point: Sex & The City’s Samantha), while with men, it’s typically the opposite (your “action-less” outcast). And gender identity aside, 9 times out of 10, a masturbation scene involves all the mortification that comes with some unintended voyeur making an appearance. Consider major productions like American Pie, or Sex & The City –– cinematic projects we tend to associate specifically with self-pleasure...but with a negative spin. Which begs the question: If we’re ready to expand our outer limits when it comes to sex on screen, why is masturbation still taboo?
Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer for you there. But while we spend some time interrogating (and perhaps nudging our favorite new-age directors), we’ve gone ahead and rounded up the most iconic on-screen masturbation scenes in TV and movie history.
Fleabag, Season 1There’s a case to be made that there’s no finer opening to a television show than that of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag –– which consists of a masturbation scene to the tune of a televised Obama speech. Oh, and also Waller-Bridge’s boyfriend...who just so happens to be asleep beside her (Spoiler alert: When he awakens, she is, indeed, caught in the act).
American PieJust...every scene in this movie. All of them.
Fast Times At Ridgemont HighThis one involves a particularly risque fantasy scene whereby Phoebe Cates emerges in slow motion from a swimming pool, before removing her bikini top. Things go south, naturally, when Cates’ character walks in on said fantasizer (Judge Reinhold), giving way to an interaction that can only be described as supremely awkward.
The Squid And The WhaleThis Noah Baumbach film is decidedly painful from start to finish, but among the most unnerving sequences in the film showcases Kevin Kline’s son (who is about eleven years old, mind you) masturbating feverishly in his school library, then wiping his hands along the bookshelves –– an offense which later draws both of his parents to the principal’s office.
AdaptationIt would be fair to call this Nicolas Cage flick a litany of repeat-masturbation scenes. But the actual noteworthy scene features Cage fantasizing about Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) –– and it serves to underscore the fact that Charlie Kauffman can write a hell of a beating-off scene (a fact that no one has ever questioned).
Mulholland DriveAs far as self-satisfaction scenes go, this one is fairly straightforward: You’ve got Naomi Watts. In a bed. Ya know, touching herself. But reportedly, the scene was so uncomfortable for Watts to film that director David Lynch ordered for a tent to be built around her to shield her from the cast and crew while she did the deed.