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20 Sexually Enlightening Movies All about Sexuality

For every theme and every theory, there is a movie that attempts to explore it. Movies about sex and sexuality are certainly no exception.


These movie suggestions explore certain very specific themes of sex and sexuality and, although several can be quite steamy, do not exist to provide gratuitous indulgence alone. In fact, most of these movies are considered true classics, not only in the genre, but of cinema in general.

One only has to look at the names of the directors of masterpieces, such as Kubrick, Bunuel, Bogdanovich, and Malle, to see how important this theme has been to movie makers across generations. The following list, then is, although by no means exhaustive, a strong cross section of the kind of movies available on the subject at hand. And if you do intend to watch them, then… enjoy!

#1 Belle de Jour. Theme – Unfulfilled sexuality, prostitution. Katherine Deneuve’s protagonist is a frigid, cold, and unapproachable figure to her husband, having grown dissatisfied with her “vanilla” sex life. To compensate, she begins to prostitute herself during his absence to explore her so-far unexplored sordid side. [Read: 17 of the best naughty ideas to spice up married sex]

#2 The Graduate. Theme – The older woman. Not only containing one of cinema’s most famous quotes—”Why, Mrs. Robinson…are you trying to seduce me?”—it also explores the age-old theme of the mature seductress and the young, confused male object of her desires. See Dustin Hoffman in an early and truly memorable performance.

#3 Boogie Nights. Theme – The pornography industry. This one is a little more tongue-in-cheek than most and provides many a laugh along the way. But it also explores the rise to success of Dirk Diggler, as well as exploring the sexual and emotional relationships he develops along the way.

#4 Lolita. Theme – The younger woman. This story of one man’s obsession with a teenage girl so famously encapsulates the theme that its title is now often used generically to describe the younger half of exactly such a relationship. Great cinema done exceedingly tastefully. [Read: When does age difference in relationships matter?]

#5 The Last Picture Show. Theme – Coming of age. Nowhere and at no time in one’s life is sex and sexuality more important than in the years surrounding the coming of age and transition to adulthood. In a small American town, a group of young lay-abouts come to terms with their own desires and passions.

#6 American Beauty. Theme – Obsession. One man passing through a mid-life crisis and his daughter’s acquiring a beautiful friend is always going to be a recipe for disaster, especially in the scene when he finally realizes how far off the mark he was in believing that she was attracted to him, too. There’s also a surprise dabble with the issues of homosexuality and homophobia.

#7 Last Tango in Paris. Theme – Sexual anonymity and sexual violence. After first meeting, two people decide to avoid the complications of a normal relationship by hiding their identities from each other. This film was also notorious for the violence of a particular sexual scene. [Read: 15 types of toxic relationships to watch out for]

#8 Blue is the Warmest Color. Theme – Lesbian coming of age. A beautifully made film, this one sensitively and sensually explores the issue of sexual identity as two high school girls fall in love. It’s the nearest thing to a masterpiece that this decade has seen.

#9 Heavenly Creatures. Theme – Lesbian obsession. The darker side of a lesbian relationship is explored in this film, with a young Kate Winslet playing the seductress to a neighbor. In it, deep obsession and extant cultural values lead to a disastrous end. [Read: 18 empowering reasons to love being a lesbian!]

#10 Fifty Shades of Gray. Theme – BDSM. Although slightly out of place in terms of the superior quality that most other films on this list seem to possess, it would nonetheless be remiss to leave out the film that took the world by storm when it first came out. This one deals with the sadistic relationship between billionaire Christian Gray and a young reporter.

#11 Brokeback Mountain. Theme – Gay relationships. Showing that homosexuality isn’t just confined to city-slickers, the burgeoning relationship between two hardened cowboys is truly heart-warming. [Read: 6 things to do when you find out your man is gay]

#12 The Crying Game. Theme – Challenging sexuality. Although ostensibly a thriller revolving around the IRA and planned assault upon London, it is the protagonist’s relationship with a young lady that provides the eye-opener. And I really do mean an eye-opener. Watch it and see for yourself!

#13 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Theme – The Swinging lifestyle. Looking back at the golden age of free love, this film very sensibly explores the dedicated foursome and the emotional issues that may arise as a result of a couple’s spreading their sexual wings. [Read: The 10 rules of swinging at a swingers party]

#14 The Seven Year Itch. Theme – Adultery. A Marilyn Monroe classic, this a more light-hearted look at the theme of sexual obsession and how it can lead to adultery. Great performances all round.

#15 Turn Me On, Dammit! Theme – Female sexuality. If you’re really in need of a break from films that seem a little too patriarchal in their handling of the subject, this film is all about female empowerment through sexuality. A true breath of fresh air.

#16 Kids. Theme – Sexually transmitted diseases. An intriguing look at how young lives are being affected by HIV, the camera follows the protagonist around the city as she attempts to locate her only sexual partner. [Read: Condom types and how they can improve your sex life]

#17 Sex and the City. Theme – Modern female sexuality. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, the familiar ensemble of four ladies living in New York City continues to provide its own take on modern city sex and sexuality.

#18 My Own Private Idaho. Theme – Homosexual relationships. One of Keanu Reeves’ early films, this is a great romp of a sexual road trip. Two homosexual friends are riding on the back of a motorcycle all the way across the U.S. on a quest to find a family member.

#19 Murmur of the Heart. Theme – Male adolescent sexuality, and the oedipal complex. The quirky story of a 14-year-old boy experiencing sexuality for the first time vicariously through the experiences of his older brothers, as well as a rather too comfortably developed oedipal complex. [Read: Teenage love stories – A reunion of teenage love]

#20 Shadows. Theme – Interracial sexual relationships. Shot amid the color and energy of the 50s Jazz era, Cassavetes’ gritty masterpiece is a wonderful piece of cinema, exploring romance, sex, and interracial relationships. [Read: Movie date guide to building sexual chemistry in no time]

Even if you aren’t seeking any particular questions on the theme of sexuality, there is some great viewing to be had from any of the movie selections in this list. Just don’t expect to walk away without having a few new questions of your own!

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David Cullen
David Cullen
David Cullen is frequently described as erudite, insightful and witty – but only by himself and only after several large glasses of Rioja....