One thing that’s always bothered me about Western culture is the fact that we are much more lenient toward violence in our art than we are toward sex. It’s okay to show some action hero running around, blowing holes through people’s bodies with a sawed-off double barrel shotgun; hell, you can even get away with showing full-on autopsies, complete with people’s lungs and intestines getting shoved into the camera. But heavens forbid if you want to show people playing with each other’s pubic or anal regions; that stuff is just “unacceptable.” This has always seemed ass-backwards to me; isn’t sex better and less revolting than violence? Isn’t it better to make love, not war? And if sex is really so “shameful,” why do advertising agencies keep using it to make us buy their products all the time? (For Duat’s sake, even soap commercials do it!)
Mind you, I have no ethical concerns with onscreen violence in and of itself. I prefer that it be both tasteful in its execution and necessary to the plot, and I consider it a bonus when it’s shown to have serious consequences. But I’m not above enjoying the more cartoonish forms of violence that are out there, either; if I see anything that offends me, I’ll just stop watching it. Here’s what really bothers me, though: we can discuss ultraviolent movies like Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) at my family’s Christmas parties, and no one will care. There’ll be little children present, and yet none of the adults will see anything wrong with discussing a movie where people get shredded into flesh confetti. But try to imagine what might happen if I were to bring up something like Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013) in the same situation. (Nymphomaniac is all about sex, and the sex scenes are unsimulated, though they are digitally enhanced with body doubles.) I’ll tell you what would happen: my in-laws would be morally outraged, that’s what!
Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss sex or violence around little children. My personal rule is that I won’t watch or even discuss R-rated stuff in the presence of anyone who isn’t at least 11 years of age. However, I honestly think I’d have an easier time explaining sex to a kid than violence. At least the human reproductive process makes perfect sense in the grand scheme of things; but no matter how much I read about it, the Holocaust never will. If it weren’t for sex, none of us would be here; if it weren’t for violence, many of us still would be. So as far as I’m concerned, violence should always trump sex in the hierarchy of taboos.