Sex scenes in movies can range from horrifyingly unrealistic to deliciously accurate, and the majority sit somewhere in between. Media can influence our expectations of sexual relationships, so it’s important to remember that these movies are entertainment, and not a how-to guide.
So we’re looking back at some of the most famous scenes from popular romantic movies, and ranking them from eye-rolling-ly bad to if-you-watched-with-your-parents-youd-die-of-humilation good. Without further ado, here is our sex scene roundup!
When Harry Met Sally (1989) 1/10
The most iconic sex moment on this list isn’t anyone having sex at all; it’s Meg Ryan as Sally Albright, telling her platonic friend Harry (Billy Crystal) that women can easily fake a convincing orgasm, and spoiler: she proves him right with the cinematic performance of a lifetime. Later in the film, however, when they actually do have sex...WE DO NOT GET A SEX SCENE. They skip it! I have nothing but respect and admiration for Nora Ephron, the writer of this near-perfect film, but we go from Harry and Sally making out to a shot of them curled up under the sheets, with Sally’s hair loosely tousled, and a look of pure satisfaction on her face. But...what just happened? Didn't you JUST tell us that women are excellent at faking orgasms, Sally? How are we supposed to believe you after the most vanilla sex scene ever? Sadly, I will not be having what Sally is having, because I have no idea what exactly that is.
No Strings Attached (2011) Rating: 2/10
This hookup buddy comedy stars Ashton Kutcher as Adam and Natalie Portman as Emma, two lifelong pals who simply don’t have time to find true love, so they decide to start a relationship that is purely about sex and a rule to keep feelings out (we bet you can guess how that turns out). When they have sex for the first time, it starts steamy (with Emma asking Adam if he has a condom, which he does, so bonus points there). But when Emma’s roommate Shira (Mindy Kaling!) knocks on the door, Emma tells Adam that they have... 45 seconds. What we witness is roughly 15 seconds of Adam thrusting a bit and Emma instantly erupting in a pretty “meh” orgasm (we’ve seen Natalie actually perform a stellar orgasm in Black Swan, so we know what she’s capable of). This scene feels like a bad college hookup — quick and boring, with a fake orgasm on top.
Fear (1996) Rating: 5/10
The 5 points allotted to this breakout Reese Witherspoon and Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg film are due to this sex scene being absolutely iconic, creative, and prioritizing women’s pleasure (ignoring the rest of the film, which turns into an insanely toxic stalker situation). That being said, it doesn’t seem entirely possible. The rundown of this scene is fairly straightforward: Mark’s character, David, pleasures Reese’s character, Nicole, on a rollercoaster at the town fair. The cynic in me wants to highlight the absurdity of this — how is there time for her to reach orgasm? How can his finger steadily massage her clit when they’re on a moving ride that has you bouncing around your seat? How does he not need two hands firmly gripping the safety bar?! But when I rewatch this scene, I’m always swept away by the carnival lights, young love, and Wild Horses serenading us through the moment. Swoon.
The Notebook (2004) Rating: 7.5/10
If you were a teenager in the early 2000’s, you’ve seen The Notebook. You’ve probably seen it many, many, times, and remember your stomach doing somersaults as you watched estranged lovers, Allie and Noah (played by REAL LIFE lovers at the time, Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling) sit in a hand-carved rowboat and get soaked in the rain, retreating back to Noah’s cozy, water-front house to have sex after what felt like an eternity of built-up sexual tension. Gosling delivers the iconic line, “It wasn’t over...it still isn’t over”, and you know what? After 16 years, this sex scene holds up, friends. It really, really does. It starts hot and heavy as they make their way to the bed, but then it slows down, where they give a very realistic performance of two people engaging in the very sensual lotus position. It’s worth the rewatch, trust me.
Call Me By Your Name (2017) Rating: 8/10
In this stunning, poignant film, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) serve you two hours of complete and utter titillation, with an exquisite backdrop of the 1980’s Italian countryside. The entire movie is sexy, from the way they curiously (and literally) circle one another, letting their emotions flare and retreat, to the moments they freely give in to pleasure, this movie will continuously leave you with your mouth hanging open at the pure, delicious pleasure displayed on screen. The best sex scene only includes one character, where the intensity Elio's lust shines through a creative sexual act with a very ripe peach. Now that's amore.
Love And Basketball (2000) Rating: 8.5/10
Remember a few paragraphs ago when I complained about When Harry Met Sally’s milquetoast sex scene? That doesn't mean that a great sex scene can't center around building tension, and Love And Basketball is the perfect example. Monica (Saana Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) have grown up as neighbors with a special, discrete bond — their bedroom windows even face one another, which is perfect for gazing longingly at one another. When they finally do have sex, the tension builds to a satisfying peak and then melts away as they both slowly undress, staring at one another’s naked bodies, and slip into Monica’s childhood bed, where they start having slow, sensual sex. It’s, um, extremely hot, and while this scene quickly fades to black, you’re incredibly satisfied. Bravo.
The Handmaiden (2016) Rating: 9/10
This thrilling, romantic drama is full of shocking twists and unsuspected turns, but the core of this film surrounds two lovers, played by Kim Tae-ri as Sook-Hee and Kim Min-hee as Lady Hideko. Initially, Sook-Hee is hired as a maid at Lady Hideko’s estate -- but she is secretly there to try and convince Lady Hideko to marry a secret con man named Count Fujiwara, so he can subsequently seal her inheritance. The chemistry between Sook-Hee and Lady Hideko is palpable from the start, and the two eventually start a dominant/submissive sexual relationship. Throughout the course of the film, their relationship goes through a cycle of changes, but their sex scenes feel intimate, pulsing, and sensual, from Lady Hideko’s cozy bed, to a warm bath, to even a deeply pleasurable foot massage. There is one final sex scene, however, that feels like a sore thumb — the two engage in an act where they simultaneously insert what looks like a large, chunky necklace into each other’s vaginas. This scene lacked the same warmth and intimacy enjoyed earlier in the film.
Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013) Rating: 10/10
The seven-minute sex scene in this pulsing French film is what gave it an NC-17 rating, and is perhaps the most talked about cinematic sex scene in the last decade. Lovers Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux) make passionate, all-consuming love, and the prolonged scene truly feels like a dance between two partners, with their choreography almost rhythmic. It encapsulates an emotional, fulfilling, hypnotizing sexual experience, the kind that’s rare, and you can still get wrapped in the sharp memory of it when triggered by a certain smell or song. This scene is expertly acted, and is so intimate you almost feel like you shouldn’t be watching. If you haven’t seen, prepare yourself, because your life will be forever split into two parts: before the BITWC sex scene, and after. Yup, it really is that good.