Intimacy wise, scenes involving Penn Badgley’s You main character Joe Goldberg are about as frigid this season as the various dismembered body parts the show freely uses as plot devices. There’s a reason for that. Badgley himself asked showrunner Sera Gamble to not only cut down on his sex scenes but anything involving too much “intimacy” with his character this season. Which, in and of itself is fine. It’s his career. His body. His choice. It’s not as if he asked the entire series to suddenly be de-sexed. Lukas Gage joined the show this year, and his character apparently gets into some situations that make that office scene in White Lotus’s first season look relatively tame in comparison. While the latest season of You takes place in London, the entire cast and crew didn’t suddenly decide to adopt a “No sex please, we’re British” mentality.
Badgley’s personal pronouncement doesn’t come in a bubble, though, and still managed to ruffle some Twitter feathers. For one thing, he made the debatable choice of comparing scripted intimacy to infringing on marital fidelity. For another, certain corners of not just Twitter but the wider culture are seemingly slipping back into a decidedly Puritanical view of the depictions of sex in popular culture.
“I asked Sera Gamble, the creator the show: Can I just do no more intimacy scenes?” Badgley said on a recent episode of the Podcrushed podcast. “I signed this contract ...You can’t take this aspect out of the DNA of the concept, so ‘How much less can you make it?’ was my question for them.”
“[Gamble] didn’t even bat an eye ...She appreciated my directness, and she appreciated that I was being reasonable and practical. And they came back with a phenomenal reduction.”
Though, Badgley also connected the decision to his marriage (he wed fellow actor and doula Domino Kirke in 2017). “Fidelity in every relationship, especially my marriage, is important to me,” he said. “It just got to a point where I don’t want to do that.”
Again every performer’s personal decisions are their own, but it’s a bit rude to suggest that filming sex scenes has anything to do with “fidelity” in “every relationship.” That certainly doesn’t seem to be the general consensus amongst the acting profession. Sarah Jessica Parker was happily married to Matthew Broderick during each and every single scene she’s shot as Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, and that 26-year union remains one of the strongest in all of celeb-dom. Jamie Dornan got married the same year he signed up to do 50 Shades of Gray, and he’s still married.
Personal matters aside, it’s the nerve Badgley’s comments hit in the wider cultural discourse that’s taking over the discourse. There’s the appearance of a growing online trend of people (often, but not always younger Gen-Z adults) who are very vocal that sex scenes have no place in television or movies at all. We’re not talking merely an “it’s weird when you’re watching a movie with your mom and their’s a sex scene” level stance, but an all out aversion to too much simulated intimacy in any form of entertainment.
One user’s tweet claiming that Badgley’s anti-sex scene positioning was “the only thing that brings me hope for men today” attracted controversy like moths to a lightbulb. Throughout the weekend Twitter was awash in discourse that Gen-Z prudes were trying to bring the Hays Code, the self-imposed Hollywood guidelines that kept the mere suggestion of sex or profanity out of mainstream movies for over three decades.
Of course, it’s wild this latest discourse was set off by an ultra-violent show centered on a serial killer in which people are routinely murdered, dismembered and tortured. Sex? Despicable! But cutting a man up and feeding his remain to a meat grinder? That’s all fine and well apparently.
Twitter may be a big set of funhouse mirrors, but it’s still reflecting some simulacrum of reality back at us. It’s hard to not be worried by a sudden wave of anti-sex scene discourse in a country where we’ve essentially shrugged our shoulders at gun violence, but have decided everything from reproductive rights to drag queens are up for political debate. Badgley can say no to whatever he wants, but let’s not pretend taking a stance on choreographed foreplay on a Netflix gore-fest should be any sort of celebrated moral high ground.