A male virgin, consent, and the tush seen around the world: How Outlander became TV's most beloved lady porn.
From Friday, January 9 through Friday, January 16, ELLE.com is doing a deep dive into the world of female sexuality—from the perils of being a 24-year-old virgin in New York City to a beginner's guide to exhibitionism to the steamiest scenes in film history. Is it getting hot in here? Or is it just us?
It's a golden age for sex on television. Unfettered by the censors of network stations, prestige TV has made physicality a central component of storytelling and character development, equal only to violence.
Unfortunately, the common denominator in most of the sex we're shown is that it's for dudes, by dudes. Sure, women are technically present in nearly all of the predominantly heterosexual scenes, but they are of no real consequence beyond being a conquest for the man. We are a heaving bosom; we are a pair of legs, split open; we are a wet mouth, expectant.
Reduced to such fragments, it's difficult to determine if the on-screen woman is experiencing pleasure of her own. And with the male anatomy all but avoided by the camera, it is difficult to cobble together a fantasy that remotely mirrors our own purview.
Thank goodness then, for the exceptions. While a number of shows, including Game of Thrones, Orphan Black, and even The Mindy Project have been toying with the female gaze over the past year, none has been quite as determined as the Starz series Outlander. The show, based on a series of books by Diana Gabaldon, tells the story of Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), an English nurse who has just reunited with her husband after World War II but then accidentally travels back in time to 18th century Scotland. There, she gets caught up in a struggle between the English and the Scots, and eventually finds refuge among the latter.
The first sign that this show would not be like the others comes early on: Claire's husband goes down on her, while she remains fully clothed, in the first episode. This implied sexual revolution—it was a different time, people!—remains dormant until episode seven, when Claire marries (out of necessity) her 18th century crush, Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). "The Wedding," which aired on September 20, 2014, and was watched by more than 5 million viewers, delivers on that early promise of a fully liberated female gaze, and then some. The episode is filled with glorious, egalitarian sex—love making in which a pleasure-seeking woman (plus a conversation about consent and comfort level) in no way detracts from its gripping eroticism.
In pursuit of how this revolutionary TV moment came to fruition, and because we can't wait until part two of the first season returns on April 4, we tracked down the episode's writer, Anne Kenney, for the low down:
How conscious of an act was it to create a sex scene women could not just recognize, but feel?
Well on one hand, the scene is very rooted in the source materials, so it was fairly inevitable. I had an embarrassment of riches to choose from the novel; Diana is very explicit in this regard, which is one of the reasons everyone loves her book. Still, it wasn't a conscious choice on my behalf to sit down and write this hot sex scene. It happened more organically. This was a scene written by a woman (Gabaldon), adapted by a woman (Kenney) and directed by a woman (Anna Foerster). When women are in positions to make decisions and choices behind-the-scenes, you will often get to see something a little different on-screen.
When men write sex scenes they have not historically taken the woman's point of view into much consideration. Did you make an effort to think about the man's here?
I think a big part of what goes on here is that Jamie is a virgin, so, yes, this is as much about his sexual awakening as hers. Jamie always wanted to have sex with her. That was clear from early on. But he has no idea what he is doing. He asks her if they should do it like horses in the field. At the same time he is still confident and when she asks him why he is such a good kisser he responds, 'I said I was virgin, not a monk.' We tried to be very honest in our portrayal of both male desire and insecurities. What happens over the course of the episode is that they move from clumsy sex to frisky sex to love sex, together. So even though this isn't Claire's first time, she is still, like Jamie, going through a journey through sex, as she realizes she is in love with him. This is both of their stories. There is something gentle about the sex here. This isn't some retribution fantasy in which the woman dominates the man. Really it is about trying to encourage a mutual good time. So many sex fantasies involve domination, and those are fine, but here we have one that involves care.
Yeah, it's like 'Hey, equality and consent really can be super sexy.'
They are constantly checking in with one another throughout the scene. It goes back and forth. And they ask for things, too, like when she asks to see his naked body. When we were shooting, at one point [director Anna Foerster] said to [Sam Heughan]: 'Think of it as him wanting to know if she is hot or cold.' The touch here is not a grab, it is an act of curiosity.
The sex is also a little clumsy. Sex isn't usually clumsy when men are 'on top.'
Yes, she tells him that he is squashing her. The beauty of it is that it is okay to say all this stuff and it doesn't interrupt the sexiness of it. The other thing that makes it feel more recognizable is that this isn't super dreamy Hollywood sex. [Caitriona] is gorgeous, but this isn't about turning her into a magical, sensual creature. Unlike most sex scenes, there aren't series of shots featuring miscellaneous orgiastic body parts. We see their whole bodies coming together, and whole bodies are clumsy.
Was Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie Fraser, aware of this intention to honor the female gaze in the episode? Did he feel objectified? Glorified? Tell us more about Sam (and his tush)!
I think there was some self-consciousness there. The whole thing was rehearsed a number of times and they all worked together to get the choreography down. The actors were wonderful, and they were game. I think everyone, including Sam, was going on their instincts. Sam's a beautiful man. I don't think you work that hard, and make your body look that way, without wanting people to look at it. Though his character is also, as we joke, 'the king of men.' He is strong and macho, but also vulnerable and funny. It's rare for men to have this strength but also this humanity. So he gets to be that too, not just beautiful. Still, he was surrounded by women who were creating a scene thinking: This is what I would like to look at. This is what I would like to touch. And perhaps his roughed-up physique is part of that...
You've hit upon a tension here, possibly one responsible for making the episode so damn sexy: We have this feminist living in really patriarchal times. In some ways she hates it, and in other ways the macho guy is kind of hot.
It's really fascinating and speaks to what feels like a contradictory fantasy, but is not. You want the cave man, but you want to be in control of the situation too. It's like this: a woman will go into a bar looking for sex, but not rape. You want to have rough sex, but you don't want to lose control. You want aggressive sex, powerful sex, but not violence. You'll see us explore more of this tension as the show moves forward. We really play with all of that.
Okay, I have a big, slightly embarrassing question about what just might be one of the remaining taboos in terms of representing sex from a female point of view on TV. What happens to the ejaculation?
That's a good point. It's true, she just stands up and carries on without dealing with it. I am going to bring this up in the writers room. I'm making a note now: What happens to the cum? This is exactly the kind of stuff we talk about all the time. Really, this is all about those little things, those adjustments to the point of view that allow women to relate.
OP: I am dying at this question and answer! Praise Queen Anne!