Why Keira Knightley Is Right to Swear Off “Male Gaze” Sex Scenes

The actress said in a recent interview that she will no longer appear nude in movies with male directors

keira knightley in London
Keira Knightley attends the "Official Secrets" European premiere on October 10, 2019 in London.
Getty Images for BFI

Keira Knightley has been a working actress for over 20 years now, but as Deadline reports, she has only recently drawn a line in the sand when it comes to on-screen nudity. The Oscar-nominated actress revealed in a recent podcast interview that since having children, she has added a no-nudity clause to her contracts because she is no longer willing to do nude scenes or sex scenes for male directors.

“It’s partly vanity and also it’s the male gaze,” Knightley said on the podcast. “I feel very uncomfortable now trying to portray the male gaze.”

She specifically referenced being turned off by “horrible sex scenes where you’re all greased up and everybody’s grunting,” adding, “I’m too vain and the body has had two children now and I’d just rather not stand in front of a group of men naked.”

Still, she said, she’d consider doing nude scenes for a female director if it was part of a story about motherhood or body acceptance. “I don’t have an absolute ban, but I kind of do with men,” she clarified.

Knightley has a fair point when it comes to the male gaze. For decades, we’ve all been subjected to woefully unrealistic sex scenes in movies and TV shows in which a woman — often “greased up,” as Knightley described — writhes around with her boobs out for less than a minute and then magically climaxes. These scenes are more focused on titillating male audiences than they are on creating an accurate depiction. In one recent example, Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen caught some heat in 2019 for their sex scene in The Long Shot, in which they both orgasm after 10 seconds of penetrative sex and zero foreplay.

But while female directors who are able to lend their own perspective to sex scenes and perhaps steer them away from the male gaze are great in theory, some are just as guilty as their male counterparts when it comes to unrealistic on-screen sex. Glamour recently ranked all the sex scenes on Shonda Rhimes’s hot new period piece Bridgerton, which featured several female directors over the course of its eight-episode season, and pointed out how the series seems determined to “show a new generation of historical-romance fans that sex is a passionate four-second-long event that cannot get you pregnant as long as you use the pullout method.”

Of course, no one’s expecting a 15-minute sex scene, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Shows like Hulu’s Normal People, Netflix’s Sex Education and countless others have taken to hiring intimacy coordinators to make sure actors involved in the scenes can feel comfortable and have what’s described as “an advocate, a liaison between actors and production … in regard to nudity and simulated sex.” Here’s hoping more follow suit and no other actress ever has to feel uncomfortable over subjecting herself to the male gaze.

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