Sex tropes in the horror genre?

I don’t even remember where I got this impression, but I’ve heard, somewhere, people concluding that horror films are… against sex, or against young women choosing to have sex… a conclusion I can understand how they reach, given how “Character does X –> Character suffers an undesirable fate” can be interpreted as an expression of narrative disapproval.  And, in the horror genre (and even the cop show genre), a het couple getting into some sexytimes is often followed by some kind of grisly encounter, like getting axed or finding a dead body.

And, well, that does look like narrative disapproval, I guess.  But I never took it that way.

What solidified my original perspective on this for me was watching The Six Sense for the first time.

At the beginning of the movie, you’re presented a husband and wife spending time together.  I’d never seen this before, so I had only a limited idea of where things where headed from here — all I really knew was that there were going to be ghosts at some point.

I remember watching Husband and Wife starting to get flirty and playful with each other — don’t remember what my exact thoughts were, but I wasn’t invested.  They might’ve started kissing or something.  And then they started heading upstairs together, toward the bedroom, and I remember tensing up and getting worried how far this was going to go–

–and then something “scary” happened, and I relaxed.

And I… don’t think the writers had that kind of reaction in mind.

I don’t watch many horror movies, though…  What’s your experience?  How have you seen the horror genre (or any similar genre, like thriller or detective serial) handle the topic of sexuality?  How did you react, and how do you think you were expected to react?


6 responses to “Sex tropes in the horror genre?

  • Oddity Specs

    Hmm, it’s an interesting question. While I watch some horror, I don’t watch the slasher type horror that I’ve heard that trope to be associated with; in fact, I tend to completely avoid any horror movie with a romance b plot or fanservice for the reason that my impression and experience with sex/sexuality in horror films is that it seems like they often conflate sex/sexuality with horror/violence — and that leaves a reeeaaally bad taste in my mouth. And on a more persnickety aesthetic end, even if it doesn’t seem to be conflated within a particular film, it just ruins the atmosphere.

  • epochryphal

    Hahaaaa, well, given that a “deconstruction” like Cabin in the Woods still relies heavily on the virgin/madonna trope, and things like Silent Hill 2 are entirely about misogyny and fridged women and women-as-horrific…there’s a lot of. Oppressive stuff around women and sex specifically, in horror, to my utter dismay. :'(

    • queenieofaces

      There’s an academic article on this topic, which I actually remember being pretty good. “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” by Carol Clover. (I have a copy if you don’t have access to it and want to read it.)

  • Siggy

    I think the trope of killing off women who have sex comes from a particular variety of horror film. The kind where a you have a sizeable cast of unlikable characters, and you get to watch them die one by one in creatively gory ways. I would not place The 6th Sense in that category; if I recall, The 6th Sense was tasteful.

    I’ve only seen a few of the movies, but I feel like it’s already enough to get a sense of how the deaths are ordered. The characters are usually one-dimensional–you have the black guy, the gay guy, the slutty girl, etc., and they’re killed off in order of decreasing flatness. It’s tempting to say that the people who die earlier represent some group that people are prejudiced against, like if the black guy dies early that represents some form of racism. Personally I think that what’s going on is not that people particularly want the black guy to get killed, it’s more like racism causes people to see black characters one-dimensionally, and so their natural character arcs are shorter. Same for women who are portrayed as having too much sex.

    • queenieofaces

      Siggy’s right; the sort of horror movies they’re talking about are slasher films (think Saw, Friday the 13th, etc.), not movies like The Sixth Sense. (Basically, if Cabin in the Woods parodies it, it’s probably in that genre.) Generally only one person survives the killing spree and it’s a (virginal) woman. To be honest, I don’t watch those kind of movies, ’cause I am really bad at horror and also find them boring (when they aren’t giving me nightmares), but I’ve read a number of academic articles on the phenomenon (like the one I mentioned in my response to Cor) and also talked to friends who study film about the topic, so that’s where most of my knowledge comes from, haha.

  • toafan

    I don’t have any responses to your questions, but I read the line about relaxing and I laughed out loud. I could see myself doing that.

    I don’t think the writers had that reaction in mind, either. I bet there’s a connection to why I found it funny.

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