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SYFY WIRE Sex in Genre

Is this genre's weirdest sex trope?

By Courtney Enlow

When we decided to devote this month to sex in genre, my mind reeled at the various moments and tropes to explore, dissect and celebrate. Sci-fi and fantasy have the unique availability of depicting literally anything the author can imagine, entirely new worlds and universes, and yet so often humankind and its innately human form exist as the default (specifically the white cisgender able-bodied human form, obviously, y'all know the drill by now). But for the myriad directions we could take this subject, one thought stuck in my mind: future sex is super weird, isn't it?

Not weird in the kinkshamey way — never would I yuck anyone's hyper-futuristic yum. Frankly, I wish the specific sexual trope I'm referring to would involve any yum at all for anyone involved. That's the exact issue: have you ever noticed that in the future as often depicted in film and television, sex has become casual to the point of clinical? That it's been entirely stripped of passion, that even pleasure becomes perfunctory? 

Essentially, in space, no one's hearing anyone scream, if you know what I mean.

Of course, that's usually when our hero (hero qualifications: he's a man!) teaches this future society how to truly live and injects some old fashioned sexiness into their world. WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT THEM? Point me to my futuristic fainting couch!

Often this can be found in human-alien interactions, such as when our human protagonists meet an advanced alien race who has evolved beyond the need for preheating the proverbial oven and instead just hands over a pile of raw meat and says "EAT THIS" (the metaphor got away from me fast). Take this moment in Stargate SG-1, when Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) is propositioned by Freya (Vanessa Angel) the host to symbiote Anise (also Vanessa Angel, that's how it works). Freya offers herself to O'Neill as a thank you gift of sorts. She does so in a way that is polite, if awkward in terms of how we generally view social interactions. He's uncomfortable (but in a turned on way I guess?).

And despite this forwardness being totally normal in her culture, she repeatedly apologizes for making him so uncomfortable. He maintains moral superiority, she is let down easily but still somewhat shamed for her culturally appropriate behavior. 

Demolition Man - Sex
Then there's this scene in Demolition Man. Sergeant John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) is a cop who is cryogenically frozen in 1996 and unfrozen in 2032, and things have gotten buck wild. Everyone wipes their asses with seashells in the future, it's a whole thing. But also, sex is different now. Absent of any sort of mutual attraction or sexual chemistry, Lieutenant Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) propositions him, again, politely if socially awkward, using scientific lingo and biological methodology (oooh, hot) then breaks out her finest coital headwear for some virtual pants insanity.  Spartan is horrified (but in a turned on way I guess?) and laments the good ole days, which Huxley dismisses disgustedly as "fluid transfer." I mean, when you put it that way, it's not ideal. Again, he maintains some level of sexual superiority and know-how, she is shamed for her culturally appropriate behavior. I feel like there's a theme here.

One of the most famous examples of this, but with a twist, is in "Revulsion," a Season 4 episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) turns down the lights and attempts to flirt with Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), who immediately responds asking if he is in love with her, or if he "wish[es] to copulate." Then she tells him to take off his clothes and he shuts down the whole she(almost)bang. 

While all these examples are played for laughs, this one is more designed to humiliate the recipient of the advance than the others (insert Fry "not sure if racist" squint here) but the takeaway is the same: the forward lady made the man uncomfortable in his pants part in a weird way. 

"Casual" sex takes on a new meaning in the future apparently, at which point everyone becomes stilted nerds, a bunch of Vulcans who apparently need to get good and Kirked to know what they're missing. Of course, the initiators are generally attractive women and the shocked, pearl-clutching recipients are our dashing male heroes. In some ways, this is an older, more experienced sister to Born Sexy Yesterday. The elements are different but the end results are the same: a woman is doing sex wrong and needs a man to tell her how to do it the right way, meaning his right way for his culture or time period of origin. At the very least, she does this for the amusement of the audience. "Women initiating and wanting sex? HILARIOUS!" we shout, slapping our knees at this clearly hysterical and nonsensical turn of events.

But the sheer obviousness at play here honestly is hilarious. Male writer after male writer trots out this sexually forward but vacantly casual woman, ostensibly having evolved beyond the need for passion or romance, relegating our hero to the role of "good guy" for turning her down, something the film or series tends to want us to see as sacrificial as any life-saving action. Except for Harry Kim, for whom we're just all "lol he tried." 

Perhaps this trope is not mere male good guy fanservice and should instead be a guide for the rest of us. Ladies, let's get out there and make dudes feel real weird. May all bar conversations and Tinder messages be composed entirely of "then you wish to copulate?" and "ew, fluid transfer." THE FUTURE IS NOW.