The hidden prison of sexual shame revealed through contemporary cinema.

Welcome to Sexcatraz

Clint Eastwood chiselled his way out of Alcatraz with a penknife. Can we escape from the unconscious prison of Sexcatraz?

Fifty shades of statistics

Just how sexually dysfunctional is modern society? A lot. Here’s some numbers.

Deep Impact

Sounds like a porn movie. Actually it’s the coming shift in society’s sexual values.

The unholy trinity

Three unconscious psychological elements underlie every single instance of sexual dysfunction: boundary, violation and reaction.

Boys Don’t Cry

Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning performance perfectly illustrates the unholy trinity of boundary, violation and reaction.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

Michael Gambon masterfully delivers a constant stream of shame-based invective in Peter Greenaway’s bleakly humorous fable about sex, death and food.

Wish You Were Here

David Leland’s black comedy about a sexually open young woman growing up in repressed post-war Britain illustrates the prison of Sexcatraz at both the personal and communal levels.

The politics of shame

Every society has its unspoken rules on acceptable sexual behaviour. The cost of violating them has traditionally been extremely high.

Last Exit to Brooklyn

This bleak adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel shows the punishment meted out to sexual transgressors in 1950s Brooklyn.

The Magdalene Sisters

Ireland’s Magdalene institutions turned sexual shame-based punishment into a game for the amusement of sadistic nuns.

The Conformist

Bernardo Bertolucci’s magnificent film shows the great lengths people will go to to avoid transgressing against their society’s sexual rules.

Sexually assured destruction

People with strong sexual urges that violate accepted standards may find themselves on the slippery slope of their own destruction.

The Comfort of Strangers

A dark tale of sexual denial, self-punishment and hidden desires set among the alleys and canals of Venice.

Auto Focus

Paul Schrader’s biopic of Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane shows a man, his career and family destroyed by sexual addiction.

Asylum

Natasha Richardson delivers a superb performance as a woman whose sexual transgressions destroy her family and, ultimately, herself.

The mechanics of shame

Based on a few simple rules, sexual shame operates with all the mechanical precision of a Swiss watch.

Blue Velvet

David Lynch’s dark satire on white picket fence America clearly illustrates the mechanics of sexual shame.

The Brown Bunny

Vincent Gallo’s much-maligned film is a brilliant portrayal of a man in the frigid grip of profound sexual alienation.

The Piano Teacher

Michael Haneke’s Cannes-winning film turns a sado-masochistic, voyeuristic, porn-viewing woman into a heroine.

Slowly setting concrete

The negative beliefs that keep us trapped in Sexcatraz are unconsciously acquired during adolescence.

Malèna

A young man growing up in wartime Italy learns the cost of sexual desire in Giuseppe Tornatore’s double Oscar-nominated fable.

À Ma Soeur!

A young woman devises her own means of sexual initiation in Catherine Breillat’s withering take on the hypocrisy of society’s sexual standards.

The Man in the Moon

The gorgeously nostalgic coming-of-age tale that introduced Reese Witherspoon to the big screen hides a viciously sex-negative streak.

Sexual access rights

By the time adolescents reach sexual maturity, they have unquestioningly internalised society’s rules concerning sex and marriage.

Eyes Wide Shut

Stanley Kubrick’s controversial final film dips its toe into the question of sex and marriage but rarely ventures into deep water.

Unfaithful

Despite Diane Lane’s bravura performance as an adulterous wife, Adrian Lyne’s film unquestioningly defends the status quo.

Indecent Proposal

Adrian Lyne’s murky exploration of extramarital sex reveals just how confused society’s hidden beliefs are.

Oil and water

A survey of films exploring sex outside of committed relationships shows such liaisons are just as hamstrung by unconscious shame as sex within marriage.

Intimacy

Two strangers arrange a weekly tryst for no-strings-attached sex. What could possibly go wrong? Thanks to Sexcatraz, pretty much everything.

When Harry Met Sally

Nora Ephron’s incisive script savagely exposes the absurdities of society’s unconscious beliefs about sex and friendship.

Romance

Catherine Breillat’s quasi-porn sexual odyssey comes to the nihilistic conclusion that sex and love are mutually exclusive.

The nether regions of hell

An exploration of films where social standards for sex are either entirely repressive or have entirely vanished.

A Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick’s dark masterpiece centres on the Ludovico technique, a process that trains people to behave sexually by making them feel shame.

Salò (120 Days of Sodom)

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s long-banned film documents an enclave where four patriarchs have complete sexual control over their underlings.

1984

At the core of George Orwell’s authoritarian tale lies complete control over human sexuality and reproduction.

Intermission

What is the source of the unconscious sex-negative beliefs seen throughout the films explored in Sexcatraz?

Parapraxes

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, understood that our traumas constantly sought ways in which to express themselves so they could be healed.

Lolita

Adrian Lyne’s excellent adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel shows a man unaware of what his repressed sexual trauma is telling him.

Shame

Michael Fassbender’s tour-de-force performance as a man for whom endless sex only means endless misery.

Swimming Pool

Charlotte Rampling stars as a woman who rediscovers her joie de vivre through her long-buried sexuality.

Escape from Sexcatraz

Yes, it is possible to escape from the invisible prison of Sexcatraz. Here’s some films that show how it’s done.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Steven Soderbergh’s indie breakthrough depicts a tangled four-way relationship with sexual shame at its core.

Y Tu Mamá Tambíen

In Alfonso Cuarón’s fiery Mexican road-trip, two young men are sexually liberated by a dying woman.

The Singing Detective (TV series)

Dennis Potter’s 1986 BAFTA-sweeping 6-part BBC series is a brilliant portrayal of sexual shame and liberation.

Beyond Sexcatraz

What might society look like beyond the confines of the unconscious prison of sexual shame?

Stealing Beauty

Liv Tyler stars in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Tuscan idyll where sun, skin and sex flow like wine from the local vineyards.

The Wicker Man

This cult classic shows a sexually open society on a remote Scottish island and leaves us longing for more.

Antonia’s Line

This genteel Dutch film, winner of the 1995 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, portrays a sexually tolerant matriarchal enclave.

Open water

It’s time we escaped from Sexcatraz.