Any romance novel fan is familiar with the trope of the virginal woman and the more experienced man teaching her about sex. Hell, it’s practically standard in bodice rippers, where the man tends to be a recently reformed rake, only changing his womanizing ways for the right (and often pure) woman. And sure, in more contemporary novels the woman is rarely a virgin, but she still often needs to be sexually taught or enlightened by the new love in her life. Think 50 Shades of Grey or even Twilight. Both women are a little more naïve, needing almost constant guidance in the bedroom area.
I love romance novels, but even I’m getting sick of the sexual politics that bleed into our films and television shows. So often, a sexualized woman is portrayed as, well, a slut, and usually it’s her sweeter, more innocent-seeming friend who gets the guy in the end.
Which is why I’m so excited about Amy Schumer’s new comedy, Trainwreck, out in theaters this coming Friday.
In the film, Schumer plays a woman named Amy who’s been taught from a young age to never settle down. She acts like the stereotypical male character we’ve seen again and again: basically a trainwreck waiting for the love of a good woman to help him find love and straighten his life out. But in this case, Amy is the trainwreck, and the good woman is Bill Hader’s more uptight Aaron. Amy tackles sex “like a man,” with one-night stands and a strong sexual appetite she never apologizes for.
But it also made me realize that there are other films and books out there that subvert traditional gender roles in a similar way. So in honor of Schumer’s Trainwreck, here are two books and two movies that give us experienced women who never need a man to show them the sexual ropes:
This old-school Hugh Grant rom-com is perfect in its comedy, romance and Britishness. It follows a group of friends as they search for love while attending four weddings, and then, uh, a funeral. It’s a great movie overall, but I’ve always loved the scene where Andie MacDowell’s character recounts her sexual escapades to a visibly intimidated Grant:
She’s not simpering or making excuses for her higher number, she’s honest, real, and clearly someone who finds value in her sexual past.
This cute Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman comedy got lost in the shuffle when it was released, but it actually has a lot to say about modern sexual politics. Emma and Adam mutually decide to enter into a friends-with-benefits relationship, where they’re able to express their needs without any emotions. It’s Adam who tries to take it to a more emotional level, with Emma wishing to remain as they are. Eventually, the two develop a romantic relationship, but it never compromises their mutual desires.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (Tor Fantasy)
In this epic fantasy series, Phedre no Delaunay was born associating pleasure with pain, making her a perfect candidate to be raised as a courtesan. When she discovers a plot to destroy the kingdom, she finds herself on a journey that will change her life forever. Along the way, she encounters Joscelin Verreuil, a Cassiline Brother who has vowed to remain celibate. Phedre makes no apologies for her experience or her desires and it doesn’t take long for the two to become lovers. Throughout the series it’s Joscelin who’s the pupil, and he’s the one who must come to terms with Phedre’s fluid, and sometimes dark, sexuality.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Dell)
There are plenty of reasons to rave about Outlander, but here’s one of my top ones: when they first meet, Jamie is a virgin and Claire is a sex goddess. OK, not quite, but she’s definitely more experienced and makes no apologies for loving sex. She’s the one teaching Jamie on their wedding night and there are constant moments throughout the series where her sexual prowess is clear—it took several books and more than 20 years for him to learn that she masturbated, for example. These two build a strong relationship from the start, in part due to their mutual lusty appetites.