This month’s Reel Women is dedicated to a brief blip in the generic morphology of the romcom known as the sex comedy. Between the large-budget movie musicals of the 1950s that replaced sex with song, and the notoriously bleak cinematic landscape of the 70s in which, it seems, only Woody Allen bothered to produce romcoms (a sign that the genre was, indeed, on the rocks), the sex comedy reigned with the sugary self-assurance of a pre-Nixon world. With an aesthetic that I can only describe as what mid-century Hollywood imagined middle America imagined New York to look like, it brought glamour to middle class sex.
Dedicated to the sexual exploits of the newly urban and distressingly unmarried boomer generation, the sex comedy—like all romcoms—attempted to deal with a lot of anxieties about gender, sexuality and class by marrying them off. Despite its name, the sex comedy is exceptionally chaste. Although its characters talk more explicitly and soberly about sex than almost anywhere else in American cinema before them thanks to the Hays Code, they never actually move beyond a theoretical discussion of the mechanics of premarital sex. Two decades earlier, audiences saw more bed-hopping in the screwball comedy than they would find in these movies. Instead, sex in the sex comedy is tasked with both emblematizing a new politics of gender parity while also providing the occasion to force those politics back into the home, ensconced within a loving and now sexually-fulfilling marriage.