Horror and Sex: Why You Should Incorporate Scary Movies into Your Sex Life

As a lifelong fan of horror movies, I thought I would spend some time talking about the connection between the genre and intimacy.


First, let me get a few things out of the way: Scream is my favorite franchise (closely followed by Halloween), I DETEST demon/possession movies, I am onboard with horror/comedies, and I have never seen The Exorcist (see above for reasons why), but I plan to this summer. Now that I got that out of the way, let's talk more about sex.


When researching for this post, it was hard for me to narrow down what I wanted to talk about because the connection between horror movies and human sexuality is vast. Should I talk about the constant poor depiction of LGBTQ+ characters? Maybe I can explore the blatant sex-negative trope that exists in slasher films (i.e. if you have sex, you die)? Also, I feel like I could also spend a lifetime exploring the highs and many lows of the depiction of cis-female characters, but I will save that for another day. So for this post, I am sticking with why horror films tend to illicit a sexual response in people.


Chemical connection


Think about the last time you watched a horror movie. For me, it was last Thursday. I tend to watch at least one horror movie a week. It helps me stay connected and up-to-date on the genre I love so much, but enough about me, how was that experience for you? Were you scared? How did it feel? My guess is if you did feel scared, you probably experienced one or more of the following: shortness of breath or an increase in breathing, a rapid heartbeat, a heightened sense of your surroundings, and/or an increase in blood pressure. This is all due to chemicals like cortisol, adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin being released.


Now, let's look at what happens during sexual arousal: increased heart rate, the release of adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, escalated blood pressure, and rapid breathing. Sound familiar? Basically, being scared releases the same kind of chemicals in your body and produces the same physiological reactions as when you are sexually aroused.


Researchers have looked into this connection as well. This includes an interesting experiment back in 1974 which resulted in a group of men being more attracted to a beautiful woman after crossing a shaky suspension bridge than a control group. According to Joanne Cantor, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Wisconsin, "Being scared is physiologically arousing, and in the right company, it may eventually carry over to sexual arousal."


So what can happen if we are with someone we care about or have sexual feelings for? Quite simple: our feelings of arousal can become intertwined with being scared. When the release of cortisol and adrenaline is followed by the calming realization that you are with someone you’re interested in, oxytocin can be released. Oxytocin, also known as the "cuddling" hormone, can lead us to want to be intertwined with our partner and as they say, the rest is history.



At this point, you may be asking, "But Matt, does this apply to all kinds of horror?" The answer to this is unclear. Slasher movies tend to see this release because of the anticipation, violence, and gore that is witnessed. Studies show that it’s completely normal to be aroused by such things as long as you’re aroused by the fantasy of it rather than the reality. When you add in more intimate scenes in movies or a sex scene, this can impact us as well because sex in and of itself is a vulnerable activity typically conducted between two or more people. When we see others doing it, we can relate to the experience of vulnerability. So let's look at this equation:


Vulnerability + Horror Movie = Increased Arousal.


Because of this connection, I decided to start a series on my Instagram Page called Scary Intimacy. With these posts, I look at the connection between being scared and being turned on and rank horror movies based on two different scales and then give my final recommendation. I first decide if the film is good based on my opinion. I then give it an "arousal rating," which is my opinion on if I think it will elicit arousal. Lastly, I answer the ultimate question: Should you finish the movie first, or just get down to business (with the intention to go back and finish it, obviously)?! This is a way for me to dissect the connection between horror and intimacy, and also have a little fun! See below for some examples!









As I wrap up this post, I would be remiss if I do not talk about the sexuality-focused film, It Follows. If you have not seen the film, It Follows is a slow burn kind of horror film that looks at a curse that is passed on from person to person after having unprotected sex, which kills the person and moves on to the person who passed it onto them and thus continues down the line. The movie uses this malevolent spirit as a comment on sexual assault and sexually transmitted infections. Although I find the depiction of how trauma can stay with us as we continue to move forward in our lives and create new relationships to be accurate and truthful, the more obvious, easily digestible narrative is that unprotected sex leads to STIs and you, viewer, should not be doing that. As a sex and relationship therapist, of course I promote the ideas of safe sex and the importance of using protection. Unfortunately, the amount of stigma and fear relating to sexually transmitted infections continues to spark fear, distrust, and misinformation into the minds of people, and for that, It Follows receives some negatives points.



 

Cleveland Sex Therapy is owned by Matt Lachman, a licensed mental health therapist who specializes in working with individuals, couples, and polyam folx on their concerns relating to sexuality, intimacy, and overall sexual health. The goal of Cleveland Sex Therapy is to promote inclusivity and nurture sex positivity. For more information, feel free to contact him at Matt@ClevelandSexTherapy.com