Why is Violence More Acceptable than Sex?

One of the most puzzling aspects of US culture is the difference between how people react to violence and how they react to sex in the media.

Violence pops up regularly in almost every genre, even in material written specifically for children. Sex may be hinted at but unless a movie or television show is rated for mature audiences it is much less common for characters to be featured in a graphic sexual scene.

Apparently it’s ok to air story lines about people being:

  • tortured
  • raped
  • decapitated
  • skinned alive
  • dismembered
  • kidnapped
  • blown up
  • shot
  • stabbed
  • mutilated

Yet it is equally unacceptable to show a nipple at the same time slots.


Why is sexuality so much more frightening than violence? How can murder be less offensive than two characters having consensual sex? These aren’t rhetorical questions. The longer I live outside of the US the less I understand certain aspects of their culture.

Possible explanations:

Desensitization. Violent art and other creative works have been around for so long and have become more graphic so gradually that the average person does not necessarily think about what it is their minds are absorbing.

(some) Violence is Cartoonish. That is, it doesn’t accurately represent how an action plays out in the real world. Certain guns, for example, do far more damage to a body than what is typically portrayed on tv or the movies.

Easier Conversations. Do some parents find it easier to bring up something in conversation that most people do not personally experience than something that the vast majority of people are going to do eventually?

Moral Qualms. Religious beliefs influence so much of how and what we think about sex and sexuality. It does make sense that people would think it was wrong to see graphic representations of sex if their religious backgrounds taught them not to seek out such subject matter or that certain acts were a sin. What I don’t understand, though, is why there aren’t more religious objections to violence in the media. If it’s sinful to watch someone having what your religion considers to be illicit sex shouldn’t it be just as (if not more) wicked to see a character being raped or murdered?

Internal Conflict. Western society (especially, but not only, in the US) is deeply conflicted about sexuality and how it is expressed. What we say isn’t necessarily what we  believe and what we believe often has little to do with what we actually do.

What do you think?


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11 Responses to Why is Violence More Acceptable than Sex?

  1. Twyseschoch

    excellent questions. the anabaptists have a much different take on this than the other mainline protestants, and having been raised anabaptist I have the same questions you do. I was surprised as an adult to realize that most US christians do not have a problem with violence.

  2. Answer: The Bible. If you look at the Bible in its entirety, depicted violence is rampant, while discussion of sexual issues is muted. The sad fact is that too many of our laws and mores reflect the ingrained beliefs of Christendom.

    • Good point.

      If the Bible was a graphic sexually as it is in its descriptions of wars, etc. I wonder if Christians would still read it to their children?

      • Think about this. While fundamentalist parents are known to read Bible verses to their children before bed, I would bet most of them skip the Song of Solomon, the one book in the OT that is the most sexually graphic.

        Heck, back when I was A Christian (many, many moons ago), I can’t remember a sermon in which the underlying Bible passage was from Solomon.

  3. Sure, the Bible is violent, but I’m not sure it should shoulder the blame in this case. And you can take the case of King David observing the bathing-naked Bathsheba, and then subsequently impregnating her and having her husband killed as the impetus for our nudity issues.

    Instead, I think it comes down to a matter of practicality and an attempt to help control the lust of youths. The situations which would drive you to commit heinous acts of violence, for the most part, are few and far between. And it’s rare that we happen to have a machine gun or butcher knife handy when they do happen.

    Yet nearly all people have the drive for sex, particularly in their youth when they don’t fully understand the potential fallout. It’s everywhere. Guys gawk at girls. Girls size up guys. Somehow not seeing nipples and other “naughty parts” are thought to be the floodgates holding back a torrent of teenage pregnancies and STD’s, and other stigma based on religion.

    So it’s not that nudity is worse to see, but rather I believe the argument is that it could exacerbate an already sexually-volatile situation in our youth.

    • Interesting point!

      We are (with very few exceptions) hardwired to respond to sexually charged situations.

    • Guest

      An interesting point, but one could argue that places like the Netherlands (especially Amsterdam) are totally steeped in nudity and sexual expression, yet their teen pregnancy rate is far, far lower than North Americans, which would imply that while sexuality is a much more open topic there, this doesn’t make it more difficult to promote responsible sexual behavior among their younger population

  4. 'Seph

    I’ve lived in Europe (England, Franch, and Germany) for years when I was younger.
    You’d be surprised how commonplace “sex” or nudity is on TV and commercials. The difference is that it isn’t dirty, but more natural and beautiful.

    I think Americans (as well as Canadians) have the sexual/nudity thing completely screwed up.

    Violence? (When is it every acceptible?)
    There’s different kinds of violence, isn’t there?
    There’s the kind that circumvents the consequence (Pirates swordfighting in an adventure story is a great example). It’s adventurous and fun! (The reality of pirates swordfighting is a different kind of violence).

    • Heh, I’ll have to live on the other side of the pond one day. This is one of those areas that the US and Canada are fairly similar in.

      Pirates are a good example of various types of violence. The real ones are horrific. The TV ones should really have their own noun as they’re nothing like the real thing.

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