Youth is a pivotal point in one’s life. It’s when we start making our own decisions about ourselves and emerge into adulthood. As puberty takes over, our bodies mature, and our interest in sex begins to dominate. First sexual experiences usually occur, and with these experiences, a journey of self discovery.
The films in this list explore the diverse thoughts, feelings, complications, and awkwardness that accompany first sexual experiences in youth. Some of these films are controversial in their explorations and depict issues such as obsession, incest, and rape. Unfortunately, not all first times are enjoyable or romantic.
Regardless of the controversial aspects, these films share a certain truth behind first sexual encounters during youth, including themes of blossoming into adulthood, and realizing that sex is nothing to fool around with.
1. Summer with Monika (1953, Ingmar Bergman)
This early Bergman film depicts the tragic story of two teenage, starry-eyed lovers and their passionate, yet tormented relationship. Sensual and passionate, the film was controversal because of the nudity and bold depiction of youthful sexuality.
Nineteen-year-old Harry (Lars Ekborg) and seventeen-year-old Monika (Harriet Andersson) both work in stockrooms and meet one spring day in the local cafeteria. Enamored with one another, they start dating and expressing themselves physically. Monika comes from a poor, troubled family and frustrated with her drunken father, leaves home and rushes to Harry.
The two romantics decide to run away together. Harry steals his father’s boat and they leave their mundane city lives and responsibilities to spend the summer on a nearby island.
Their erotic summer is short-lived, however, once Monika realizes she’s pregnant and the two lovers struggle to sustain their lifestyle away from civilization. What starts as a fanciful summer of pleasure and adventure, erodes into a cold autumn in which the two must face up to reality and deal with the consequences of their actions.
2. Crazed Fruit (1956, Kō Nakahira)
This Japanese New Wave film explores one teenager’s first experiences with love and sex in the midst of pressure from his older brother and his raunchy friends. The story details the complications that arise when the boy’s brother falls for the same young woman.
Two teenage brothers, Haruji (Masahiko Tsugawa) and Natsuhisa (Yûjirô Ishihara), are on their way to their parents’ vacation home in a lovely Japanese beach town. As they reach the train station, Haru passes by a beautiful young woman, Eri (Mie Kitahara), and is immediately struck. He meets Eri again while sailing near the beach with his brother.
Again, his heart skips a beat. Haru discovers Eri lives nearby and begins to see her regularly. Haru becomes devoted to Eri, whose mysterious nature intrigues Natsuhisa. Natsuhisa begins to fall for Eri, pitting brother against brother.
Through the use of younger actors and a modern style, the film creates a realism that captures the essence of youthful desire and blind passion.
3. Shadows (1959, John Cassavetes)
Cassavetes’ gritty, modern, improvised film of two brothers and their younger sister captures New York’s jazz night life in the late 50’s, while exploring the issues of romance, sex, and racial relationships.
The African-American siblings– Hugh (Hugh Hurd), Ben (Ben Carruthers), and their 20 year old sister Lelia (Lelia Goldoni)– are all artists and live within the jazz and beatnick scene happening in New York City. Both brothers are jazz musicians: Hugh, a struggling singer who travels around the states with his mannager, and Ben, a trumpet player who goes out most nights with his two pals, on the prowl for women to spend the night with. Lelia is a writer, who hangs around literary circles seeking to meet similar intellectuals.
At one social gathering, Lelia falls for a handsome young buck, Tony (Anthony Ray). She follows him to his flat and loses her virginity to him. Aferwards, she feels lost, having had her romantic expectations shattered by the physcial discomfort and lack of intimacy between the two of them; “I never thought it would be so awful,” are Lelia’s first words following their intercourse. To make matters worse, when Tony meets Hugh, who is considerably darker in skin color than Lelia, he is noticably upset, spoiling his relationship with Lelia.
Cassavetes, the master of filmic improvisation, sheds light not only on the diversity amongst social circles and racial relations, but also on the uncertainties and fragile emotions of youth, particularly on the part of Lelia as well as Ben, who by the end of the film finds himself questioning his bachelor lifestyle.
4. Masculin Féminin (1966, Jean-Luc Godard)
Godard’s New Wave film for the “Coca-Cola generation” surveys sexuality and relationships among a group of young 20-somethings. Shot without a formal script and told in loose chapters, the film is truly an exploration of life in 1960s France amongst the youth.
The film mainly follows Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a young revolutionary, and his love affair with aspiring pop singer Madeleine (Chantal Goya). Using documentary style interviews of the actors, the film discusses issues of love, sex, and politics.
Using a cinéma vérité style, young actors, and realistic dialogue, the film captures an intimate, naturalistic overview of French youth during the political and sexual revolution of the 1960s.
5. The Last Picture Show (1971, Peter Bogdanovich)
Peter Bogdanovich’s first critically acclaimed film, The Last Picture Show illustrates the lives of a group of teenagers coming of age in a small Texas town during the early 1950s.
The film follows teenagers and best friends, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) in their last year of high school in this deteriorating Texas town.
Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), a pretty young debutante is dating Duane, but has her sights set on Bobby Sheen (Gary Brockette) and after a naked swimming party, decides to lose her virginity to Duane in order to win over Bobby, who doesn’t like having sex with virgins. Meanwhile, Sonny begins an affair with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the morose middle-aged wife of his school’s coach.
The teenagers explore their budding sexuality while learning the nuances of relationships amidst this tiny, decaying town.
6. Murmur of the Heart (1971, Louis Malle)
Louis Malle’s 1971 film (which apparently is a somewhat autobiographical account of his youth) delineates the story of a fourteen year old boy from an upper middle class French family, experiencing sex for the first time under the wing of his older brothers and vivacious Italian mother.
Laurent (Benoît Ferreux) is the youngest of three teenage brothers. He is an obedient youngster, a dedicated student, and loving son to his caring mother, Clara (Lea Massari). His two rowdy brothers like to horseplay around the house as well as entertain young women. They eventually take Laurent to a brothel in order to devirginize him, which launches him on further sexual escapades while he’s at a health spa with his mother.
Malle instills this coming of age story with a tender, light-hearted tone amdist heavy issues that are dealt with in relation to sex, such as molestation and oedipal impulses.
7. U.S. Go Home (1994, Claire Denis)
This hour long film produced as a television movie tells the story of a French teenage girl in the mid-1950s on the mission to lose her virginity. With a dynamite rhythm and blues soundtrack and a realistic storytelling style–not to mention an appearance by the salty Vincent Gallo—the film stylishly portrays the desires and attitudes of youth.
Teenage siblings Martine (Alice Houri) and Alain (Grégoire Colin) live on the outskirts of Paris, near a U.S. Army Base. Desirous of sexual initiation, Martine and her best friend Marlène (Jessica Tharaud) go to a party with Alain in the hopes of getting laid.
Told with a straight-forward, naturalistic style with political undertones, U.S. Go Home captures the basic desires of youth: to experience sex and be treated as an adult.
8. Heavenly Creatures (1994, Peter Jackson)
After Peter Jackson’s “splatter phase” but before his Lord of the Rings trilogy, he directed Heavenly Creatures, a film which chronicles the obsessive relationship between two teenage New Zealand girls. Based on a true story about two young girls who were later convicted for murder, the film allows the viewer to see into the whimsical world the two create for themselves as a means to escape reality.
In a small 1950s New Zealand town, Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) meet at school. They become fast friends as they bond over their strong imaginations and shared feelings of isolation. Both being avid readers and writers, they create a minutely detailed fantasy world together. Their passionate bond begins to cause trouble for them as they withdraw into their private utopia under the disapproving eyes of their parents, particularly Pauline’s.
The characters’ sexual bond comes about through their childish fantasies. However, being that the story takes place in the early 1950s, homosexuality is not at all accepted, and Pauline’s parents begin to worry about her attachment to Juliet. The girls therefore take refuge in their dreams together, building an unhealthy intimacy which eventually turns destructive.