Turned On, Tuned In: Sex in Avatar

You’ve seen Avatar, I’ve seen Avatar, we’ve all seen Avatar. You’ve read reviews, and reviewed it yourself. You’re probably even thinking about renaming your cat Neytiri, or at least getting a little feline with your cosplay – you sicko. And now’s the time to get a little anthropological. We’re talking about the sex of Avatar.

To think about the sex in Avatar is to give James Cameron his due: just like all of his other movies, Avatar is a game changer. Sure, the story was  obvious, if not plodding, but the world of Pandora and what we find there necessarily stretches the boundaries of our perceived aesthetic — that is, Cameron forces us to re-conceptualize what the “art” in the art of movie making is all about. The same can be said of hot, blue, combination organic-synthetic-cat-people coupling. Did James Cameron change sex forever? No. Did he change animated and CGI sex forever? No. But it seems to me that geek water cooler talk the world over this week will inevitably devolve into this – the central relationship in Avatar revolves around one and only one question: does that count as sex? And if so, is it feasibly possible that, by the year 2057, sci-tech may actually advance to the point where people like us could have sex with cats like them? Uh, you know, just theoretically. …But could it?

Here’s my contention: it may count as sex in a cultural sense, but I think it’s only technically sex for the organic Navi, for Neytiri. Although Avatar Jake Sully is having sex physically, in a sense, and spiritually, in a sense, as well – on a purely human carnal level, there is no way that you can say that counts as sex. If it did, I think most of us would reconsider our hasty judgment of Second Life.

Interestingly enough, it is certainly consensual sort-of fake-real sex-humping, because – if you tilt your head and think about it the right way – the only part of Jake that he can actually give Neytiri is his consciousness, himself. He is not physically having sex with Neytiri at this time, because he is – actually – in a futuristic, consciousness-transmitting sort of iron lung. This is much the same way you would describe Jake’s physical handicap as well – he can’t physically perform the act of walking, but his Avatar can. He can’t actually nail cat-Zoe Saldana, but in his mind, he can. There’s an argument to be made that, because he is functionally both human and Avatar, it counts. It’s a good idea, but that line of reasoning only really holds up neurologically. And I may know sex, but I’m no brain surgeon.

Because the Navi are a tribal people – and certainly an overtly sexual people, with little clothing, obvious nipples, and tantric spiritual practices – Jake and Neytiri’s consummation is culturally significant. In this way, it does count as sex. The type of sex they had (apparently), and the location of the act are spiritual signifiers of a pair-bond in front of the Navi and their deity. To Neytiri especially, the physical status of “does it count?” matters much less than the changes the act will bring to her life.

From a technological standpoint, sorry boys. Current neurological research doesn’t reach much past the bionic stage. In Cameron terms, it seems like we’re much closer to Terminator than we are Avatar. Sexually, anyway. Because I’m trying to avoid spoilers, I’ll stop here. But surely there’s a community of sexperts and geeks out there with their own thoughts on the matter. …Am I right?

Want some sex advice? Turned On, Tuned In author Bethany Perryman is here for you. You can get ‘in touch’ with her via email (bethany@filmschoolrejects.com).

Bethany writes about sex. Suck it, nerds. Follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/bethatasitmay

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