Mainstream Spotlight: Shortbus

February 15, 2019 | Posted in Hardcore by tucker-bankshot

Welcome back to Mainstream Spotlight where we take a look at theatrically released films that feature real, unsimulated sex scenes. Director John Cameron Mitchell was riding high after his feature film directorial debut—2001's adaptation of his stage musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch—but rather than moving more toward the mainstream side of indie filmmaking, he moved toward an arena most directors shy away from altogether. Over a period of two and a half years, Mitchell along with 40 young actors, improvisers, and sex workers crafted a sprawling narrative about people all over the sexual spectrum whose paths converge at fictional Brooklyn hotspot Shortbus.

2006's Shortbus came and went without much fanfare, not surprising considering it didn't play in any major theater chains like AMC or Regal, but even that alone is enough to make it something of a groundbreaking film. Typically films that feature real sex are marginalized, as this film was, but the fact that it wasn't meant with angry protests of any kind shows just how little that kind of stuff matters anymore.

After playing a small role in Hedwig, Sook-Yin Lee steps into the lead role here of Sofia, a grown woman who has never experienced an orgasm. The film opens with a sex montage of Lee and her on-screen beau Rob (Raphael Barker) are seen trying a variety of positions, intercut with other couples doing likewise, and even a dude trying to fellate himself...


Lee and Barker go whole hog at this thing, with them trying all manner of positions, even rather vanilla ones like a simple handjob...


We even get a funny shot of the two having sex up against the frosted glass of their front door. The fact that anything Mitchell was going so far as to mix explicit sex and humor shows just how groundbreaking the film is in the long run. Sex scenes are rarely funny, but there's nothing about a woman's breasts pressing against glass that isn't funny...


Right away, the audience knows that this film is going places not many other films have gone. Sofia's quest to orgasm takes her to Shortbus where she witnesses the openness with which sex is shared at the club. While not directly based on any one place in particular, this sort of club was popular in the hipper sections of the city throughout the early aughts...


Eventually, Sofia befriends a dominatrix by the name of Severin (Lindsay Beamish), who seemingly is able to fulfill needs for both Rob and Sofia. Rob wants to be dominated and loves Sofia too much to ask her to do that to him, and Sofia wonders if maybe a lesbian encounter will help her break her dry spell. Lee's scene with Beamish isn't terribly explicit, and ends up benefiting Beamish more than Lee, as the former climaxes while the latter, disappointingly, does not.


Sofia also masturbates on a park bench in an attempt to cure her problem, and the camera gives us a surprisingly close look at Lee's vagina as she furiously flicks her bean...


While the film wasn't a tremendous crossover success, it did manage to bank a little over $5 million at the box office on a budget of $2 million, so it was a fairly respectable indie hit. 13 years later, on-screen unsimulated sex is still a pretty big taboo, but Shortbus definitely did its part to explicitly show the fluidity of sexuality in all its many forms.

All images and GIFs courtesy of

Catch Up With Past Editions of Mainstream Spotlight

Nymphomaniac Vol. I

Nymphomaniac Vol. II

Tagged in: Hardcore , john cameron mitchell , lindsay beamish , mainstream , mainstream spotlight , movies , real sex , shortbus , sook yin-lee ,