sex, lies and videotape

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
sex, lies and videotape Movie Poster Image
Talky '80s drama has sex, cursing, mature themes.
  • R
  • 1989
  • 100 minutes

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Honesty can improve your life.  Men learn to love the women they are attracted to. Women become more and more attracted to the men they love. People place far too much importance on sex. Women do not want sex for the same reasons men want it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

John's wife doesn't want to have sex with him. He has an affair with her sister. The wife is suspicious but he tells her he's not having an affair. He's obsessed with position, prestige, and climbing up the ladder at his law firm. He's dismissive of a friend who doesn't share his values. He slept with his friend's girlfriend. Graham interviews willing women about their sex lives on tape. He can only get aroused playing the tapes when he's alone. A woman has sex with her sister's husband.


John punches Graham after he learns his wife has volunteered to talk about her sex life on tape. There's blood on Graham's lip.


A man has an affair with his wife's sister. His wife isn't interested in sex with him. Couples have sex. A man lies in bed, presumably naked, with a potted plant covering most of his midsection. Couples kiss, mostly in close-up, mostly with their clothes on. No nudity is shown. Graham, who is impotent when with partners, is only able to achieve orgasm when he's alone watching tapes of women talking about their lives and their sexual experiences. It's suggested, and sometimes stated, that some of the taped women masturbate in front of the camera, not at Graham's urging, but voluntarily. None of this is seen.  A woman describes handling a penis. A married woman has never had an orgasm.



"F--k," "s--t," "damn," "hell," "crap," "bastard," "bitch," "balls," and "hard-on."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that sex, lies and videotape is a 1989 drama. The subject of this movie is sex, intimacy, and honesty, but mostly it's about the power of conversation. Masturbation is discussed, although not in graphic detail. A married man has an affair with his sister's wife. An impotent man asks women to talk about their sexual lives on tape so he can play them later and become aroused. No nudity and sex are shown but frank discussions make this fare only for especially mature older teens, most of whom will probably find the talkiness boring anyway. Expect to hear "f--k," "s--t," and more.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byCheese08 February 17, 2021

What's the story?

In SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, John (Peter Gallagher) is a rising young attorney in his 30s, having an affair with his wife's sister. John's wife, Ann (Andie Macdowell), has no interest in sex with John. After many years away, John's college friend, Graham (James Spader), returns to town a changed man. He reveals to Ann that he's impotent and that he can only achieve orgasm while alone, watching videotapes he's made of women talking about their sexual experiences. Ann is fascinated by Graham's quiet forthrightness. Suddenly her interest is aroused in all senses of the word. As she and Graham become closer, her sister volunteers to be videotaped. This enrages Ann and also John. When Ann learns that John is betraying her, she volunteers to be taped by Graham, which apparently frees Ann from her naivete about her marriage and her role in the world.

Is it any good?

This is a thoughtful movie about the challenge that true intimacy poses, but it's unlikely to interest teens. The movie has a pensive and cerebral quality rather than a pornographic one. Its freshness announced the directing career of the 26-year-old Steven Soderbergh as an artist interested in the twisted motivations of real, ordinary people. He suggests that the brain is the most vivid of human erogenous zones. If some scenes ramble on a bit too long or moments of improvisation between the talented young actors seem strained, the weaknesses are forgivable set against the courageousness and intelligence with which the director handles such tricky material. Not to mention that he wrote the script in only eight days. 

The most brutally honest and self-aware character in sex, lies and videotape is played by a soft-spoken James Spader, who won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his work. His non-aggressive affect sits on the opposite extreme from the sexually predatory John, played by Peter Gallagher with a dollop of 1980s boom-time self-satisfaction. Perhaps the director's youth inevitably resulted in the work sometimes substituting honesty for depth, but the film is no less interesting for the flaws.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the foundations of a healthy relationship and whether those are present in sex, lies and videotape. Can a marriage survive if it's built on lies?

  • Do you think sexual attraction is enough to sustain a relationship? Why or why not?

  • The movie suggests that speaking the truth, even if it reveals inner weaknesses, can create strong bonds between people. Can you think of examples of this in your own life?

Movie details

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