In the broadest sense, sexuality refers to sexual behavior. While closely tied to biological urges that seem to impel human beings (and other animals) to mate, there are many socially constructed concepts that influence an understanding of sexuality. In many cultures, for example, heterosexual monogamy is considered the only "proper" sexuality, and all other types of sexual behavior are deemed sinful or unnatural. In the wake of the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s, when more men and women felt freer to explore and experiment with other types of sexual relationships, many attempted to hold onto this traditional concept of "normal" sexuality. As writers such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler have discussed, though, the concept of sexuality (categorizing sexual desires into orientations that form identities) has been a relatively recent social development—with definitions of sexuality being contested and negotiated constantly. Concepts of sexuality have differed from era to era, and from community to community. What is considered taboo in one culture may be accepted as part of the social system in another. Consequently, all sexualities—including heterosexual monogamy—are exposed as cultural developments rather than natural drives.

Just as sexuality is intricately threaded into people's daily lives, so has it been with the history of motion pictures. For generations, heterosexual couples have used movie theater balconies and (in the post–World War II era) drive-ins for trysting. A number of major urban cinemas during the first half of the twentieth century also became cruising spots for homosexual men. Filmmakers repeatedly turned (and still do turn) toward sexuality as a method of drawing in customers. Almost as consistently, various concerned citizens (individually and in groups) voiced objections to such images and called for greater censorship and punishment. The simultaneous fascination with and outcry over representations of sexuality in motion pictures may have been partly fueled by the ongoing negotiations around definitions of sexuality across the globe during the past century. Cinema has been swept into such struggles as it reflects, disseminates, and sometimes contests dominant attitudes.

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