Image Credit: MGM Studios

'Challengers' *Technically* Didn't Have Sex Scenes, But It Made Up For It With Foreplay

Okay, the cat is out of the bag. There are no *real* sex scenes in Challengers. BUT! The insane sexual tension throughout the film is the closest thing to edging a movie has ever accomplished. “There’s so much in just glances,” Zendaya revealed at the LA premiere of the movie. “The tension builds. Not having the release is a good thing sometimes.”

From the same director who gave us Call Me By Your Name and Bones And All, Luca Guadagnino is the king of edging — but not in the way you might think. Less blue balls and more of a resistance to temptation — whether that’s with a certain stone fruit or a cannibal craving flesh. And this sports romance-dramedy is no different. Between the dripping sweat, obvious desire, and delayed gratification, the whole movie feels like a warm-up to the main event in the best way.

In a time when the internet is questioning the “necessity” of sex scenes, Challengers is clearly in defense of foreplay.

(If you’re afraid of spoilers, STOP READING!) 

Image Credit: MGM Studios

Let me back up. The famous “threesome” scene that rocked the internet when the trailer initially dropped is actually a three-way kiss!!! But before you get disappointed, this make out sesh sets up the erotically charged relationship between all three characters — Tashi (played by Zendaya), Art (Mike Faist), and Patrick (Josh O’Connor).

The scene starts off pretty innocuous, with three 18-year-olds drinking beer on the floor of a hotel room, talking about crushes and embarrassing masturbation stories of youth. But when the beer runs out, Tashi finds a new way to stay entertained by jumping up on the bed and encouraging the two to join her. The boys bite their lips in suspense — who will she choose? An answer they might never get.

Initially pivoting between kissing the two boys individually, Tashi not-so-subtly pushes her long hair over her shoulders, implying the boys should kiss her neck at the same time. As they make their way up her neck, the three end up kissing each other at the same time, a Venn diagram of tongues and open mouths. Eventually, Tashi leans back to assess her work. She watches the two guys kiss each other furiously until — in an iconic power move — she says, “Okay,” breaking the moment like a hypnotist with a snap of her fingers. Then she gets off the bed to exit, leaving some very obvious erections behind, with a promise to give her number to whoever wins the next day’s tennis match. As a nod to her voyeuristic nature, she just wants to watch “some good fucking tennis.”

Image Credit: MGM Studios

Throughout the film, there is a blurred line between sex and tennis. (Tashi literally says the line, “Tennis is a relationship,” while looking like a mystical mermaid on the beach.) And while I’ve never been a fan of sports metaphors, I will accept sexual metaphors. “We keep saying tennis is the sex in the movie, and I think tennis holds a metaphor for a lot of things: desires, passion, pain, anger, frustration,” Zendaya said to reporters at the premiere. “I think they all use tennis as this way of communicating with each other when they just don’t have the words.”

Isn’t that what foreplay accomplishes? It allows you to work past the awkwardness of an initial encounter and get attuned to each other’s bodies without talking. And sorry to Cameron Diaz in The Holiday, but foreplay is NOT overrated. If anything, Challengers proves that, like tennis, you have to warm up first if you wanna have a great time.

This couldn’t be clearer in the final scene — arguably more of a threesome than the scene in the hotel room. The entire film is foreplay for this final moment when Art and Patrick are at the tiebreaker. Between their grunts of effort on the court and Tashi’s orgasmic scream of “Come on!” in the stands, it’s the climax we, as the audience, were all desperate for. As the credits rolled, I was completely satisfied.

Melanie Whyte
Melanie Whyte
Melanie Whyte (she/her) leads the lifestyle and relationship content at Betches. As an amateur New Yorker and professional bisexual, she enjoys writing about the bane of sex and relationships in the city. She is also perpetually in her messy house era despite spending all of her money on Instagram ads.