Welcome to the Summer of On-Screen Moms Getting It On

6 minute read

“You did not tell me how sexy it is to be pregnant,” Ilana Glazer’s character Eden, a free-spirited yoga teacher and single expectant mother, tells her best friend Dawn (played by Michelle Buteau) before getting hot and bothered over a grocery haul of phallic vegetables and a surprisingly erotic pack of chicken breasts in the new comedy Babes. In the film, motherhood is no deterrent to Eden or Dawn’s pleasure—in fact, the demands of their lives amplify their urgent need for it, a reminder that moms and moms-to-be are as horny as everyone else.

Glazer and Buteau aren’t the only mothers getting some action on-screen this summer. In the new Netflix rom-com Mother of the Bride, Lana, Brooke Shields’ career-focused doctor, unexpectedly reconnects with her college sweetheart (a mostly shirtless Benjamin Bratt) at her daughter’s destination wedding, culminating in a reunion that includes a skinny-dipping session and steamy makeout. On the third season of the dishy Regency drama Bridgerton—currently topping the Netflix top 10 by a wide margin—matriarch Violet, the Dowager Viscountess Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell), who has spent the majority of the series keeping a watchful eye on her children’s many romantic entanglements, makes a flirtatious connection of her own with a handsome newcomer to the ton.

Read more: Babes Creators Say the Pregnancy Comedy Is Not ‘Raunchy.’ It’s ‘Realistic’

The most buzzed-about example of this welcome phenomenon may be The Idea of You, the May-December rom-com on Prime Video based on Robinne Lee’s bestselling novel of the same name. The movie stars Anne Hathaway as Soléne, a 40-year-old art gallerist who embarks on a passionate and whirlwind romance with Hayes (Nicholas Galitzine), a boy band star 16 years her junior. Forget what you heard about Gen Z wanting less sex on-screen or the seeming trend of prudishness in film—this is the summer of moms getting it on, on-screen.

It’s not that moms have been entirely sexless in the history of cinema. From the white cashmere swathed heroines of Nancy Meyers movies to iconic MILFs like Mrs. Robinson or Stifler’s mom in American Pie, mothers have long been shown to have moments of seduction and lust, though often caricatured or played for comedic effect. Their desires are often, though not always, in the service of a man’s storyline; in The Graduate, Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson is a catalyst for Benjamin Braddock’s (Dustin Hoffman) coming-of-age, while Stifler’s mom is just another development in the American Pie boys’ pact to lose their virginity. The insinuation, of course, is that it’s ridiculous, unseemly, laughable, or even threatening that mothers, these women usually of a certain age with certain responsibilities, would still have sex lives. Or, heaven forbid, that they would prioritize their own needs over those of the offspring they are charged with nurturing. 

Which may be why this current moment of moms following their desires looks and feels decidedly different. Eden’s frank embrace of her most primal urges during her pregnancy in Babes is hilarious, but her feelings and desires aren’t reduced to jokes. In The Idea of You, after Soléne decides to go on tour across Europe with her hot young boyfriend, it feels revelatory, not derisive or judgmental, to watch her frolic in a bikini and make out on the beach with Hayes. Even Violet Bridgerton’s quiet but undeniably chemistry-laden exchanges in Bridgerton with Lord Marcus Anderson (Daniel Francis), the handsome stranger she keeps running into (and exchanging meaningful glances with) at balls, evokes the giddy celebration of a blossoming new interlude, not some gawking spectacle of middle age. 

Read more: The Idea of You Is About the Ultimate Middle-Aged-Lady Fantasy: Being Noticed

It’s also abundantly clear who these movies and shows are being made for. The Idea of You is as much a romance as it is a call for women to take inspiration from Soléne finally choosing herself and her wants and needs, making a compelling, if aspirational, case to throw caution to the wind and live their wildest dreams. And Babes is tailor-made for the women who want to keep it real when it comes to the graphic and gross realities of pregnancy and birth. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that these movies and shows were conceived by women. (Though The Idea of You was also co-written by its director Michael Showalter, they all have female screenwriters.)

Too often in pop culture, mothers with sexual desires are seen as a punchline. From crass “yo mama” jokes to tropes in film about cougars and MILFs, mothers are expected to be desexualized or else they’re punished for their sexuality. But in these stories, both the characters and their sex lives are taken seriously, even if they’re presented within the context of a lighthearted comedy or steamy period romance. By situating these women squarely as the main characters in their respective narratives, these on-screen stories give them the time and space to establish themselves as complex beings with feelings and desires that extend beyond their roles as mothers.

For Eden and Dawn in Babes, their 30-plus-year friendship occupies as much of their psyche, and much more of the movie’s run-time, as their caregiving as mothers. In Mother of the Bride, Lana leads a busy life full of friendship and a fulfilling career, outside of her daughter’s orbit. Violet in Bridgerton has a vibrant community in addition to her family. And Soléne in the Idea of You has a support system of caring friends and a job that she’s truly passionate about that keeps her grounded. These stories also run the gamut of motherhood, from the moment of conception, in Eden’s case, to Lana fulfilling her mother-of-the-bride duties at her adult daughter’s wedding.

This shift in attitudes toward moms on-screen is seemingly resonating with audiences; The Idea of You clocked in at 50 million worldwide viewers in its first two weeks on Prime Video, making it Amazon MGM’s no.1 romantic-comedy debut of all time, while Bridgerton’s season 3 debut garnered 45.05 million views in less than a week, breaking its own streaming record and nabbing the highest single weekly view count for any Netflix series since the platform began ranking titles by views in 2023. The benefit of all of this, of course, is a shift toward recognizing, at least in the zeitgeist, the seemingly facile truth: that moms have identities and desires beyond being moms. That, and it’s also deliciously fun to watch—who wouldn’t want to see these women get all the desires of their heart fulfilled (or, at the very least, a very steamy hookup)? One thing’s for sure: if there’s anyone who deserves to get hers, it’s a mother.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com