How Sex Invaded Television Programming
A long time ago, television was wholesome and pure family fun. Nowadays, we boast that television is in its golden age. Networks and streaming services are trying to push the boundaries of narratives to attract viewers. That means more sex, more adult topics, and more inclusion of marginalized sexual proclivities.
TV Programs Then and Now
You don’t need to look hard to see naked bodies and banging. We’re not talking about the abundance of porn. Just look at “Game of Thrones” — you rarely encounter an episode without a complimentary pair of breasts. Before that, in “Sex and the City,” people religiously watched four women screwing all over New York. That wasn’t always the case, though.
The first TV darling, “I Love Lucy” (1950s), had a married couple sleeping in different beds. This was how much sex was a taboo. In the 1960s, “Bewitched” had a controversial leap, and spouses slept in one bed. So what happened? Primarily, the sexual revolution. Also, marginal groups were fighting for their visibility.
Half a Century of Sexual Revolution
The ‘70s and ‘80s brought the advent of “Jiggly TV.” You could see beautiful girls running and bouncing in skimpy outfits. Do you remember the plot of “Charlie’s Angels”? Of course not, but beautiful girls stayed iconic thanks to it. Furthermore, every episode of “Three’s Company” revolved around the gimmick of how a guy is living with two girls, and it might be sexual.
But the real heat started to rise in the ‘90s. In 1993, “NYPD Blue” started airing with scenes of sex and violence, while “Sex and the City” began airing in 1998. With the advent of reality TV, viewers could see everyday people having actual sex. The 2000s continued the trend, and more and more shows were pushing the boundaries of adult themes and how they were portrayed.
Shifting Content for Shifting Tastes
Buttocks and Boobs, the Forerunners of Nudity
In 1993, “NYPD Blue” showed nudity in the form of David Caruso’s ass. That was a big deal. The show depicted scenes of sex, and, although there was no frontal nudity, you could catch the buttocks of male and female actors.
When it comes to breasts, for a long, time you could only get a glance of a side boob. “Baywatch” was all about that — cleavage. Pamela Anderson and her friends were sensually running and bouncing through the sand. The plot of the show took a back seat, and it was the collection of gorgeous girls that took the audience as a storm.
Sexy Time for Teens and Young Adults
These were all shows that were targeted at mature audiences, but the ‘90s had more aces in their sleeves. Series like “90210” and “Buffy the Vampire” Slayer were aimed at teens and young adults. The big twist was that they tackled teenage sex life. From the very start, “90210” covered topics of losing virginity and showed teenagers as highly sexual.
However, it was “Buffy” that brought some game changers and made an impact. Besides referencing that teenagers had intercourse, this show had a lesbian relationship. Kudos for the LGBTQ+ presentation, but there was something better — the famous scene of Buffy having sex with Spike in which they literally tear down the house while bonking.
New Millennia, New Sexual Frontiers
Though the show started in 1998, “Sex and the City” ushered new standards into the 2000s. Almost every episode had at least one sex scene. The show covered it all: intercourse, masturbation, fetishes, same-sex relationship, threesomes, etc. Fun fact: Sarah Jessica Parker playing Carry was never naked.
The 2000s were the starting point of the sex bonanza that we have today. HBO continued with its trend of racy content with “The Sopranos,” “Rome,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Girls.” Showtime had its fair share of steamy sex with “True Blood,” “Californication,” and “Weeds.” “Masters of Sex” was completely dedicated to the history of sexual liberation. And the list continues to grow.
It seems that after Jannet’s famous wardrobe malfunction in 2004, everything went up the hill with nudity on TV.
The Effect of Reality TV
Expansion of sexual content came hand in hand with the relatively recent trend of reality TV. The first shows started popping up in the ‘90s, and they were usually crime-oriented. Still, there were a couple of steamy ones like HBO’s “Real Sex.” Not as directly, MTV’s “Real World” covered sexual themes and identities very early on.
Some shows had spice from the get-go like Hue Hefner’s “Girl Next Door.” Here, you could see the lifestyle of Playmates, girls living in the Playboy Mansion. The show had glamour and buxom beauties showing skin. Other shows caught on quickly — less clothing, more viewers.
Sexy + Drama = Butts in Seats
It was in the 2000s that reality TV exploded. Producers figured out that drama and sex generate viewership, and usually, one sparks the other. Soon TV shows started gravitating towards intercourse between contestants. “Big Brother” started airing in 2000, but it gave its first humping-under-the-covers show in the 4th season. From there, it somewhat became an unspecified staple of the show.
Other TV shows also relied on gimmicks of sexy drama. “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” revolved around the titular family, and along with them, their love life. “The Real Housewives” series always has the element of cheating and who slept with whom.
Many people say that the era of reality TV has passed. Well, that’s not quite true, as there are constantly new programs popping up, and they tend to spark interest with sex as well. “Too Hot to Handle” is practically a musical chairs game, but with screwing.
The View on Sex on TV
Deeper, Deeper, Deeper Meaning
Oscar Wilde: “Everything in this world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” You might not agree with this statement, but it rings somewhat true when it comes to sex in the media. Scenes and reference to sex in television programs are never solely about intercourse. That’s why so many people get their panties in a twist about it.
The depiction of genitals, lovemaking, and sexual proclivities reflect societal attitudes towards them. As society evolves, so does sex in our media. Many shows deal with sex, but you can easily compare a sex scene from feminist centered “Gray’s Anatomy” and gay favorite “Looking” and see the difference in views.
Intercourse on TV has paradoxically become less fetishized and more fetishized at the same time. There’s a certain demystification and down-to-earth element about how people screw in “Girls.” There’s now sensuality and slow jazz behind it. Hanah is simply banging. That is what appealed to the show’s audience.
Who is the most memorable character in the “Sex and the City”? Samantha! You could be invested in Carey’s romance or identify with Charlotte, but it was Samantha who lingers in our collective memory. The reason is that all her sexual adventures and mishaps shared a message to women: be more sexual, take chances, and have fun.
Protecting What They Can
The most powerful entity that influences American TV is FCC (Federal Communication Commission). This independent government body dictates censorship and regulates what is acceptable to be aired. All content must follow the decency standards, and networks follow them religiously.
This means that swear words will be blipped, or characters will scream screw you instead of the F word, and so on. These regulations are also the reasons why shows like “Dexter” have huge body counts, but you get to see only a side boob when it comes to nudity. Still, these laws don’t fall from the sky.
There is a constant tug-of-war between the media station and concerned citizen groups. TV tries to make programs that will attract an audience and thus gain revenue and sponsors. In return, specific groups influence them. For example, conservative Christians would ask the cancellation of sexy tv programs while LGBTQ+ would ask for more inclusion.
‘’With great power comes great responsibility,’’ and with so much sex on our screens comes the responsibility of understanding it and how we consume them all together.