17 Examples Of How Much More Graphic TV Sex Has Gotten

This story was originally published on February 25, 2016.

In 1972, George Carlin enumerated the seven words you can't say on TV. But that was before cable changed everything. Now, of course, we hear each and every one of those words regularly on the small screen, along with a few new ones that are a sign of the times, like 69, analingus, and pegging.

While movies have been growing ever tamer in the past decade or so — when was the last time you saw a really hot sex scene in a studio film? — TV is going there. Even networks are figuring out ways to show more than implied missionary with strategic lighting and carefully placed sheets. (See: Scandal.) Meanwhile, series like Netflix's Orange Is the New Black and Starz's Outlander place sex at the center of their story lines and never hold back from depicting the many ways that people experience pleasure.

And so, for your own...uh...reading pleasure, here are some of the most taboo-busting moments in TV history.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
Episode: "Pilot" (1993)

In 2016, the sex scene in the pilot of NYPD Blue between Detective John Kelly (David Caruso) and Officer Janice Licalsi (Amy Brenneman) looks kinda cheesy and not all that scandalous. Back in the day, however, local affiliates declined to air the show because of that scene. Regardless of how we view the moment today, it's impossible to talk about sex on TV without talking about NYPD Blue, which predated cable dramas like The Sopranos.

Pictured: Amy Brenneman and David Caruso in NYPD Blue
Queer as Folk
Episode: "Premiere" (2000)

The first episode of Queer as Folk — Showtime's adaptation a British series — features a graphic scene in which the older, sexually experienced Brian (Gale Howard) and high school-aged Justin (Randy Harrison) have sex. Given that it's Justin's first time, the scene verges on instructional, and it's remarkably explicit, even compared to a more recent show like Looking. According to Out, it marked "the first simulated sex between two men shown on American television." The show lasted for five seasons, and actor Hal Sparks has argued that it didn't get the credit it deserved as a pioneer in depicting gay relationships. "I get a little bit pissed at times about how forgotten we can be to certain extent, and how we played a major part in paving the way for actors to feel more comfortable playing gay roles," he told Out.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: "Touched" (2003)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was always progressive in its depiction of sexuality, but it's not until the final season that it actually shows Willow (Alyson Hannigan) engaging in lesbian sex. Her scene with Kennedy (Iyari Limon) is still relatively tame, but it was a first for broadcast TV.
Episode: "We're Not in Kansas Anymore" (2008)

Oh, Beverly Hills, where teens give each other blow jobs in cars. New girl in town Annie (Shenae Grimes-Beech) sees her old fling Ethan (Dustin Milligan) in a car, when suddenly a girl's head emerges. Before this 21st-century reboot premiered, original 90210 star Jennie Garth said that when she heard about that scene, she thought "Aaron Spelling is rolling over in his grave right now."
The Good Wife
Episode: "Taking Control" (2010)

During the second season of The Good Wife, Peter (Chris Noth) goes down on Alicia (Julianna Margulies) in the bathroom while they are listening to NPR. The scene is not all that graphic — it is CBS, after all — but the presence of oral sex caused a media fracas all the same.
Episodes: "One Man's Trash," "On All Fours," "Iowa" (2013, 2015)

It's impossible to choose just one notable scene from Girls. So let's do three: First, the second season episode “One Man’s Trash,” in which Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) shacks up for the weekend with a yuppie played by Patrick Wilson. Though it shouldn’t have been controversial, it was, simply because a number of people couldn’t believe that someone with Dunham’s body type would have a fling with someone who looks like Wilson.

That season also features an encounter between Adam (Adam Driver) and his then-girlfriend Natalia (Shiri Appleby) in which he demands that she crawl into his bedroom on hands and knees. He then has sex with her from behind and comes on her chest. The semen is visible on Natalia's breasts. It wasn't the first time a "money shot" was depicted on the show, but it was striking regardless. A discussion followed in the media as to whether Adam's actions constitute rape.

Consent is not an issue in the fourth season premiere, which shows Marnie (Allison Williams) engaging in analingus with her boyfriend Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Even Williams' dad commented on the moment after it aired.
Episode: "Pilot" (2013)

Reign sparked controversy with its premiere, which features a young woman masturbating. The scene was cause for outrage for some, but others were pissed to learn that it was cut down for broadcast, suggesting the network was ashamed of female sexual pleasure. Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) goes and masturbates in a hallway after she and her friends watch a couple consummate their marriage. Showrunner Laurie McCarthy told BuzzFeed: "My feeling on it is that it’s a part of sexuality, and it just didn’t seem like any big deal."
The Americans
Episode: "Comrades" (2014)

During the second season premiere of The Americans, the FX series about Soviet Russian spies in 1980s DC, the central couple, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, are seen performing mutual oral sex on each another. Their daughter, Paige, walks in on them. Showrunner Joe Weisberg told Time that the writers chose the 69 position because they “were looking for something that expressed mutuality but also great intimacy.”

Pictured: Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in The Americans
Episode: "The Wedding" (2014)

The wedding episode of Outlander gives us sex (with a male virgin!) from the female point of view. That in itself is radical. Even more radical? The sex isn't perfect! Though Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) are attracted to each another, their first time is very awkward. Things do get better, thankfully. This one is not exactly about what they do — though they do a lot — but how the show depicts them doing it.

Pictured: Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in Outlander
How to Get Away With Murder
Episode: "Pilot" (2014)

The very first episode of How to Get Away With Murder has a scene in which Connor (Jack Falahee) kisses Oliver's (Conrad Ricamora) back, alluding to analingus. It's hot gay sex on a network television show, and while it cuts away before we really see anything happening, it shows enough that we know exactly what is going down. Speaking of going down, the pilot also features a scene in which Viola Davis' Annalise Keating receives oral sex. And this was just the beginning of the show. Later, another character says Connor did something to his "ass that made [his] eyes water."
Episode: "Randy, Red, Superfreak and Julia" (2014)

Okay, so there are a lot of sex scenes on Scandal, and this one conceals very little. Jake (Scott Foley) fingers Olivia (Kerry Washington), who lounges on a beach chair, looking gorgeous with natural hair.
Broad City
Episode: "Knockoffs" (2015)

After finally getting together with her neighbor crush Jeremy (Stephen Schneider), Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) is shocked when he asks her to penetrate him. Co-creator Jacobson explained that the scenario “was very delicate because no one ever pitched it as, it's the joke that he's into pegging." She told an audience at the Strand: “We were very careful because we didn't want it to be misconstrued that that preference is looked down on.” Also, it’s not like that was the first time that pegging ever showed up on TV. The Sopranos did it years earlier, but Broad City introduced the act to a new generation.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Orange Is the New Black
Episode: "Finger in the Dyke" (2015)

In a third season flashback, Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) has sex with a girlfriend using a strap-on. DeLaria told The Daily Beast that the scene served to educate people on the way lesbians sometimes have sex. “We’ve certainly seen dildos before, but not properly used,” she said. “Not strapped on, not the way butches do it. To me, that was really important because 1) I love a good sex scene [laughs] and 2) because of the butch visibility. This is what we do, and a lot of people don’t know that.” The woman rides Big Boo, and then slides off of her, the dildo prominently on display.

Pictured: Lea DeLaria and Madison McKinley in Orange Is the New Black
Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
The Affair
Episode: "201" (2015)

Considering The Affair is about, uh, an affair, it should be no surprise that there's a ton of coitus. In the show’s second season premiere, male genitalia is prominently displayed. The episode finds Helen (Maura Tierney) gazing upon the penis of the man with whom she just had sex. She doesn’t feel great about what she's just done, so it’s not a triumphant moment, but the image is a welcome rarity nonetheless. "Some found it thrilling, and others thought we were attention-grabbing," co-creator Sarah Treem told Vulture. "That speaks to how rarely you see male genitalia onscreen."

Pictured: Maura Tierney in The Affair
Master of None
Episode: "Plan B" (2015)

Though not a sex scene exactly, the opening of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None features a not-often-seen reality: having to scurry to buy Plan B. It's a refreshingly honest, totally awkward moment.
Jessica Jones
Episodes: "AKA Ladies Night," "AKA It's Called Whiskey" (2015)

Superheroes are everywhere these days, but no others go at it as vigorously as Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) and Luke Cage (Mike Colter). Here we have two characters who both happen to possess extreme strength, which makes for some seriously intense sex — like, bed-breaking intense.
Episodes: "Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump," "Grey Green Brown & Copper" (2015)

Since its first season, Transparent has explored the fluidity of gender in groundbreaking ways. Early in the second season, trans woman Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) fingers her ex-wife Shelly (Judith Light) in the bath. The scene is emotionally resonant for the characters and a bold depiction of two older women — one of whom happens to be trans — engaging in a sexual act. Sure, at least one critic was "grossed out," but that is a small-minded oversimplification of the moment.

At the end of the season, Maura has a sexual encounter with a woman played by Anjelica Huston. Our Lady J, a writer on the show who is trans, told MTV News that “everyone is getting f–ked in season 1, except Maura. It was really my plight, in some way, to sexualize our trans characters this season in a way that’s not reducing them to just being sexual fetishes.” In the scene, Tambor conveys the vulnerability of a woman rediscovering her sexual drive in light of the change in her identity.

Pictured: Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light in Transparent
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