Some of the 18+ rated series in our list are specifically about sex or the sex industry, while others insert erotic scenes between the mundane or pedestrian. For what is life without a dash of scintillating spice?
But some may ask whether the rampant sex you see on TV these days is strictly necessary (with even the most “innocent”-seeming shows, such as Jim Carrey’s dramedy Kidding, which is about a grieving father, offering pretty explicit sex scenes). We asked our sexpert, columnist and author Dorothy Black, that exact question, and she says you could equally ask if depicting eating or sleeping is necessary in storytelling.
“The real question for me is why depicting sex, nudity and female pleasure is considered a more volatile issue … than the extreme, graphic and ubiquitous violence we’ve become so used to.” – Dorothy Black
“Every television series involving humans is, arguably, ultimately about relationships – with ourselves, the world around us and each other,” she says.
“Whether including sex or nudity as part of that relationship storytelling is necessary is a matter of whether it is called for in that narrative. The real question for me is why depicting sex, nudity and female pleasure is considered a more volatile issue, a more provocative and psychically damaging issue, than the extreme, graphic and ubiquitous violence we’ve become so used to. It says a lot about where we’re at.”
It’s a valid point. Some shows combine the two, such as Banshee, with such vigour that both become over the top and – dare I say it? – boring. Sometimes less really is more.
Thanks to streaming television, we’ve come a long way in terms of what we have access to watching (and let’s leave porn out of it for now, unless we’re talking about HBO’s The Deuce, which is about prostitution and the adult film industry in NYC in the 70s and 80s), and the creators of shows have way more freedom than in the past. We asked Dot what she thinks about how sex scenes are generally handled in TV series nowadays.
“People are scared of vulnerability in sex … so this is rarely depicted in anything that isn’t specifically a story around that theme,” she replies.
“The average screenwriter/director/studio head has their own sex issues to deal with and so will avoid it altogether or make a fantasy of it as they see fit. Luckily, our storytelling isn’t limited to the narrow band of experience we find in porn, so even if it is limited in what it depicts (no condom use, no awkward slip-ups, no morning after) it’s still more often a better representation than what you’d find on PornHub.”
So, bearing that in mind, let’s get stuck into these steamy suggestions.
Sexy shows on Showmax
There’s a lot of different sex combinations in this series, as well as nudity and – worth mentioning – plenty of male full frontal, which is still depicted way less than female. You only have to watch Game Of Thrones to see the imbalance. The series is about a group of teenagers navigating their complex world. Read more about the love, romance and sex side of it here.
Sex in history: Harlots focuses on Margaret Wells, who runs a brothel in 18th-Century London and struggles to secure a better future for her daughters amid an unpredictable environment. Yes, lots of sex, obviously, but excellent storylines too. The cast includes Samantha Morton and Liv Tyler (season two). The third season aired in the US in July, 2019 and is coming to Showmax in October.
The down-on-her-luck woman who turns to turning tricks is a familiar trope; here we see the gender stereotype reversed with Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane, Divorce), a high-school basketball coach in the suburbs of Detroit who is short on money and has a whole lot of middle-class problems. With the help of his friend Tanya (Jane Adams), Ray decides to use his nine-inch penis as an opportunity to make money.
Starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is a three-season series by creators David Simon (The Wire) and George Pelecanos, with each season taking place in a different time period during the rise of the porn industry in New York City during the 1970s and 80s. The third and final season landed on Showmax in November and is a fittingly steamy end to the acclaimed HBO series.
An anthology series – two down, and renewed for a third – this one looks at how various women work as escorts for different reasons. Some are financing their education, some are giving into blackmail, and some – gasp! – enjoy the work.
Having run from 2004 to 2009, The L Word is considered a TV classic. The series follows an ensemble cast of friends, mostly lesbians, who live in West Hollywood, California.
A sequel series, The L Word: Generation Q, is set to air before the end of 2019.
Somebody did the hard work of tallying all 97 sex scenes. Check the list out here.
More shows and movies with explicit sex scenes
Sexy shows on Netflix
This sub-titled Spanish series is about students at an elite secondary school and their friends, and much like its counterparts, makes it very clear that no matter what parents would like to believe, their precious angels are doing it all…and more. Season 2 is now streaming, and it’s been renewed for a third.
Masters of Sex
As much as we love sex for recreation, there are those who have an even keener interest in studying it. Set in the 1950s through the late 1960s, this critically acclaimed series tells the story of Dr William Masters and Virginia Johnson (played by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan) and their pioneering (some may even, ahem, call it “seminal”) research into the nature of human sexual response and the diagnosis and treatment of sexual disorders and dysfunctions.
This comedy-drama is an absolute delight – not only funny but deeply and profoundly sensitive to issues of a sexual nature experienced by (mostly) teens, but adults too. Leading the ensemble cast is awkward Otis (Asa Butterfield), whose mother (played by Gillian Anderon, yes, of The X-Files) is a sex therapist. It’s dreadfully embarrassing for a 16-year-old, until his friend/crush Maeve (Emma Mackey) convinces him to offer similar services to their school mates. Season 2 is on the way.
Before Euphoria, before Elite, and before Sex Education, there was Skins (2007–2010), a comedy-drama series about a group of teenagers in Bristol, South West England. Its controversial storylines have explored issues like dysfunctional families, mental illness (such as depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder), adolescent sexuality, gender, substance abuse, autism spectrum disorder, death, and bullying. Just a normal day, then.