Gay Sex on TV

Heather N makes an appeal for more gay sex on TV.

Author’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones.

In the past couple of decades, LGBT representation in mainstream media of the U.S. has progressed in leaps and bounds. We have popular television shows that focus exclusively on gay and lesbian communities, shows with gay gangsters, gay slobs, and gay teenagers, one Oscar winning movie about a gay political figure and another one about gay cowboys. As for real life people in the media, there are out news anchors and political commentators, out actors and actresses, and out musicians. We’ve come a long way from Jodie Dallas and Xena; it would be easy to think that we’ve achieved equal representation in the media. Unfortunately, we haven’t.

There are still some overarching issues that affect the entire LGBT community’s representation in the media, such as the complete lack of U.S. professional athletes who are out of the closet. However, there are also issues that affect one section of the LGBT community more than others. In other words, many of the problems bisexual men face in the media are different than those faced by lesbians, and those that lesbians face are different than the issues transmen and transwomen are facing, etc. In this article, I would like to focus on one way in which gay men are treated unequally in television shows produced for a wide audience: sex scenes.

You might be reading this thinking that, actually there’s too much sex on television, full stop. Why add to it? Or better yet, why not put that can of worms away and take sex off of television? I’d like to emphasize that this article isn’t about whether portraying sex on television is a good or a bad thing in itself. I am just arguing that if a television show 1) has gay and straight characters and 2) portrays straight sex scenes, then it should 3) give the gay sex scenes the same treatments as its straight sex scenes. The most recent example of a television show that certainly qualifies for numbers 1 and 2, but fails at number 3 is Game of Thrones.

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Game of Thrones doesn’t just have some straight sex scenes; it has quite a few straight sex scenes, along with a large dose of both male and female full frontal nudity, which isn’t surprising considering it’s on HBO. However, it’s also a show that uses that sex and nudity as a storytelling device. This is true from the first sex scene of the show between the twins Cersei and Jamie Lannister, all the way to the most recent sex scene: the teenage king, Joffrey, forcing a prostitute to beat another prostitute for his own entertainment. A lot of these scenes aren’t even particularly enticing. Instead they are there to tell a story. What’s more, this use of sex is consistent with the way the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, uses sex: to further a story or explain a character.

What is different between the book and the television show is the depiction of the gay couple, Renly and Loras. The books are written from the perspective of only a few of the characters, and neither Renly nor Loras are POV characters. This means that their relationship, which is scandalous in the world created by these books, is only hinted at. The television show, on the other hand, does tell the story from Renly’s perspective. So, in episode 4 of season 2, there is something of a sex scene between Renly and Loras. Unfortunately it hardly qualifies as such, and worse, most of the character and plot development during this scene relies on dialogue as opposed to actions.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then in Game of Thrones a sex scene is usually worth a hundred thousand. Not so with the gay sex scene; here they opted to use the thousand words.

A brief description: Renly and Loras make out for a bit and end up shirtless and on Renly’s bed. Then Renly reminds Loras he was beaten at the joust by a woman, which pisses Loras off. And that’s pretty much the end of the physical side of their scene; the rest is dialogue and Renly trying to kiss Loras again. Renly is married to Loras’ sister, Margaery, and Loras snidely suggests he trades places with his sister so that Renly can do his kingly duty and produce an heir. Renly protests, but Loras ends up leaving. A few moments later Margaery comes in and Renly is completely unable to have sex with her. Margaery isn’t a fool; she knows what’s up between Renly and her brother. She suggests that maybe she could bring her brother, Loras, back in to help out. That’s right; she is willing to have a threesome with her brother in order to strengthen her husband’s position, and thus her own position. There is a brief discussion between Renly and Margaery about how they need to do whatever is necessary to make sure Margaery becomes pregnant. Then it cuts away, and we don’t know whether they did actually end up inviting Loras back into the room or not.

Here is where Game of Thrones really dropped the ball, I think. For starters, they ended up relying on dialogue to tell the story and create the characters. Game of Thrones is already a very talky show, but what was great was that between long bits of dialogue, there’d be violent scenes or sex scenes which would tell you so much, particularly about character development. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then in Game of Thrones a sex scene is usually worth a hundred thousand. Not so with the gay sex scene; here they opted to use the thousand words.

Also, the show failed to even address what a threesome between Margaery, Renly and Loras would even be like. The show’s creators have already shown they’re not bothered about depicting incest, as evidenced by their inclusion of a scene where Cersei and Jamie have sex. Yet, when it involves a gay couple and a sibling, then suddenly they become squeamish. I’m not even interested in the scene because I think it would be sexy or because I think it would be breaking taboos. I am interested in seeing how Renly, Loras and Margaery would negotiate such a situation. Would Loras be willing? Would it work, or just turn into something way too awkward? Have Loras and Margaery done something similar in the past? These are all questions that, had they been answered, could have provided such depth to these characters.

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So you might be thinking that this is a single sex scene in a single television show; it hardly constitutes a trend. However, all sorts of shows do this, whether they’re on cable or network TV. A show on network TV that only really shows couples making out with probably treat their gay characters particularly gingerly. A show on cable TV that has graphic sex scenes will do what happened on Game of Thrones, and their gay sex scenes will be watered down. Some examples from cable television: Shameless, Spartacus: Vengeance, and The Tudors. All of those shows are known for their use of sex, and yet they’ve all treated their gay sex scenes with kid gloves. They were short, or out of frame, or involved a lot less nudity. Somehow they just weren’t quite the same as their straight counterparts.

So why does this matter? What if people just don’t want to watch two men having sex? Well the problem is that, as with Game of Thrones, such an approach ends up damaging character development. More than that, though, is the fact that such skittishness indicates that our society is still miles away from normalizing sex between men. If our media is still more comfortable portraying straight sex scenes and even lesbian sex scenes than it is with gay sex scenes, then that is a big red flag for equality between gay and straight men. It’s proof that heteronormativity is still alive and well within our society.

That is why this is important. It’s not about whether television shows are sexy enough; if I wanted sexy I’d watch porn. It’s about what this lack of gay male sex says about our society as a whole.

 

—Photo credit: Gay men on beach kissing from Shutterstock

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About HeatherN

Heather N. is a Californian living in the United Kingdom. In order to survive, she has developed a keen appreciation for the color grey, rain, and sausage rolls. She spends far too much time reading, writing, blogging, and gaming. You can also find her saying witty things on Twitter.

Comments

  1. “3) give the gay sex scenes the same treatments as its straight sex scenes.”

    But gay men don’t comprise 50% of all men. I’ve heard that they comprise 10%. So in a show like Game of Thrones we can assume that 10% of the male characters are gay. So it follows that 10% of the sex scenes should be man-on-man. I’ve been watching the show and I think that is roughly the ratio so far.

    Are you saying that Game of Thrones should show more than 10% of male characters being gay? Or are you saying that they should show those same gay characters in more than 10% of the sex scenes?

    • It’s actually not about how many gay characters there are, or about how many gay sex scenes there are. The point is that while they show full nudity and simulated sex with the straight scenes, the gay scene had the men mostly covered and barely making out. It’s about the content within the scene, not the number of scenes they have.

      • Word

      • Aha, this makes more sense. Although now that I think of it, I think there was another gay sex scene in one of the first episodes between the knight with the long hair who was good at fighting and his king. I believe that scene was more drawn out and showed more nudity (although not full), and I think it showed simulated oral sex as the camera panned away (but I may be wrong)

        I’m not sure but I think anal sex is treated with kid gloves whether it’s man on man or man on woman. They just really don’t seem to want to show people doing that.

        • The scene you’re talking about was Loras shaving Renly’s chest…so they were shirtless, but still had on their trousers. The simulated oral sex bit was them standing, Loras crouching down out of frame, and a close up on Renly’s happy face. The end.

          Compare that to the scene with Theon, where he’s seen thrusting against completely naked prostitute, from behind. He pulls away and, no lie, we get a full frontal shot of him and the woman. So it’s not male nudity that they’ve a problem with.

          And the sad thing is I don’t even think they realize they’re doing it. I don’t actually think any of the film makers sat around and made a decision to make the gay sex scenes less revealing. I think they just unknowingly did so. The closest thing to equal representation I’ve seen is the gay sex scenes in the first season of Spartacus (i.e. Spartacus: Blood and Sand). Also, the show Brothers & Sisters was very equal in its representation, but it was on ABC so that meant no graphic sex scenes for anyone. However, it is one of the only network shows with gay characters that actually showed them as having as active a sex life as the straight characters.

          • Yea, you’re absolutely right. The hetero sex scenes were far more graphic. Also, Spartacus was amazing (I can’t stand the new actor playing the role though :( ) but if memory serves it did have at least one pretty graphic gay sex scene.

            I would guess that they are taking baby steps and sort of testing the water. Because not too long ago we wouldn’t see any homosexual sex scenes at all. I bet that soon we will see more equally graphic sex scenes.

            Sidenote: I bet they would have no problem showing a graphic lesbian sex scene. There is a lot of social stigma about gay men but not really as much about gay women and I have to say that I think that has less to do with male of men shaming than it does with female shaming of men.

            • The graphic scene in Spartacus was in the first season, and yeah it was actually pretty ground breaking…or at least unique outside of shows like Queer as Folk and Noah’s Ark. It showed anal sex between two men, and the man on the ‘receiving’ end, so to speak, was actually depicted as enjoying himself. They’ve had some gay sex scenes in the background of their orgy scenes as well. However, all of their subsequent gay sex scenes have been treated much more gingerly than the first one. Plus, they made the mistake of killing off their gay characters…which is a whole other problem with lgbt representation on television.

              It’s interesting what you say about showing lesbian sex scenes…and I’ll give you my perspective on it. There is less stigma surrounding depicting sex scenes between women, but it’s not because it’s more acceptable. It’s because it’s more invisible. There are still plenty of people out there who actually believe that lesbians don’t really exist…we’re just waiting around ‘for the right guy.’ We’re not seen as threatening, because we aren’t actually real (in their eyes). Even straight men who agree that lesbians are real, often still think that seeing lesbians together is sexy. Which, that’s fine…but it also means that a lesbian sex scene isn’t about the lesbians in the scene, but rather about enticing the presumed straight, male audience.

              “I think that has less to do with male of men shaming than it does with female shaming of men.”

              Alright I’m guessing (though trying not to assume) that you’ve faced some personal experiences with women shaming men, and I am not trying to invalidate it. However, for this particular issue, from what I’ve noticed, it’s often straight men who complain about seeing gay male sex on television. Straight women are more often than not willing to admit that it either doesn’t bother them, or it actually turns them on. For example, the second biggest demographic (after gay men) for the t.v. show Queer as Folk was middle aged straight women. If you check out youtube comments (horrendous piles of trash that they are), for videos that feature gay men kissing, more often than not the majority of the positive ones are from women and gay/bi men, and the majority of the negative ones are from straight men.

            • “It’s because it’s more invisible. There are still plenty of people out there who actually believe that lesbians don’t really exist…we’re just waiting around ‘for the right guy.”

              That’s a really interesting reason why. I also think it might have to do with the penetration aspect. That male on male sex is somehow more graphic because it almost always includes penetration where lesbian sex doesn’t necessarily.

              “Alright I’m guessing (though trying not to assume) that you’ve faced some personal experiences with women shaming men, and I am not trying to invalidate it. However, for this particular issue, from what I’ve noticed, it’s often straight men who complain about seeing gay male sex on television. Straight women are more often than not willing to admit that it either doesn’t bother them, or it actually turns them on”

              I was actually not referring specifically to viewing male homosexual acts in film but to male and female social perspectives and behaviors regarding male sexuality. A casual glance will show that men police one anothers sexuality but if you look closer you will probably see that they do this in full view of women and almost to gain their approval. From my observation women tend to police men’s sexuality with far more intent than men do. They seem determined to define and redefine “real man” male sexuality and force men to toe the line or suffer ostracization.

              Just look at all the articles asking “where are all the good men?” or “what happened to real men?” Or watch what happens when a heterosexual man acts in a so-called feminine way around heterosexual women. They will check him so fast your head will spin.

            • Perhaps it does also have to do with the penetrative aspect, though, as I said, they’re often more than willing to depict penetrative hetero sex.

              So with regards to what you’re talking about with perceptions of male sexuality…again what you’re saying is actually contrary to my experience. “Fag hags” (excuse the term) are so popular as to be given their own name…but there’s still a lot of division, socially, between straight men and gay/bi men. Heck, terms like ‘bromance’ are only just becoming popular…and it’s only just now becoming okay for two men to show affection to each other. It’s not women who were policing this, but other men. A great example, I was just in a gay bar the other day in which pretty much every single woman in there was straight (or bi) and every single man was gay (or bi). There was not a straight man to be seen, but plenty of straight women had no trouble being around gay men.

              The argument that straight men only ostracise non-traditionally-masculine men in order to gain approval from women is as problematic as the argument that women only ostracise non-traditionally-masculine men in order to gain approval from the more masculine ones. It’s taking away those individual’s agency. My observation is not that heterosexual women will ostracise feminine acting men, so much as they’ll assume they are gay and then assume they are off limits sexually.

            • “The argument that straight men only ostracise non-traditionally-masculine men in order to gain approval from women is as problematic as the argument that women only ostracise non-traditionally-masculine men in order to gain approval from the more masculine ones. It’s taking away those individual’s agency. My observation is not that heterosexual women will ostracise feminine acting men, so much as they’ll assume they are gay and then assume they are off limits sexually.”

              I wouldn’t argue that women are ostracising non-traditionally-masculine men in order to gain approval from the more masculine ones. I would argue that they are ostracising them to get them back in line, assuming traditional male roles of protecting and providing for women. I don’t think they do this consciously, but I see it happen all the time. If I were to count the number of times I have been told to “be a man” by a guy, I could probably count it on my fingers and toes. If I were to try to count the number of times I have been told to “be a man” by a woman, I don’t even think I’d be able to.

              In my experience, men are homophobic to whatever degree because they are afraid of how they are perceived. We joke around about our sexuality but on a very basic level we are just seeking social approval. Heterosexual women on the other hand seem to take an active interest in policing male sexuality. Not necessarily whether a man has sex with other men, but whether he exhibits other traditional hetero male characteristics.

              “man-up” “be a man” “you’re such a girl” “stop acting like a woman”

              These are all phrases MUCH more commonly said by women to men than by men to men. Think about what a man stands to gain from policing my sexuality. Now think about what a woman stands to gain. I don’t think women have a problem with gay men, I think women have a problem with straight men not acting exactly how they expect/want us to act. It’s all pretty sinister in my honest opinion, sub-conscious and sinister. Just imagine if you had people questioning your womanhood (your very identity) every time you picked up a cup in the “wrong” way or ordered a salad.

            • So I’ll tell you what I’ve observed. In a hetero romantic relationship it’s often the other person in that relationship that polices a person’s sexuality and gender. Or at least, in unhealthy relationships, that is. In public settings or group settings, with strangers or friends, I’ve noticed men policing men an women policing women more than anything else. And I’ve noticed both genders swearing up and down that men police women more and vice versa. Or at the very least that the only reason women police other women is because of being worried about attracting a man, and therefore it’s men’s fault. And again, I’ve observed the same thing with men blaming it on women.

            • Heather I think you’re implying a correlation where none may exist. I’m not denying there are straight men who would go into a gay bar just to start some sh*t, I’m saying that just because straight men don’t hang out in gay bars it doesn’t neccessarily make them homophobic.

              I mean, is there really no third option here? Is the idea that straight men might decide to respect gay men’s space and not intrude on it that much of a foreign concept to you that you reject it out of hand?

            • @8ball: I’m not saying that at all. If you look at the entire conversation I was having with Jimmy…you’ll see I was just pointing out how I have seen men policing other men’s sexuality and gender. I was talking about cultural trends, about why gay bars have gay-men-only policies, etc.

              I wasn’t talking about individual people’s motivations for not going into a gay bar.

            • Heather: “A great example, I was just in a gay bar the other day in which pretty much every single woman in there was straight (or bi) and every single man was gay (or bi). There was not a straight man to be seen, but plenty of straight women had no trouble being around gay men.”

              Waitaminute here. First off, yes obviously there are men who wouldn’t go within ten miles of a gay bar because of “teh queers” But a lot of straight guys don’t go into gay bars because they understand that… it’s a bar for gay men. They’re pretty much designed to facilitate gay men meeting. I mean, if dozens of straight men started hanging out in gay bars, then what difference would there be between a gay bar and a non-gay bar?

              Also, there’s a not-insignificant number of gay men who become rather irritated when their bars become over run with straight women.

              Speaking of which, based on some experiences I’ve had with straight women*, I question how much of this “f*g hag” thing is actual acceptance of gay men, and how much is them just wanting a little pet f****t to do all the stereotypical crap you see on TV with.

              *These experiences are obviously anecdotal, and I’m fully ready to admit that maybe I just ran into a outlier group of very stupid married women, who apparently bought into the belief that bisexuality was a myth, and that not all gay men (because bi men aren’t really real dontchaknow) act like the guys on Will and Grace.

            • Peter Houlihan says:

              Also, regarding the less straight men in gay bars thing. A couple of clubs in dublin have a gay only door policy. I’m not joking. One’s gayness is measured by adherance to the gay uniform (topman clothing). I’ve been told I wasn’t allowed in before because I was “too straight.” As it was, I just went to another gay bar, if I were straight, I’m not sure I would have bothered.

            • Sorry, should have explained…this was a ‘tourist’ gay bar, so to speak. I was out with my straight friend (she’s a woman) so I made sure we went to places that didn’t have a gay-men-only or lesbian-only policy. This is a place that regularly has bachelorette parties visit, though I’m sure most of the gay/bi guys there aren’t exactly thrilled by that. But my point is that straight guys wouldn’t have been turned away, and wouldn’t have been given the evil eye either.

            • Ah I should also point out why gay clubs have adopted gay only policies. Ya not because straight men were going in and having a nice night out. It’s because straight guys going into a gay club were probably looking to cause a ruckus.

            • wellokaythen says:

              “the majority of the negative ones are from straight men.”

              Well, from men who officially identify as straight, whether the label is accurate in each case or not…..

            • Good point.

            • “I would guess that they are taking baby steps and sort of testing the water.”

              I’d say more that they’re playing it safe…and perhaps even unknowingly. The first gay male character on a mainstream t.v. show was in the late 1970s. It took until the late 1990s when the first gay male kiss on t.v. happened between Jack and Ethan on Dawson’s Creek. That’s about 20 years later. About 10 years after that we have the first equal portrayal of a gay relationships with Scotty and Kevin on Brothers & Sisters and the first graphic sex scene between men with that one episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

              So yeah, I suppose it is speeding up a bit, but it’s still going at a snail’s pace. Particularly because, when compared to the changes in depicting straight relationships and straight sex scenes, depicting gay sex scenes is miles behind.

            • “So yeah, I suppose it is speeding up a bit, but it’s still going at a snail’s pace. Particularly because, when compared to the changes in depicting straight relationships and straight sex scenes, depicting gay sex scenes is miles behind.”

              Agreed. The ball is rolling but a bit slower than expected. I’m all about realism and even surrealism where it conveys an even sharper experience of events. This is part of why I liked Spartacus so much. It was so raw. The fights, the sex, the every day life, was all on a knife’s edge, bathed in blood and covered in sweat and dust. The screams and the silence were so visceral it was such a great escape from our boring peaceful society.

              If there’s sex, don’t downplay it, whether it’s gay or straight.

          • While I think you make a valid point, I think the reason for the toned down gay sex in Game of Thrones is because the books never feature one between Loras and Renly. Renly is never revealed as gay, although most people suspect and it is heavily alluded to.

            Then again, they do go considerably off script with the shaving scene and the tent so, maybe you’re right about GoT.

  2. Great article! Totally agree! In television and movies sex and kissing are so prevelent…and yet so many characters are basically asexual. Asexual stereotypical characters abound: Sassy gay friends, stoic Chinese ninjas, butch lesbian coffee baristas….just about anybody but straight white people. It isnt always the case, of course, but it is way too common.

    • It’s true. Actually, it’s gotten so bad that sometimes when I see an asexual non-white non-straight character in a t.v. show I automatically think it must be problematic…and yet it isn’t always. Great example is in Happy Endings. My first thought with regards to Max’s sex life was, omg he doesn’t have one! But then I realized, hang on…none of the characters really have a sex life. But if things were just more equal all around, I feel like I wouldn’t have immediately thought that the treatment of Max’s character was somehow discriminatory.

      • Well… some people don’t have sex lives. In a more general response to this whole thing, I think part of the problem is that men don’t have secondary sexual characteristics. We don’t have breasts. So really, there is either show the penis or no. There is also very little hiding it. With women, you can show their breasts, you can show their closed legs with some bush, but you’re never going to get a real look at some pussy. Of course, it is basically impossible to do that with men. If it is a sex scene involving 2 men, you’ve got two erect penises, so you’re not really able to hide anything and make it “tasteful”. Therefore, you’ve got to take it waist up which leaves just a chest — no breasts — or you do something from behind where you see some ass. I feel like the mechanics of depicting it are just much more difficult due to anatomical differences.

        • Yes some people don’t have sex lives, and that’s fine too. The problem is when the only characters on a show that don’t have sex lives are the lgbt ones.

          As for men not having secondary sex characteristics…well no I know plenty of gay guys who love looking at men’s bums and chests. Not to mention, you really do not need to show erect penises for a gay sex scene, just like you don’t need to show erect penises for a hetero sex scene. You can shoot a scene from the side with a well-positioned leg to block what would be an erect penis, or even have the two men facing each other. Queer as Folk did it for five seasons without showing erect penises…plenty of lgbt cinema does it too.

    • Jamie Parsons says:

      What? Because it doesn’t graphically depict them having sex it means they’re asexual? I don’t know what you want but most shows don’t just graphically depict sex scenes for no reason.

      • I alluded to it in my last paragraph, or maybe it was second-to-last paragraph…the problem isn’t that every show doesn’t have graphic sex scenes. The issue is when there’s an imbalance. If a show has a bunch of straight characters that make out or act as though they’re about to have sex (taking off clothes etc) before the camera cuts away…that’s all fine. But if they don’t show the same with the gay characters…if the kisses are all chaste and no hint of removing clothes, etc, then it becomes an issue. Because then it’s not about having a show that doesn’t depict sex…then it’s about a show that doesn’t depict gay sex (or gay intimacy).

  3. VolitionSpark says:

    I don’t care about this. I do wonder if there are now more gay men or if men with thoughts about sex with other men have just suppressed them over the years and it was always the same. I am glad for the people who are of GLBT orientations.

    However, my husband doesn’t like to see this. He isn’t mad about it but he will just turn from the program while they arekissing. I have never heard him say any slurs about gay men and if he sees a man who is a bit effeminate he will chuckle and that isn’t right.

  4. wellokaythen says:

    I think the point about gay male sex being still somewhat taboo is true. In terms of anal sex, the biggest hurdle seems to be portraying it as something that is consensual or even enjoyable for the one being penetrated. You can see male anal rapes of other males in movies going back a long ways (_Deliverance_, for example), but any suggestion that both people might willingly do it is still an enormous taboo. Some people may not be all that squeemish about an anal rape scene but are squeemish about a consensual anal sex scene. Most of the depiction of anal penetration in TV and movies is as a form of violence or punishment. So, the big problem there isn’t the explicitness, it’s the assumptions about anal sex itself.

    • My memory might be off since it’s a long time since I saw the scene, but I recall a scene in an episode of “Rescue Me” (on F/X starring Dennis Leary) that depicted consensual anal sex about as explicitly as I’ve ever seen for a non-premium channel cable show. However much was shown, it was enough to establish who was the top and bottom in the scene, and what act they were obviously engaged in. The purpose it served in the plot was to have the traditionally macho fire chief who was troubled by his fireman son’s orientation, walk in on him in the act. The chief, already handling his son’s gayness poorly, was horrified to discover that his son was the “catcher” since to his mind, that made him the “woman” of the relationship, which was even worse. It wasn’t played for laughs and the son got the more sympathetic treatment in that whole storyline. I don’t think that’s common for tv, but my point was that reaching into the memory banks, I could think of at least one time where a show showed consensual anal sex, albeit as a device to cause dramatic tension, not just another love scene between hetero couples.

      Last night, I caught up on a recent episode of “Modern Family”. There was no sex scene, but one of the storylines had both fathers of the gay characters (Cam and Mitchell) butting heads because while they basically loved their sons, both struggle to accept their homosexuality so one way they cope with it is to think of their son as the “man” of the relationship. The comedic and dramatic tension came from each dad trying to out-feminize the other’s son, or out-masculinize their own, until ultimately, they had a conversation where they realized what each was doing and admitted it had to do with struggling to fully accept their sons. Though it lacked the “walking in on” quality of the “Rescue Me” example, and included some laughs and tenderness, the theme being explored was the same – men with varying degrees of homophobia thinking that gay sex is more “manly” for the penetrator than the penetratee. I’m guessing that’s not a very accurate description of gay sex for those who engage in it, but I think it’s fairly honest about how many heteros think of it, especially ones who think anything remotely feminine makes a man less of a man.

      • Hmmm, I’m not sure what scene in Rescue Me you’re talking about. The only gay character I remember was Mike (I think it was Mike) and he went from being gay, to bi, and then he was apparently straight again or something. Though, I never did keep up with that show, so maybe I just missed it.

        The problem with the ‘gay sex is shocking’ scenario is that it doesn’t really change anything. It is similar to the problems around the way that BDSM is often portrayed in shows. It’s something shocking and strange that you can either pity or detest. Either you’re meant to sympathize with the men (or women) who are in that situation, or you’re meant to detest someone for engaging in such taboo acts.

        • Mike was one of the crew in Tommy’s (Leary’s) house, but the character I’m talking about was only in a few episodes. I don’t remember how many seasons the first chief of lasted, because he was written out after maybe season 2 or 3, I think, but it was that chief’s son who was gay, and a firefighter in some other house, assuming I haven’t mixed up all the details in my memory.

          I thought Mike was interesting, though, both for his character and how Rescue Me handled his bisexuality, which is a pretty taboo kind of character to include as a regular, and all the more surprising because the show was about all these super-macho firemen. Even though the characters expressed more than a little homophobia at times, I did not come away feeling like the *show* was homophobic. It was sort of like Archie Bunker being a racist and saying all sorts of wrong things, but All in the Family wasn’t about racism and ignorance being cool. In Rescue Me, Mike wasn’t always treated with maximum respect or tolerance – and didn’t even know himself what his orientation was at times – but he didn’t get ostracized or beat up, either. More importantly, in terms of breaking out of the usual TV mold, he wasn’t just “the gay guy” or “the bi guy”. Some episodes dealt with his orientation, but many didn’t.

  5. wellokaythen says:

    Good examples of the way that TV shows still can’t quite imagine being masculine and being a bottom. At least in the Modern Family episode the writers are finding humor in the taboo itself.

    The way that TV tends to approach gay sex is bound up in the way that it portrays sexuality in general. It’s not just about sexual orientation. This is also about how TV and movies tend to portray most kinds of sex. It’s not that TV gives us a wide-open, representative range of heterosexuality and still refuses to show any homosexuality, but more like a small slice of one and not of the other.

    For example, all sex is of course penetrative sex. Furthermore, Hollywood and network TV are still not sure that any two people can have sex without facing each other. Even in straight sex scenes it is virtually always face to face. I know, that has a lot to do with camera angles and nudity restrictions, but still. It’s not just anal sex that seems deviant for mainstream TV and movies. Any sex in which you can’t kiss each other on the mouth during it doesn’t really count as sex.

    (BTW, I know that in the real world face-to-face male/male anal sex is just as common as back to front anal sex. I’m not sure the TV public has even made it to comprehending that yet, but theoretically the public has been all set up for that – we’ve been trained to think of sex as missionary position for decades now, so just switch out the bottom character and we shouldn’t miss a beat, right?)

    Another problem is the obsessive focus on highlighting the woman’s orgasmic face during sex, and limiting the view of the man’s face except as comic relief. A man’s face during orgasm, if shown at all, is to show that he’s a doofus or otherwise a source of humor. If there’s a gay male sex scene with no women, then whose face is the camera supposed to look at? If men’s faces during sex are stupid, but the only faces in the scene are men’s, then what? It goes against everything the audience has been trained to appreciate and goes against decades of film tradition. At least with female/female sex you can focus on the beatified orgasmic female face – two of them, actually!

    In part the uphill battle to show more gay sex is also in part the battle to show a more realistic range of sexuality in general.

    • wellokaythen says:

      P.S. This last one was meant as a reply to Marcus Williams.

    • It is very true that a lack of gay sex on television is part of a larger issue Hollywood has with depicting sex on television.

      It’s interesting what you’re saying about the camera focusing on a woman’s facing during orgasm, which is true for those shows/movies which will even show it. Not too long ago that was wicked taboo…Boys Don’t Cry was going to receive an NC-17 rating in part because during the sex scene between Hilary Swank’s character and Cloe Sevigny’s character, the MPAA said the camera stayed on Cloe’s face too long as she orgasmed.

      • wellokaythen says:

        Yeah, you’re right about the limits on showing “too much” of an orgasm. Perhaps it’s more accurate to refer to it as a face coming close to orgasm or in arousal, and not literally an orgasmic face. I’d say it’s still true in the vast majority of hetero love scenes that you see more of the woman’s face than the man’s. (Maybe this is totally biased because I prefer to look at her face instead of his, so I only see hers….)

        The MPAA rating system is very powerful and very inconsistent. I’m sure if the Hilary Swank character was cutting off her head the MPAA would have no problem showing her face and giving it a PG rating. Sexual pleasure, though? Absolutely not.

        • Oh the MPAA can be so horribly inconsistent. The other thing they had the film maker take out for an R instead of NC-17 rating was Swank wiping her face after going down on Cloe’s character.

          I do think they tend to show women’s faces more than men’s, but I wonder if part of that isn’t just to do with angles…she’s usually the one that’s laying down.

  6. Jamie Parsons says:

    There’s been plenty of gay sex scenes on television. Often they are unnecessary.

    In Game of Thrones there are two gay characters. There was an oral sex scene is season 1 and the one you mentioned in season 2. You mentioned that it is only hinted at in the books. It’s also worth noting that these are minor characters. Why include a sex scene that is not depicted in the books, serves no purpose whatsoever and is totally unnecessary? Loras leaving the room was necessary.

    Just because there are sex scenes shown that are either portrayed in the books or used for exposition doesn’t mean there has to be gay sex scenes just for the hell of it. That would actually detract from the show quite a bit.

    And saying 10% of men are gay is stupid.

    • And saying 10% of men are gay is stupid.

      Why?

    • I’m curious, do you find 10% figure too high or too low?

      Actually, if thats based on any kind of self reported survey data, it’s likely too low, now that I think about it

      • It’s the stat everyone quotes and I can’t, for the life of me, find the source. Pretty sure someone did some sociological study somewhere. I’d say it’s probably too low, particularly if you include bi/omni/etc men in the mix. But that’s just based on my own experiences…which are totally biased in favour of finding more men (and women) aren’t straight and cis-gendered.

    • “Loras leaving the room was necessary.”

      I’d say Loras getting his sister was necessary…he didn’t have to leave the room. Or he could have left and then Margerey could have gotten him again. Or, heck we know Margerey is a cunning and smart woman…she could have walked in while Loras and Renly were getting it on, there could have been a bit of dialogue where they explain why she’s there (to get pregnant) and then they could have proceeded from there.

      There are a million ways they could have written the scene to give you the same information, but not shied away from the sex scene. And, again, in any show which doesn’t usually depict sex I’d have had no problem with them shying away from it. But this is a show that depicts all kinds of sex…just not gay sex.

      As for them being minor characters…if you’ll look at how the t.v. show is focusing on Renly’s whole group at the moment you can see how they’re setting them up to be major characters. (I’ve read the book, I know why they’re minor…but that’s besides the point).

    • wellokaythen says:

      Unnecessary vs. necessary sex scenes?

      If the true measure of sex scenes is whether or not they are “necessary,” then you’d have to cut out a lot of hetero sex scenes as well. You’d have to totally change the way that the ‘teaser’ blurbs are written previewing the next episode, that’s for sure.

  7. Jamie Parsons says:

    Oh and the sex scenes rarely say anything apart from the Jaime-Cersei one in the first episode. They are usually unnecessary sex with prostitutes that are used for exposition, as the creators for some reason felt that talking wasn’t enough, it had to be talking while having sex with prostitutes as viewers can’t watch a show without a sex scene every twenty minutes grabbing their attention.

    • Well, although I used Game of Thrones as my example, I did mention that there are plenty of other t.v. shows that do the same thing. However, I would also argue that the sex scenes do tell you a lot about the characters. When Theon is having sex with a prostitute in season one, it tells you that although he’s loyal, he’s not exactly following all the rules set out for him. It tells you he’s a bit full of himself and that he’s very sexual. When Theon gets bump ‘n grindy on the ship when he’s on his way home in season 2, it tells you that he really has no regard for the women he sleeps with. For him it’s all about seeing how other people can serve him; he’s extremely selfish.

      Now you could argue that there are better ways to show those things, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that in Game of Thrones, they use sex to tell you character personalities and story.

  8. Copyleft says:

    I agree that TV doesn’t show nearly enough lesbian sex scenes.

  9. I don’t have HBO anymore but I did start watching Game of Thornes when it first showed and it was a good show. A quick note on equality, I like that they have a character in Peter Dinklage, and they don’t make a joke of him because of his size. He actually has a substantial part and is a good actor.

    When I watched Game of Thornes, as much as I liked the show, I did think that all the sex scenes are rather not necessary, at least not as graphic as they were. The message can still be conveyed in the story without the over the top depictions of sexual situations the way they were done. I think the sex scenes are more for the sensationalism, then anything else. But, since I haven’t been able to watch the show since I got rid of HBO, I can’t really comment on this too much other then to say that.

    I do have a comment on how gays and lesbians are portrayed in TV. Specifically on the show Glee. They have scenes where both lesbian partners and gay partners have romantic relationships. And while the show isn’t exactly deep, it does touch on issues lesbian and gay couples can experience with their sexuality, with each other, and other people. And that I think this is more beneficial to getting society comfortable with expressions of love and sex between same sex couples then showing gratuitous sex and forcing people to become comfortable with it that way. I’m not sure it’s really necessary for us to be inundated with sexual imagery of any kind. Gay or straight. I do think it’s necessary for us to be exposed to gay and lesbians relationships and their complexities. Because when you do this, you open people’s eyes up to just how much the same we all our, even when we like different kind of relationships. It shows more of the human experience.

    And on that note, I will say, that while lesbian sex might get more air time then gay sex, it appears that for lesbian sex to get air time, the lesbians still have to be hot. Again, in the show Glee, there are two girls that are in-love in the show. But these girls are very pretty. I’m not sure society is all that accepting of lesbians unless the lesbians titillate their hetero-fantasies first.

    So I do agree with Heather that we have a long way to go. I’m just not sure it’s best to do it through gratuitous depictions of sex. I think we would have more luck through showing more of the complexities of such relationships instead.

    • I don’t think it has to be an either or scenario. Part of equal representation is about showing lgbt people in all their variety and diversity. Part of it is about showing the complexities of their relationships, which is why Kevin and Scotty from Brothers and Sisters are such great characters.

      Again, I’m not arguing that sex is necessary on tv, but rather that if we show straight sex (good or bad) than we should show gay sex too.

      As for Glee, well that’s Such an inconsistent show it’s difficult to pin down. Sometimes it’s great (Kurt an his dad’s relationship) and sometimes it is extremely problematic (Santana’s coming out).

    • I agree with that observation, and another good example is Grey’s Anatomy. For a season or maybe part of one, they had a storyline where Dr. Torres (who had been married to George and by all s appearances completely heterosexusal) inexplicably struggle with whether she might be gay when she developed feelings for a new character heart surgeon who had no doubts. Torres’s orientation story wasn’t believable, but for a little while, they at least seemed brave because the new doctor love interest was not up to usual TV hotness standards. The show either wimped out or realized it would work better (ratings-wise) for Torres to have a hotter lesbian partner, so the plain-ish heart surgeon was written out and a cuter pediatric lesbian was written in, and the amount of physical affection depicted between them seemed to increase. Torres continued to sleep off and on with hunky plastic surgeon doctor (including having a baby that all three consider “theirs”) as the lesbian relationship story waxed and waned, so the evidence points to her being bisexual, even though for show purposes, she and everyone else seem to think of her as gay. (The triangle of her and those other two doctors borders on polyamory, but they never call it that.)

      While agree lesbians generally have to be hot to get on-screen love scenes, I thing the same rule usually applies to hetero or gay characters. Ugly people are treated pretty asexually no matter what their orientation. I don’t put all the blame for that on the producers – people prefer to see sex and affection between attractive people. Just look at the pic on this article, it’s not a couple of overweight dudes on a couch smooching on each other.

      • Well, I totally have issues with how women are protrayed physically in the media. But I get your point. I just wanted to focus on it specific to lesbians. I think the only reason we are more comfortable seeing lesbians is because it plays up to a very stereotypical hetro fantasy. Not because we are more comfortable with lesbian love vs gay love.

  10. I don’t know anything about the show Brothers and Sisters. So I can’t comment on that.

    I understand that you aren’t arguing that sex is necessary on TV. I just don’t know if the issue is solved by having an equal equation of straight sex scenes to gay sex scenes, good or bad. It’s familiar to the ideology of, everyone jumping off the bridge and joining in on the party. You know that old, “they did it too!”. Justifying one action on the back of the other and not considering the ramifications of what the possible negatives could be vs. the positives is strange to me. Just wanting more depictions of whatever, because one depiction of something else exists in abundance, and not wanting to distinguish between what would be good examples of this vs bad, seems like the wrong way to approach this. Which is why I think showing the complexities of gay and lesbian relationships more positive then just showing the sex.

    And I did say that Glee isn’t exactly a deep show. I am not saying it’s a perfect example. Sometimes that show is just ridiculous. But even Games of Thornes isn’t the perfect example your looking for either. Showing more sex on a cable network that is known for it’s over the top sex on shows doesn’t bring people to consider the issue seriously. The think I do like about Glee is they do attempt to display more of a wide range of relationships then just the classic ones. And they do try to touch on some of the complexities unique to those relationships. And I think those kind of presentations will have more success building awareness and insight into same sex couples then simply sex. People will relate more to the emotional aspects because they felt them too. People will not relate as much to two men having sex if such a thing doesn’t interest them. But the complexities of relationships, no matter gender, interest everyone. Because we all experience them.

    People are not going to have more respect for, or be more open to people of different lifestyles by seeing two men have sex. People aren’t even really comfortable with lesbian sex unless the lesbians are what heterosexual men find attractive in a very commercial way. It actually has the potential to create more stereotypes.

    But I do like your article HeatherN, and your core message. I like the discussion your piece brings in.

  11. “I just don’t know if the issue is solved by having an equal equation of straight sex scenes to gay sex scenes, good or bad.”

    I’m not saying ‘the issue is solved’ by showing more gay sex. It’s not as if I think showing more gay sex will suddenly give us equality. There are a whole host of issues surrounding lgbt representation in the media…this was just one issue.

    I’d say the lack of gay sex scenes is more a symptom of inequality, and that more equal representation of sex scenes would be an indicator that lgbt relationships are becoming normalized. I’m not saying that showing more gay sex scenes will make those relationships normalized…but rather that the inequality in the media is an indicator that they aren’t normalized. More equality in real life can/should lead to more equality in representations of sex scenes. But I’m not suggesting that more equality in sex scenes will lead to more equality in real life (though it won’t hurt). Perhaps it’d be better to think of this as a measuring tool, rather than the method to change anything.

  12. David A Washington says:

    Gay Sex on TV…when I saw the picture I thought “I hope they are not suggesting that two men kissing is considered SEX”, and if so wow! If you are asking should we, can we, see more images of same sex people enagaed in affection, I sure hope so.

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