"You're not imagining it, sex scenes on TV do look radically different in 2019."

Extreme make-over scenes in TV shows and movies are nothing new.

We’ve all sat through scenes where seemingly “plain” women get a new outfit and a new ‘do to the beat of some jazzy tunes and suddenly they are unrecognisable.

However, in 2019 the biggest TV make-overs have nothing to do with actresses wearing pretend glasses and everything to do with sex scenes, which are definitely changing for the better.

Once upon a time, sex scenes could only go one of two ways.

The camera either slowly panned away from a couple as they tumbled fully clothed onto a bed allowing you to imagine what was coming next or we were treated to straight, white, conventionally attractive couples rolling around under the sheets, with the woman appearing to immediately orgasm after just a few PG-rated thrusts.

Over the years our television screens have only portrayed one kind of sexual experience. An experience that was sanitised, shot with only the male gaze in mind and devoid of any kind of diversity.

Behind the scenes was not much better, with a lack of regulations and rules around how intimate scenes were filmed leading to sex scenes that appeared unrealistic, and actors and actresses who were deeply uncomfortable.

Nowadays, sex scenes exist not just to titillate the audience but also to progress the story line and, most importantly, provide an emotional entry point for viewers to better understand the characters they are watching on screen.

It’s still only early days for 2019, but already we’re seeing a drastic change in the way TV sex scenes are presented, building on a metamorphosis that has been steadily accelerating over the last few years.

Take for instance the character of Bridgette Bird in SMILF, a poor, struggling single mother who indulges in sex and masturbation to find comfort and escape from the difficult life she had never imagined for herself.

The second season of SMILF began airing in Australia on Stan in January 2019 and has painted a portrait of a single mother’s sex life in a way that has never been done on the small screen before.

Frankie Shaw as Bridgette Bird in SMILF. Source: Stan.

We see Bridgette indulging in awkward sex with different partners, sometimes in the same messy bed where her toddler son is fast asleep. There are also many scenes where Bridgette masturbates, and the camera never cuts away from the sexual act that is taking place on screen.

There are many moments in SMILF where Bridgette reaches for the purple vibrator kept in the mess beside her bed, licks and sucks on it for lubrication and then tosses it back into her junk drawer when the act is over.

Nothing about these acts are depicted as shameful or done in a way that sets Bridgette up to be an object of unattainable fantasy,  playing into some rogue dream of a 'sexy single mother'. Instead, they are simply showing the messy, relatable and completely normal way many women incorporate sex into their lives.

Of course, these are scenes that should not be seen as groundbreaking, but they are also moments that would never have aired on our screens even a year ago and therefore are very much breaking the mould.

However, it also has to be said that SMILF creator Frankie Shaw, who writes, directs and produces the series along with starring as Bridgette made headlines in December 2018 when former Home and Away star Samara Weaving left the series after alleging that two sex scenes she was tasked to appear in were mishandled by Shaw.

Although an investigation found Shaw innocent of wrongdoing in this case, the allegations go a long way to show the evolution of what's happening behind the camera is just as important as what's happening on screen.

Enter the newly invented role of the “intimacy coordinator,” behind-the-scenes specialists whose sole job is to provide the performers with physical, social and professional protection during the filming of these scenes. The impact of these roles is something we are now seeing across our screens.


For example, network HBO has now adopted a policy whereby all of its shows and movies with intimate scenes are staffed with an intimacy coordinator.

The result of this new practice is not a slew of sanitised sex scenes on TV, but rather better-executed stories — and acting that the actors can feel safe and secure with.

As a result, upcoming HBO programs and new seasons of shows like  The Deuce, Crashing, Watchmen and Euphoria will all feature sex scenes that have been constructed under the eye of an intimacy coordinator.

One of the first TV shows to make a splash in 2019 was Netflix’s British teen-comedy Sex Education, which heavily utilised the assistance of an intimacy coordinator.

The show was an immediate hit with both viewers and critics alike and not just for it's smart, funny and often biting dialogue and characters, but for the realistic way it depicted sex on screen.

Sex Education, focuses on the story of Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) a teenage boy being raised by his sex-therapist mother Jean (played by The X-Files legend, Gillian Anderson).

Thanks to the help of the school 'slut' Maeve (Emma Mackey), and his best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) Otis sets up an underground sex therapy clinic at his school to help his fellow students.

Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson in Sex Education. Source: Netflix.

One of the highlights of Sex Education is that it is packed with realistic depictions of teen sex that are messy, awkward and more often than not resulting in no orgasm for either person.

(There's a great scene where a teenage boy decides to fake completion, promoting his teen girlfriend to peer inside his used condom for proof and ask “where’s the spunk, Adam?”)

It's a far cry for anyone who grew up on a TV-diet of teen shows like 90210, where the sex was always glamorous and perfect.

Sex Education director Kate Herron told Mashable that an intimacy coordinator helped cast members with the sex scenes throughout filming, and her work is clearly visible on screen.

"The intimacy coordinator wasn't just tasked with liaising with the actors engaged in the intimate scenes, she also worked with the crew. No one should have to go home after filming a sex scene and feel like what they've done is like something really wrong."

Of course, since we're only at the beginning of 2019, it's a comforting feeling to know that many of the best TV shows of the year (and the best sex scenes) are yet to come.

This year Netflix will debut the final season of the smash-hit dramedy Orange is the New Black, a show that revolutionised the way women's bodies and sexuality were depicted on screen.

Likewise, 2019 will see The Bold Type return to our screens via Stan for season three.

Although that show was billed as a bit of frothy fun, it also contained a discussion and a sex scene between two characters that was called revolutionary.

The scene, which took place between bisexual and biracial character Kat (Aisha Dee) and her Muslim lesbian girlfriend Adena (Nikohl Boosheri) depicted them having an honest conversation about oral sex before the act played out on screen.

Again, not something that should be labelled as groundbreaking, but very much is prior to 2019, especially on mainstream TV.

There are still a legion of barriers to break down when it comes to how sexuality, sex scenes and human bodies, in general, are depicted on our screens, but things are already looking drastically different.

And that's enough of a happy ending for now.

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