The rise of the on-screen penis.

If you've watched a TV show or movie lately, you probably have some questions drumming around in your mind and they're probably the same as mine:

Why is it all so dark? I can't see anything! 

Are the music sequences supposed to be this f**king loud?

What's with all the c**k and balls?

Alright, maybe you didn't use the same colourful language as I did while watching Saltburn, but I know I am right: TV shows and films are virtually filmed in the dark these days, the music seems to be louder than the actors who are talking, and there is so much d**k on screen.

But... why?

A still from Barry Keoghan dancing naked in Saltburn. Image: Prime Video.


Hollywood has had a strange relationship with the penis, essentially from Hollywood's inception. While breasts have been a pretty common sight in films and series — and, to a lesser degree, vulvas, too — frontal male nudity hasn't made as much of an appearance. 

And if male actors did whip 'em out, it wasn't often 'theirs' per se, but a prosthetic. What a bummer.

But over the past few years, we've seen a change — not just in our attitudes towards the naked body or how it's viewed socially, but in Hollywood's treatment of nudity behind the scenes.

Those in Hollywood have noticed the change too.

Adelaide Waldrop, an intimacy coordinator on You and Obsession, told Elle"I think a lot of the increased interest in showing full-frontal male nudity is about trying to rebalance the scales in light of the historic bias of the male gaze in TV and film. 

"Historically on screen, women have been expected to show much more skin, especially in a sexualised context, than men, while most male nudity has been relegated more to the realm of humour."

The rise of the penis on screen perhaps comes from the sheer amount of of television and film available to us right now — and the fact that a lot of it doesn't fall under the same regulations as traditional TV and film. Considering there are streaming services that exist outside the requirements of the Federal Communications Commission (which guides classifications), platforms like Netflix, Prime Video and Stan have been able to set the tone for their programs.


Jacob Elordi surrounded by naked men in Euphoria. Image: HBO.


There is not nearly as much pressure to apply the rigid content-rating systems that most TV and films have traditionally been subjected to (male frontal nudity has often meant an automatic R-rating, FYI; the same treatment has not been historically applied to the female body).

In Australia, most TV shows and films — whether we watch them on a streaming platform, in the cinema or on DVD — are guided by the Australian Classification rating system, and nudity is also classed on whether there is "some" sexual nudity or not. So while a movie might be deemed fine for a teenager over 15 years old to watch, there still are some "themes that require a mature outlook". (Read: Maybe a little nudity but definitely no intimacy scenes.

However, a stricter classification would be placed on a film in which a naked man was acting out a sex scene.

But even with all this in mind, the world seems to have changed its tune in recent years. We've seen literal (and/or prosthetic) penis' in many shows and films, including Sex and The City, Scenes From a Marriage, The White Lotus, Euphoria, Girls, Shameless, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Pam & Tommy and, most recently, Saltburn and Poor Things. 

What's interesting is that this rise in nudity has come in a post-#metoo, post-Harvey Weinstein world — something that is perhaps in part thanks to actor Emily Meade, who in 2018 asked for an "intimacy coordinator" for her sex scenes in The Deuce. From that point forward, HBO announced a policy that required someone in this role to be on the set of all original series or films featuring adult content, improving transparency and safety for all.


It's since become a standard part of the job on all film or TV sets to include one.

Having intimacy coordinators means that there are typically agents and lawyers on the other end of the project ensuring their clients' needs are met and there is nothing unexpected about the scenes they will perform. Everyone is safe. Everyone is happy.

Sebastian Stan naked in Pam & Tommy (don't worry guys, that huge schlong was indeed a prosthetic). Image: Disney+.


Of course, the increase in peen on screen isn't always sexual. In fact, in many instances, it's used as a storytelling device; a way to represent an idea or theme.

Take Saltburn, for example. I've now seen more of Barry Keoghan's penis than I have of any other person's IRL. Watching that scene feels somehow disturbing; seeing him flit around the mansion while his penis follows his movements, like a puppet on a string, seems vulgar — too vulgar. Or, it would be, if this particular act of male full-frontal nudity didn't have a specific purpose.

But then, understanding dawns. 

His penis represents ownership. This film about desire is perfectly summed up with a few well-placed d**k thrusts.

"It's a positive step if nudity enhances the storytelling; that it helps us understand someone, their state of mind and their relationship to themselves, their situation and the people around them," Olivia Petter wrote for Elle.

So it doesn't look like male frontal nudity is going anywhere anytime soon.

And why should it? After all, a penis can tell a good story when it needs to.

Feature Image: Prime Video.