Since a growing chunk of TV consumers have swapped traditional television for streaming networks like Netflix, HBOGo, and Starz, television creators aren't as hindered by the stodgy regulations of network executives as they used to be. Lucky for us, that means we get more violence, more salty language and of course, more sex.
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- 16 Sexy Movies On Netflix That Are Basically Porn: December 2016
But it hasn't always been this easy to be sexy on the small screen. When TV was first becoming a staple of American life, networks imposed Puritanical regulations on shows. Forget about nudity — Mr. and Mrs. Petrie (The Dick Van Dyke Show) couldn't even share a bed!
Sex on TV has come a long way since the days of single beds for on-screen husbands and wives and censoring scandalous words like "pregnant," but it's taken longer than you might think. Here's a little timeline to help you realize just how far we've come.
1947 - Mary Kay And Johnny Share A Bed
The first married couple to share a bed on TV was not Mr. and Mrs. Brady, or the Munsters, or Samantha and Darrin Stephens on Bewitched. It was actually Mary Kay and Johnny, the real-life married couple that created and starred in the first ever sitcom.
These progressive cohabitators were way ahead of their time, and were on the air at a time before TV ratings. Future married couples like the Petries from The Dick Van Dyke Show and Lucy and Ricky of I Love Lucy would have his and hers twin beds instead.
December 8, 1952 - 'Lucy Is Enceinte'
Way back in 1952, it was OK for married women to be pregnant on TV, they just couldn't use the word "pregnant." In Season 2 of I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball became the first actress to have a real pregnancy coincide with one on screen. Nervous executives fretted over whether or not the storyline would be too scandalous for viewers: A husband and wife — played by a real-life husband and wife — openly admitting that one of them is expecting! In the seven-episode arc before Lucy and Ricky welcome little Ricky (in real life, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz welcomed their second baby, Desi Jr.), the word "pregnant" is never used. Somewhat surprisingly, the second episode in that storyline is titled "Pregnant Women Are Unpredictable," but maybe that one slipped through since the episode titles never actually aired.
Despite the concerns of the Puritanical execs, the episode where Lucy tells Ricky she's expecting — "Lucy Is Enceinte" — reached an audience of a whopping 44 million. Check out the G-rated announcement in the clip above.
September 18, 1965 - 'I Dream Of Jeannie' Shows Some Skin
Look out world — women have midriffs, and they're not afraid to bare 'em. I Dream of Jeannie made more than a few people hot under the collar since the main character, Jeannie (Barbara Eden), wore harem pants and hot pink bikini tops in lieu of old-fashioned shirts.
Fun Fact! During the first season, Barbara Eden was actually pregnant! They hid her bump by adding more and more scarves as her belly grew.
November 22, 1968 - First Interracial Kiss
In the Star Trek episode "Plato's Children," Kirk (William Shatner) and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) shared a passionate liplock on screen — the first ever romantic kiss between a black person and white person to be shown on television. Initially, NBC was so worried about stations in the South opposing the scene that they tried to shoot it twice, once with the kiss, and once without the kiss. According to Nichols's memoir from that time, however, she and Shatner purposely botched the kissless takes so that they'd have no choice but to use the kissing one.
While Kirk and Uhura are widely regarded as the first interracial kiss on television, there might have been one couple that beat them to it. If you count televised plays as part of that definition, then the award for earliest interracial kiss would have to go to Giles Farmer (Lloyd Reckord) and Louise Mahler (Elizabeth MacLennan). The pair puckered up during an "explicit" post-coital scene as part of the play You in Your Small Corner.
November 1, 1971 - Martin Sheen And Hal Holbrook Play A Gay Couple
That Certain Summer wasn't the first time that homosexuality had been portrayed on the small screen, but it was the first time it was ever handled in a sympathetic light. Creators William Link and Richard Levison had a good relationship with NBC, but the network was unwilling to do the film. Link and Levinson wound up going to ABC. At a time when homosexuality was still listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, That Certain Summer told the story of two men in a loving committed relationship, and the obstacle of one man telling his son the truth.
When asked about how he thought the movie would affect his career, Martin Sheen responded:
"I'd robbed banks and kidnapped children and raped women and murdered people, you know, in any number of shows. Now I was going to play a gay guy and that was like considered a career ender. Oh, for Christ’s sake! What kind of culture do we live in?"
The movie was received well by critics, with Judith Crist of New York Magazine calling it "a giant step for television."
1972 - 'Maude' Chooses Abortion
Not only did this All In The Family spin-off discuss pregnancy frankly — while using the actual word for it — but it was the first television show ever to confront abortion on prime time. In 1972, the titular character Maude found herself with a surprise pregnancy at the age of 47. Already a grandmother, she and her husband made a decision together about not wanting to start another family so late in their lives and instead opted to terminate the pregnancy.
The two-part episode "Maude's Dilemma" aired one year before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in all 50 states (although Maude and her family did live in New York, a state which permitted abortion at the time). When the episode aired, two of CBS's affiliates refused to broadcast it, and it attracted more than 7,000 letters of complaint. By the time it came out in reruns, 40 networks refused to run the episode and not a single corporate sponsor purchased ad time.
Maude wasn't the first TV character to have an abortion. In 1964, a character from daytime soap opera Another World had "an illegal operation" that left her barren.
1970s - Jiggle TV
NBC executive Paul Klein coined the term "jiggle TV" as he criticized this newer, looser, sexualized representation of the female form. The best-known culprits included Charlie's Angels, Wonder Woman, and Three's Company.
Time magazine described Charlie's Angels at the time:
"It might be called family-style porn, a mild erotic fantasy that appeals about equally to men and women."
1986 - Safe Sex Talk
For the first time on prime time TV, someone uttered the word "condom." The momentous occasion happened during and episode of Cagney and Lucy.
October 1988 - 24-Hour Ban On Indecency
President Reagan signed into law a bill that required a 24-hour ban on "indecent" broadcasting, meaning anything dubbed indecent could no longer be shown on network television.
First Amendment Lawyer Carol Soble argued against the law, and told the LA Times:
"We're not talking about getting smut off the networks. We're talking about things like wife battering and 'The Burning Bed.' Things that need to be talked about won't get talked about. This will reduce everything on the public airwaves to 'Little House on the Prairie.'"
1990 - The 24-Hour Ban On Indecency Is Repealed
After many networks argued that the 24-hour ban on indecency limited first amendment rights, he DC Circuit Court required the FCC to lift the law. Now programs dubbed "indecent" or "profane" can be shown 10pm and 6am. Obscene content (like pornography) is prohibited 24 hours a day, in all forms of television (network, cable, satellite or online streaming). However, cable, satellite and streaming services are not subject to the time constraints on indecency and profanity.
November 7, 1989 - The Ad Industry Is Still Really Homophobic
Advertisers refused to buy commercials during thirtysomething after an episode that shows two gay men in bed together.
2006 - FCC Fines CBS $3.6 Million For Teen Orgy
On December 31, 2004, CBS aired an episode of Without A Trace that featured a hot and heavy flashback that made the Parents Television Council boil over with rage. The scene: a group of teens in underwear, drinking and smoking pot, kissing and entangling themselves in a provocative pile of limbs and hormones. The FCC ultimately slapped CBS with a $3.6 million fine for airing such an unseemly display of raunchy young people, stating:
While there is no nudity, the scene is highly sexually charged and explicit. Moreover, the material is particularly egregious because it focuses on sex among children.
November 18, 1992 - 'Seinfeld's' The Contest'
Seinfeld had already tackled talking frankly about sex, like in the episode where they hash out the pros and cons of being friends with benefits. But none was more historic than the episode where the four friends start a contest to see who can become of the Master of His Domain — that is, who can go the longest without masturbating.
1993 - 'NYPD Blue' Becomes First R-Rated Series On Network TV
According to ParentsTV.org:
NYPD Blue would also gain infamy as one of the first prime time network series to regularly show naked buttocks.
1998 – 2004 - 'Sex And The City'
HBO's now-classic hit Sex and the City first started smashing stereotypes in 1998 when it floored audiences (mostly in a good way) with the honest, open and extremely detailed way these women talked about their sexual exploits.
September 8, 2004 - 'The L Word' Premieres
Showtime premieres the first show to center around a group of lesbians and their friends, families, love and sex lives.
November 9, 2009 - 'Gossip Girl' Brings Back The Teen Threesomes And No One Bats An Eye
If only Without A Trace could have waited seven years to bring that level of raunch to the small screen. Or maybe it was because of shows like Without A Trace that Gossip Girl was able to push the limits of traditionally acceptable teenage behavior on TV. Chuck Bass was no stranger to threesomes, prostitutes or general sexual deviance, but it was the episode with Dan, Vanessa and guest star Hilary Duff that made headlines. Plenty of parents complained and warned against teens watching the episode, but ultimately the CW wasn't fined and Gossip Girl stayed on the air for three more scandalous years.
2011 - Sexposition In 'Game Of Thrones'
The first few seasons of Game of Thrones featured so much seemingly superfluous female nudity, the show came under attack from critics for using the naked female body to detract from weak storytelling. One writer coined the term "sexposition" to describe the tactic of putting undressed women in the background to keep the audience's attention while another character gave dry exposition.
2016 And Beyond
It's hard to think of one specific milestone for sex on TV this year. How about 20 of them? Here are the 10 hottest TV sex scenes of 2016. Enjoy, you naughty minx. ;)