Normal People, Sex Education and Adult Material are full of raunchy romps and all up for gongs
VIEWERS cannot have failed to notice all the explicit sex on TV over the past year – and neither have Bafta judges.
Shows that put physical intimacy front and centre are among the most nominated for this year’s awards, with eight nods for consent drama I May Destroy You, seven for raunchy coming-of-age tale Normal People and six for teen comedy Sex Education.
There were also five apiece for Adult Material, a drama set in the porn industry, and I Hate Suzie, about a woman who has her graphic sexual photos leaked on the internet.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is about gratuitous bonking — in 2020, sex on screen was shown in all its raw, complicated and sometimes uncomfortable forms.
In the Bafta-nominated shows, sex was not an added extra to titilate viewers — it was the driving force of the plot.
Written and directed by its star Michaela Coel, I May Destroy You tells the tale of a woman dealing with the aftermath of her sexual assault.
Following Michaela’s character Arabella and her friends as they navigate dating in their early thirties, the BBC drama asks uncomfortable questions about sex, intimacy and consent in the hook-up era.
It also has sex scenes which are about as un-airbrushed as you can get — including one that involves a tampon.
Sex on TV used to be either tasteful — think white sheets flapping gently as two softly lit actors gently writhe around — or titillating, like Tom Hiddleston’s bare bum in The Night Manager or the many, many orgies in Game Of Thrones.
But this year, directors finally decided to show sex that ordinary people might actually have — hence the success of Normal People.
Based on Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel, this hit BBC drama follows Irish teens Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) as they fall in and out of love.
The show features full-frontal nudity and scenes so graphic that some ended up on porn websites.
But the sex is also lifelike, even awkward — their clothes get stuck while they are getting undressed, they actually use condoms and they talk about what they want instead of just spontaneously orgasming.
It’s realistic — even if the chances of two such unfeasibly attractive and intelligent teens meeting at school isn’t.
If Normal People shows what sex looks like when it goes right, Netflix’s Sex Education answers all the questions you want to ask when it goes wrong.
The appropriately named comedy has been a hit with teens thanks to the wide breadth of issues it explores and taboos it upends — from gay sex and fetishes to STIs and abortion.
And it doesn’t get more taboo-busting than I Hate Suzie, which devotes an entire episode to a prolonged and unsatisfactory masturbation session.
Billie Piper — who is nominated for Best Actress for her role as Suzie — now holds the record for the longest solo sex moment on UK screens.
Then there is Adult Material, whose cast visited a real-life porn set for research.
Starring Hayley Squires as porn star Jolene Dollar, it takes an unflinching look at the power dynamics in the adult industry, and doesn’t shy away from graphic scenes.
Some experts think that the influence of porn is the reason we are seeing more sex on our screens. Any sexual scenario you can think of is accessible at the click of a button, so TV cannot afford to be vanilla.
But the new wave of sex-positive shows is also a reaction against the extreme depictions that are now part of mainstream porn.
Sexpert Alix Fox, a script consultant on Sex Education, says: “We knew that many of our viewers will have watched porn so that has to be a consideration of the show.
“We wanted to show sex in a way that is realistic and relatable, which is a counterpoint to the unattainable, unrepresentative sex that you see in porn.”
But as sex scenes have got more explicit, in a post-MeToo world producers are going to extra lengths to ensure actors don’t feel exploited when they have to strip off.
Most sets now use intimacy coaches who cleverly choreograph sex scenes in a way that ensures the stars are safe and comfortable.
Britain has 20 registered intimacy coaches — all but three of them female — who are able to cleverly manipulate camera angles and plan seemingly passionate encounters without any actual contact between the actors’ most intimate parts.
Phoebe Dynevor, who shot multiple racy sex scenes for Netflix hit Bridgerton, explained: “It felt very practical. If we didn’t have an intimacy co-ordinator, it would be our director, who was a male, coming up to me and telling me what to do.
“No one wants to be told how to perform an orgasm by a man.”
Meanwhile, there are more women than ever behind the camera working as directors, writers and producers.
In BAFTA’s Best Drama category, three out of four of the nominated TV shows — Adult Material, I Hate Suzie and I May Destroy You — were created by women.
No wonder sex on screen is getting more interesting — as it is not all coming from the male point of view.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the sexiest BAFTA nomination list ever comes following a year in which we have all been locked down — and physical contact has literally been against the law.
But Alix Fox says the sex factor is here to stay.
She says: “In the past, it was always assumed that sex on screen had to be sexy — a kind of aspirational fantasy sex that would never happen in the real world.
“What we’re seeing now are more sex scenes and themes that actually represent audiences.
“We’re having big conversations about sex and sexuality and TV is a big part of that.”
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