The sex always shines on TV?


  • Focus
  • Sunday, 19 Jan 2020

The naked truth: Adult viewers can exercise their rights as consumers and choose not to watch TV series containing gratuitous sex scenes like (from left) 'Game of Thrones', 'Black Mirror' and 'The Witcher'.

THE naked mages from The Witcher that were burned into our collective retinas have barely faded away, and already the steamy, criminal exploits from season 2 of You are etching into our minds.

Or so I heard, ehem ...

And this is only on Netflix. Streaming has opened a new, wide world for television with the mushrooming services available, ushering in TV’s third age – from its humble beginning of broadcast and cable to now online – with new shows rolling hot off the production line almost every week. So hot that many TV critics and parents are now burning up with the age-old question: is there too much sex on TV?

Now, before we storm the offices of these streaming services, or forever lock our accounts in parental control mode, we need to pause and ponder the sizzling issue.

I don’t have a Netflix subscription myself, but I’m not above mooching off my friends by inviting myself over to their dorm rooms. One of my go-to series is Black Mirror, the British science fiction series known for dealing with the unintended consequences of new technologies that aren’t in the too-distant future.

The first thing I noticed was that almost every episode featured sex. In fact, I found the sex scenes so ubiquitous to the point where I, a self-proclaimed prude, found myself desensitised towards them.

To be fair, sex scenes in Black Mirror are generally the sort that drive the plot forward. They have also never felt overused or added for the sake of capitalising on the cast’s sex appeal.

But what about other series – Orange is the New Black, How to Get Away with Murder, HBO’s Game of Thrones, to name a few – which feature copious sex scenes, and in the case of the last one, controversy over its portrayal of women in violent and graphic sex scenes?

The sheer amount of sex scenes – with its attendant controversies – risks desensitising people to the problems those controversies can cause. Not to mention setting the gender struggle back years with their excessive female nudity – come on, what about the male nudity?

(Yes, Henry Cavill was totally underused in The Witcher! – Editor)

Joking aside, apparently it has even taken a toll on the actors. It was reported last month that Ruth Wilson left The Affair (which I’ve never watched, really) because she had to do “too many sex scenes” compared to her male co-stars.

Then, Emilia Clarke, who played Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones, admitted that she found certain nude scenes she had to do in the first season of the fantasy drama epic excessive and “terrifying”, but she was pressured to do them.

The time is ripe to discuss not just how much sex there is on the small screen, but also what sort of sex scenes viewers are watching on a regular basis.

TV series, like most goods and services, are driven by demand and supply. TV companies know sex sells, making sex scenes an essential part of many TV series.

If the problem is too much sex, censorship might lend itself as a great solution to reducing the incidences of sex scenes.

But censorship for adult viewers? The necessity is doubtful. Adults can exercise their rights as consumers and choose not to watch TV series containing sex scenes, if they so wish.

After all, sex is a natural part of life and nothing to be ashamed of.

But where the younger generation is concerned, I believe “censorship” by the parents is necessary. As mentioned, Netflix itself has parental controls, whereby a PIN number can be set to prevent unsupervised children from viewing age-inappropriate TV series.

But what about family time around the TV, when everyone simultaneously gets red-faced when a sex scene appears?

Or even scarier: when young children attempt to imitate what they see on TV – including sex scenes?

Apart from religious beliefs and cultural concerns, there is no hard and fast rule about the age at which the younger generation can be allowed to view sex scenes. The appropriate age depends very much on the person’s maturity in thinking, which is highly specific to the individual.

Of course, allowing a child in lower primary school or younger – whose elders should be monitoring what they watch anyway – to watch sex scenes on TV is a highly questionable decision.

But for those who are older?

I think one can turn awkward TV time into an educational opportunity. Rather than actively trying to prevent teenagers from watching sex scenes on TV – which won’t work when websites offering pirated TV episodes exist – adults should use the opportunity to engage in sex education, even if the experience will likely be very awkward.

At the very least, in the face of increasing sex scenes on TV, people should be willing to engage in conversation over what is appropriate for teenagers – and even adult viewers – as a whole.

Wong Sook Wei is a student at the National University of Singapore and a a participant in The Star’s BRATs Young Journalist Programme.

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