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HBO’s LGBT History: Sex on TV

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we had a ball spending time with Big and Little Edie at Grey Gardens. This week, I wanted to do something a little different so I picked out six key gay sex scenes from HBO’s TV history to talk about the network’s unabashed attempts at indulging its audiences in rather raunchy scenarios.

HBO, untethered to the whims of the FCC and its attendant parochialism, has often flaunted its ability to depict sex openly. From its Real Sex docs to Game of Thrones, this has been a great selling point for the network: “It’s not TV, it’s HBO… and that means we can get away with some serious nudity, guys!” Thus, while LGBT representation on network television was often chided for closeting actual sex (think Will & Grace, Ellen), HBO was able to offer titillating scenes that openly addressed and even represented sex as an integral part of these character’s lives.

In an era where every other American Horror Story episode will offer plenty of skintastic gay sex, and where network dramas like Empire and How to Get Away with Murder have been giving us hot and heavy scenes that keep pushing what’s allowed on prime time, some of these scenes may look quaint, but it is undeniable that they definitely paved the way for the embarrassment of riches we are now confronted with.

Lots of NSFW goodies ahead!


I talked about Oz briefly when I touched on the gay year that was 1998. Almost two decades later, this prison drama remains a touchstone for its portrayal of the “love affair” between Beecher and Keller. But perhaps the most memorable, if disturbing gay sex scene (NSFW link) features, in true Oz form, Meloni, a blow job, and a horribly violent death. In fact, a lot of the overtly (homo)sexual scenes of intimacy were always tinged with a sense of violence, though given the show’s prison environment, this was, perhaps, unavoidable.

Sex and the City

Remember that time when Carrie kissed Alanis? Or when Miranda was mistaken for a lesbian? While mostly heterosexual (though, as we discussed, wholly gay), the show flirted with lesbianism and bisexuality throughout, more notably in the Samantha/Maria Diega storyline which included a steamy scene between Kim Cattrall and legendary actress Sonia Braga.

“Did you know that when a vagina is engorged it expands to the size of a fist? It’s like a fabulous cave!”

Not only do we get a lesbian sex scene (though one demure in comparison to others in the series run) but we get a frank conversation about its logistics.

Six Feet Under

If Beecher and Keller gave audiences a dysfunctional if oddly romantic pair, Alan Ball’s show (whose episode on gay bashing we looked at a few weeks back) gave us a complicated relationship in David and Keith. So yes, while the sexy scenes between Michael C. Hall and Steven Pasquale no doubt should get cited here, I had to go with a scene between the central gay couple. To see a same-sex relationship with a thriving sex life was quite revolutionary (if, still quite demure to what the boys of Queer as Folk were offering right around the same time). 

The Wire

Lest HBO be accused of only featuring gay sex scenes that are either didactic or weirdly contiguous with violence (the David/Keith scene begins as an all-out fight between the two that gets quite heated and physical), The Wire (discussed here previously) featured some great scenes between Kima and Cheryl. Indeed, at times it felt like these two only got along perfectly when in bed, but then, like McNulty, Kima was always much more invested in her work than in her personal life.

True Blood

Narrowing this one down to just one scene was hard enough. And while that other steamy/violent sex scene involving Eric should be mentioned, I had to go with this Jason daydream that was wonderfully titillating and perfectly encapsulates the fluidity of desire that Ball’s vampire show so expounded. Indeed, the show was a smorgasbord of flesh; man, woman, vampire, fairy, werewolf. There really were no limits to whatever combinations the show made. Along with Ryan Murphy’s own Nip/Tuck (another show run by an out gay man), True Blood made twenty-first century cable network, a go-to for male eye-candy.


We talked at length about Andrew Haigh’s two-season wonder back in the spring when I recapped the show, and one of the things I continually pointed out, was the way it realistically represented gay male intimacy. This was nowhere more apparent than in the many sex scenes the show depicted: the awkward Eddie/Agustin ones, the hot tub threesome with Dom, that first encounter with Richie. This was a show that talked and showed condoms, and lube. Discussed and depicted the trials and tribulations of bottoming. It used sex scenes as pivotal moments that revealed character beats.

What to make of all these scenes seen together? HBO loves its gays and lesbians to be beautiful. Doesn't everyone look great naked in all of these shows? Not that anyone's complaining, though perhaps we should be seeing as calls for diversity seldom address issues of age and body type. Nevertheless, HBO deserves credit for really embracing the sex part in sexuality. And this doesn't even include all the sex we've gotten in recent movies from that infamous Matt Damon/Michael Douglas scene in Behind the Candelabra to the Ryan Murphy-approved bathhouse scene in The Normal Heart. But don't worry, we'll get those soon.

 You’ll note that Game of Thrones failed to make my list and that’s mostly because I am utterly unaware of everything that has to do with the fantasy series. Consider it one of my pop cultural blindspots. Sex and nudity have obviously been at the forefront of the Emmy-winning drama and so I’m sure there are plenty of same-sex scenes that could easily rank up here. Be sure to share them in the comments!

Next Week: We go back to our regularly scheduled programming with a look at Vito (watch on Netflix), a doc about film historian Vito Russo, which will also be a great way at looking at his own Celluloid Closet, an obvious inspiration for this project.

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Reader Comments (8)

Manuel, I'm not a Girls fan, but isn't any sex scene involving Andrew Rannells' character more worthy of this list than the True Blood tittilations?

November 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Does Rannells have any gay sex on the show though? I can only recall him having sex with Marnie and NOBODY NEEDS TO SEE THAT AGAIN.

I thought the first gay scene on Game of Thrones, with Loras shaving Renly, was interesting. And anything regarding Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) and his bisexual hooker romps was fun!

November 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJason

As soon as I hit send I remember Rannells giving that dude a hand-job at the frat party on Girls, so there was that, I guess.

November 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Paul, I would love nothing more to have included a scene with sexy Rannells, but Dunham hasn't really given him many. At least that I can remember, except for the aforementioned handjob scene. And maybe we got a bit with him and Danny Strong? Nothing, unfortunately, to write home about OR to rival any of the other great sex scenes that show is known for.

As for that shaving GoT scene: oh my!

November 11, 2015 | Registered CommenterManuel Betancourt

"Looking" had the most erotic gay sex scenes..." OZ " is gay porn for straight men

November 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Jason, I think you're reaching too far on using that one from Girls.

November 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJames

I disliked those "nope, only a dream/fantasy!" male-on-male scenes in True Blood. They felt somewhat insulting and insufferably coy. In contrast, the sex scenes in Looking were overall refreshingly frank and relatable.

November 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRob

In regards with M/M or F/F sex scenes on Game of Thrones, not many. To my best recollection, thus far (up to season 5) there have been five scenes of such a nature. Strictly M/M...though one could count Daenerys getting a (clothed) lesson in lovemaking from her handmaid in season 1.

Most of them involve Loras (the show's only gay character who so far hasn't been killed off horribly) which, as proven by that video in one of the other comments, can be a bit steamy. That said, they're relatively tame in comparison to the many other sex scenes on the show (read: just a lot of heavy making out).

In one season 3 episode, there was more skin shown for such a scene alas it was a short one. (A similar scene happened in the season 5 premiere and thankfully it was much longer. And more skin! But not complete full frontal.) And by season 4, Oberyn shows up and there's even an orgy scene at one point. But even with that scene, not so interested in Oberyn and the male prostitute (just pillow talk between them) as it is with Ellaria getting eaten out by a female prostitute (with a lingering shot of the prostitute's ass no less).

In summary, this show is decidedly way more interested in nude women than anything else. (And that includes a coherent plot a good chunk of the time.)

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

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