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TV Sex is no Longer Awful, Thanks to Women in Hollywood

TV Sex is no Longer Awful, Thanks to Women in Hollywood:

On the most recent season of Broad City, Comedy Central’s frisky sitcom starring Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, Abbi finally gets a chance to slip between the sheets with her longtime crush, Jeremy. Midway through their romp, she discovers that Jeremy enjoys pegging. After a quick bathroom break to call Ilana for advice, Abbi takes a deep breath, straps on a dildo and tells Jeremy to turn around. The scene is simultaneously outlandish and relatable. It’s also one of many recent examples of sexual encounters on television that feel dramatically different in tone from the gruff and often gratuitous offerings of the past five years (see HBO: Game of Thrones, True Detective, Boardwalk Empire, True Blood).

These days a slew of programs are showing audiences that sex can be awkward, passionate and manipulative and can occur between partners of any age, preference and size. Girls brims with cringe-worthy sex scenes in which lost erections, role-playing mishaps and accidental anal are de rigueur. Transparent and Orange Is the New Black not only break ground with transgender story lines but have the audacity to show women over 50 having sex with younger men. (A woman’s sexual appetite doesn’t end at 40, guys.) The same is true of How to Get Away With Murder, whose 50-year-old star, Viola Davis, plays a character who is strong and sexy and not afraid to use both those assets. All these shows are changing how we see sex on television. And what else do they have in common? Each one is run by a woman.

“What’s happened is that these shows are tapping into a zeitgeist,” says Michelle Ashford, creator of Showtime’s Masters of Sex. “What we’re talking about seems to be shifting the conversation in a certain direction.”

That shift means making sex scenes integral to the plot. For Abbi on Broad City it means learning that her crush is kind of a dick after she ruins his dildo by dropping it in the dishwasher for a sanitary rinse. (Accidents happen, dude.) For Ashford, on Masters of Sex it means taking the formulaic fantasy of “hot sex” and grinding it down to something more story-driven. “If you look at a lot of sex scenes in movies and on television, you’ll notice the story is going along and then just stops,” Ashford says. “And then, after they have sex, the story picks up again.”

This may explain the market for “female friendly” porn, in which the sex is typically more plot-driven and realistic. But Ashford warns that reducing the distinctions between male and female preferences to stereotypes can be dangerous. “When you come down to it, there might be some genetic wiring that predisposes women to a more comprehensive connection to sex than men,” she says. “But that theory can also be blown up in a second.”

The best explanation, Ashford says, may be that women show runners are simply depicting the reality of how they’ve experienced sex in their own lives. “It will just feel different,” she says. And as we all know, variety is the spice of life.

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