Has there ever been a realistic portrayal of sex on TV? Rack your brains and try and think of an example which doesn’t involve two perfect human beings making love to mutual satisfaction with no perspiration at all. It’s hard to think of any examples of a TV series that shatters this image of sex being a flawless thing between beautiful people and by this implication that if you don’t achieve this ideal then you are abnormal. Showing this very black and white view of sex, or in some cases suggesting that sexual incompetence is something to be laughed at, is problematic as it’s not showing everything in between.

If we wanted to start a list of things that TV neglects or exaggerates regarding sex we could be doing so for a very long time. While you could argue that a lot of these things are taken out for watchabilitys sake (who wants to see a sweat-drenched lovemaking session?) actually omitting some aspects may be fuelling urban myths regarding sex. From disregarding any idea of foreplay before sex to the ridiculous idea that people sweep dishes, books, and other things from the table in the heat of the moment (just think of the cleaning up), TV has been lying to us since day one.

This normalisation of this unrealistic standard of sex could disillusion many, young people in particular, into striving towards something that is ultimately unobtainable. Particularly nowadays in the age of Netflix where TV series are more accessible than ever more people are exposed to this unrealistic sex and, without any context, may be led to believe that they must aspire to that or that their current sex life is inferior to that on TV. In this regard, how we are exposed to this unrealistic portrayal of sex on TV, an argument could be made that this is more damaging than porn. Whereas porn (on the most part) is deeply misogynistic and a horrifying distortion of sex in general, it does not have the same reach or power of suggestion that TV has as everyone is exposed to the small screen on a conscious and subconscious level at some point.

With the exceptions of only a few shows (which you can read about in Yaiza Canopoli’s tokenism article on page 23), most sex happens between white heterosexual couples which is obviously not representative of everyone. This ignores different races, orientations and preferences, basically sending the message that if you don’t conform to this Caucasian straight ‘ideal’ then you don’t fit in. As a young person only being shown one race and one orientation represented on the small screen it could potentially leave you feeling alone and reinforces a problematic heteronormative and white image.

TV will often never include or even reference anything relating to contraception and/or STDs which is a shame because, if used cleverly, it could be educational as well as entertaining. Offering examples on the small screen of the importance of wearing a condom or other forms of contraception could be weaved into the story easily and to comic effect or in a serious tone – either way having this reminder ever-present in pop culture through TV would emphasise the importance of it. Likewise, discussions about STDs could be insightful and break common misconceptions around this topic while also saving parents having to awkwardly stutter their way through the ‘birds and the bees’ talk. Not to say that this talk isn’t essentials but it would certainly save some squirming on both sides if we were more informed to start with.

While I am by no means suggesting that sex should be censored from TV, I believe that writers can do more to reflect the average viewer and stop supporting these sometimes dangerous myths that have been created due to the small screen’s desire to glamorise sex.