'Sex has always been taboo': but these TV shows get it right, according to experts

Korin Miller
·5 min read
Experts say these TV shows portray sex in the best light (Photo: Nathalie Cruz for Yahoo Life)
Experts say these TV shows portray sex in the best light (Photo: Nathalie Cruz for Yahoo Life)

Most TV shows and movies don’t have the best reputation for portraying sexual health accurately. Whether it’s addressing safety issues or showing the act itself, what you see onscreen isn’t exactly reflective of real life.

That matters, clinical sexologist Tanginika S. Cuascud, D.H.S., of Texas Sexual Health, tells Yahoo Life. “Sex has always been a taboo,” she says. “However, now more than ever, there is plenty of exposure to sexual activity in the media and it is readily available. Unfortunately, in the absence of truthful, factual and natural depictions of sex and sexuality, the media offers distorted views of what sex is or should be.”

But there has been a rise in shows and movies over the past few years that have portrayed sexual health with more accuracy, “including more diversity in portrayals,” licensed marriage and family therapist Markie Twist, Ph.D., a professor in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, tells Yahoo Life.

And experts say it’s needed. “I look at any sex-positive modeling of sex in mainstream culture to be a positive,” New York City sex therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D., author of She Comes First, tells Yahoo Life. “Sex-positive entertainment can be a launching-point for healthy conversations about sex, it can provide us with language and ideas for sex, it can help us get in touch with our turn-ons and turn-offs and it can offer a progressive alternative to so much of the unrealistic sex that's often depicted.”

Many people get at least some information and education about sexual health through media, making it a vital area to get right. “This makes being exposed to sex positive and accurate information extremely important,” Rachel Needle, Psy.D., co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, tells Yahoo Life. “The more accurate information and understanding we have, the better we will be at making informed and healthy sexual decisions. And the healthier and more satisfying our sex life can be.”

So, what are these shows and movies, exactly? Here are a few experts give the thumbs up.

Sex Education

The plot: A sexually inexperienced boy uses advice from his sex therapist mom when he creates an underground sex therapy clinic at his school in this series, available on Netflix.

Expert take:

“While it has some humor to it, the show really brings to light conversations around everything ‘sexuality,’” sex therapist Debra Laino, D.H.S., tells Yahoo Life. “We still have a difficult time with these conversations and, ultimately, the more we are having these conversations, the less stigma is attached to them.”

Cuascud is a fan of how the show has made the conversation around sex and teen development natural. “Fostering that level of communication, openness and disclosure builds a strong sense of trust between parents and children and all can reap the benefits of that later,” she says. Cuascud also applauds the show for touching on a range of topics, including LGBTQ, sexual exploration “and the emotional turmoil that can plague the teen years.”

Normal People

The plot: This show, available on Hulu, follows the lives of two people who go in and out of each other’s lives as they grow up.

Expert take:

Kerner says he likes the show for being “sex” but “real and un-objectified.” The show portrays “real people being naked and having sex” with “sex was a source of healing, but also a source of fun,” he says. Kerner also is a fan of how the show “depicted how they had sexual chemistry but not necessarily all of the areas necessary for relationship compatibility.” That “represented real dilemmas that couples face in that sense,” he says.

Outlander

The plot: The historical drama, available on Starz follows an army nurse transported through time.

Expert take:

“The show Outlander displays sex through a female lens and normalizes a female taking control of her own sexuality and communicating with her partner about what she wants and needs,” Needle says. “This helps empower women to speak up for what she enjoys and what turns her on.”

Putting the message out there that women are sexual beings “and can be assertive about what they want, is an important one,” Needle says.

Big Mouth

The plot: The edgy cartoon, which is streaming on Netflix, follows teens trying to navigate puberty.

Expert take:

Needle says she’s a fan of how the show uses humor to teach viewers about hormones and sexuality. “Big Mouth normalizes talking about sex, gender, sexual orientation, masturbation, our bodies and confusing messages we receive about sex and how to navigate those, and so much more,” she says. “Doing this using humor and as a show geared towards teenagers, opens the door to educating viewers at the perfect age…and really of any age.”

Grace and Frankie

The plot: Two older women become good friends after their husbands announce they’re in love with each other in this show, available on Netflix.

Expert take:

Laino says the show does an “awesome job” with portraying sexual health in older women. “Older women—older people in general—are rarely depicted in sex scenes,” she says. Grace and Frankie changes that.

“Among the many taboos of sex, aging and sexuality are really kept in the dark. People have this idea that aging individuals are not sexual individuals,” Cuascud says. “That’s why I love how the show Grace and Frankie is breaking that taboo and showcasing women and men in their 70s engaging in sex, pursuing new relationships (and ending old ones) while managing all the intricacies of dating later in life and being sexual.”

Easy

The plot: The Netflix original comedy follows the love lives of a range of characters in Chicago.

Expert take:

Easy showcases diverse couples, and Laino says she likes that. “We have been sent messages that there is only one type of relationship: heterosexual marriage,” she says. “This show explores diversity in that realm. It breaks down stereotypes and myths about relationships, which is really healthy for people to be exposed to.”

Cuascud agrees. “There are many different kinds of relationships but heterosexual monogamy always gets put in the spotlight,” she says. “It is important for people to see that there are other types of relationships that can be as meaningful, fulfilling, desirable and attainable as straight monogamy.”