On Television, the Penis Strikes Back
If the "Game of Thrones" era was a never-ending parade of boobs, butts and bushes, 2022 is the official "Year of the Penis."
Granted, naked crotches are not exactly new to television. Delving all the way back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, HBO's "Oz" featured its fair share of full-frontal male nudity in the Oswald State Correctional Facility, and ever since Starz's "Spartacus" and its oiled-skin gladiators blessed our screens in 2010, there has been a gradual uptick in male genitalia popping up on TV.
What's that buzz? Oh, it's just marketing
When "Euphoria" started to change our expectations of the male body in 2019, onscreen full-frontal male nudity still felt a bit jarring. In 2022, however, storytellers and audiences have moved on.
From "And Just Like That" to new episodes of "Euphoria," and even the biographical drama miniseries "Pam and Tommy," penises of all shapes and forms have turned up in television shows with a vengeance over the first few months of the year.
That's got to raise some questions: Are wieners still being used for the shock factor? As a marketing stunt? Do they perhaps carry some artistic value?
To say nudity in the first few episodes of a TV show is mostly there to create buzz makes sense. HBO, for example, is a master at featuring loads of nude scenes and sexual content at the front end of its shows before calming things down in later episodes. However, the artistic intent behind the depiction of nudity cannot be reduced to the idea of sensationalism. So many shows are, in fact, demonstrating a willingness to normalize the human body and show natural nakedness as an integrative part of their narrative.
When nudity conveys vulnerability
Intimacy coordinator Ita O'Brien, who has worked on series such as Netflix's "Sex Education," HBO's "Watchmen" and Hulu's "Normal People," said when an actor first approaches an intimate scene, the question of nudity's relevance to the story is front of mind.
"What makes an actor vulnerable is when the nudity or sexual content isn't serving the storytelling or pushing it forward," said O'Brien, whose role is to facilitate open communication and transparency by interrogating the script and the director's vision to clarify the intent.
To her, part of the reason we're seeing more full-frontal male nudity on TV is an overall awareness of the storytelling gaze: from whose point of view stories are being told.
"The male gaze isn't wrong or bad in itself," O'Brien said. "Everybody's point of view is important, but what hasn't been positive is that the male gaze has been the default."
The male gaze involves the sexual politics of how we look that empowers men and objectifies women. Because of this, for a long time, full-frontal female nudity was the norm in intimate scenes on television, but with the rise of more female directors and writers came a change of perspective. O'Brien explained that the conversations happening internally in productions are now more about bringing a balance to female and male nudity.
The rise of the flaccid (or erect) member is good for gender parity and even better for the demystification of the male genitalia. Past representations of the penis often placed it in violent contexts, making it a threat and adding a layer to its on-screen presence underlining its shock value. Now, a penis can be treated just like any other part of the human body. Yes, penises are still shown in depictions of sexual abuse, and there was that one guy in the season 2 opener of "Euphoria" who was shot in the leg mid-blowjob, but most often, the penises we now see on TV are devoid of menace.
Not just sexy, but funny. too
In fact, in a show like "Pam and Tommy," Tommy Lee's talking penis is far from scary and actually a point of comedic relief. The more television exposes viewers to wieners in candid situations, the more it reminds us a dick is nothing more than just a dick—most of the time.
"I feel it's really important to keep trying to bring the detail of the reality of our sexuality, our sexual arousal and our sexual dysfunctions so that the intimacy within our storytelling is reflecting more realistically our humanity back to itself," O'Brien explained. "It's helping people to be more accepting of who we are as human beings."
Showing more penises in nonthreatening situations ultimately helps audiences get past the sensationalism of sexual content, and allows it to be integrated as part of our human storytelling.
"Fundamentally, I feel that our human form in its nakedness is beautiful in all its shapes and sizes," O'Brien concluded.
The more honest and realistic depictions of full-frontal nudity can be on TV, the more they will entertain and educate, as well as celebrate who we are as human beings.