Where are all the condoms in TV sex scenes?
Many viewers just couldn’t get enough of HBO’s breakout show “Insecure” starring Issa Rae. Watching her character navigate the journey through love, life and friendships has provided an intersection where blackness meets realness in a way that no show has been able to depict for some time.
As brilliant as the writing and character development is, there is much left to be desired around the narrative of sexual interactions, responsibility and seeming disregard for safer sex practices on the show.
“Insecure” brings many things to the table, but the sex scenes are enough to leave even the most comfortable in their sexual practices breathless. Take for example the infamous studio scene where Issa cheats on Lawrence with her “what if” guy Daniel. Within moments of working on music together, Daniel was fully naked and thrusting into Issa for all to see.
Then there’s Issa’s BFF, Molly, and her love interest, Jared. When Molly woke up from a hangover in Jared’s apartment after a night of getting hammered, the scene quickly moves from talk over a morning bowl of cereal to Molly getting it from behind.
This type of sexual interaction continued throughout the season, oftentimes shocking and seemingly coming from nowhere. Molly invites Jared in for dinner, back shots on the kitchen counter. Issa goes ring shopping with Lawrence, flashbacks to back shots in the studio. Issa comes in the apartment looking for Lawrence, to find he isn’t there. Scene flips to Lawrence giving back shots to the bank teller.
All of this is for the making of great (and sexy) television, but at what cost?
We often times hold the media to a high standard around the depictions of topics that we feel need to be held to a “moral” standard for the viewer, based on society structures around what “sex” should look like. But does this mean that media has an obligation to its viewers to promote better sex practices?
When we have intimate conversations about sexual health and responsibility among our friends and family, we are talking to a very narrow audience in comparison to the millions of viewers many shows like “Insecure” could reach with that very same messaging. Messaging that could help provoke those same conversations in more places where traditional outreach efforts have failed to reach.
Yet it is just as important to show the lived experience of those who partake in “riskier” sex, is it not?
Speaking in my own truth, I enjoy sex. I enjoy sex without condoms, and although the preference would be without, I also engage in sex with condoms based on my partner’s preference. As a person working in the healthcare field, however, I also understand the importance of providing proper access, resources and lived examples of the promotion of better sexual health practices.
I am often placed into an interesting corner with the work I do as a “do as I say, not as I do” when dealing with conversations around this interaction. It is interesting in media depiction of the “zero to 100” sex scenes how safe sex never seems to come into play, nor the discussion around it. I also have to remember that if “art imitates life,” then media may be showing the truest depiction of how the quickie situation actually goes down vs. the “sexual accountability” conversations we would hope to happen prior sex.
I at first thought that I would truly be at a crossroads with this one; however, upon further review of the subject matter I feel it deserves a look at the totality of media’s depiction of sex at a macro level. So “Insecure” doesn’t do the best job of showing safer sex practices, but other shows like “How To Get Away with Murder” happens to do an amazing job of talking about sexual health, responsibility, HIV, treatment adherence, PrEP and many other conversations partners should have before sexual intercourse – sometimes to the dismay of the viewer and script.
The contrast in the depiction of sexual behavior in these two shows, for example, points to the importance of showing the full spectrum of sex in media as an education tool that gives a total assessment around the subject. Even porn has changed over the years from an industry that seemed to always depict condoms during sex to one where condom-less videos have a much higher viewership and are produced at a much higher rate than those showing condom usage.
This conversation even goes a step further into the nature of what a person thinks “safer” sex is versus what we are told it is. Condom-less sex doesn’t always mean “riskier” sex. Condom-less sex is often promoted in monogamous relationships yet shunned in relationships where there may be multiple partners. However, this doesn’t take into account whether these partners are being regularly tested, using PrEP, and having the healthy and necessary discussions before laying up in between the sheets.
Furthermore, let’s face it, some people just don’t like condoms, and we as a society need to learn to be okay with that.
Sex sells. Always has and always will. “Safe sex,” however, might not be moving off the shelf in high volumes. I appreciate the contrast in which shows are depicting our sexual behavior. I have come to a full understanding about the depiction of sex in television and film and the totality of the lived experience by all, which can’t be ignored in effort to promote safer sex practices.
George M. Johnson is a journalist and activist based in the Washington, D.C. area. He has written for EBONY.com, TheGrio, JET, Pride.com, Thebody.com, and The Huffington Post on topics of health, race, gender, sex, and education. Follow him on Twitter: @iamgmjohnson.