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Why there’s a stark new frankness to sex on TV | Rebecca Nicholson

Why there’s a stark new frankness to sex on TV | Rebecca Nicholson

From Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It reboot, to the taboo-busting The Girlfriend Experience, programme-makers are pushing the boundaries of TV sex – and increasingly, it’s female writers and directors who are calling the shots

Late in the first season of The Deuce, David Simon and George Pelecanos’s brilliant drama about the sex trade in early-70s New York, Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has a career change. She begins the series fully immersed in “the life” on the streets, but turns to commercial pornography as it begins to arrive in the United States. During one particularly dreary porn shoot, she takes over from the director, Harvey, who is as weary as the performers about the lackadaisical scene happening in front of him.

“Lift up her hips so I can see the inside of her thighs,” she instructs the male performer, looking at Lori, the woman, to make sure everyone is on board. “And take it easy, take it easy.” We see what’s taking place for the cameras – a cheesy threesome involving maids and a bellboy – from multiple perspectives, and under Eileen’s direction, it stops being functional, and starts to sizzle. But our main vision is Eileen’s, not the eyes of a male consumer. As an early-70s porn film, it’s going to end up being consumed by men, but Eileen’s moulding of the scene suggests that when it comes to on-screen sex, there’s a new way of doing it.

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