In the not-so-distant past, TV shows depicted married couples – like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo – sleeping in separate twin beds to uphold the moral codes of the time along with censorship rules. With the sexual and social revolution of the '60s and '70s, TV started to tackle more serious social issues, such as abortion in Maude, and introduced the era of "jiggle TV" with shows like Charlie's Angels, Wonder Woman, and Three's Company.
Even with these movements toward sexual liberation, American broadcast networks were and still are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), prohibiting them from airing "acts of indecency" without receiving a hefty fine (unlike movies which could easily include nudity). In 2008, the FCC proposed a $1.43 million fine against ABC TV stations for showing a partially nude woman in a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue and Janet Jackson's breast-baring wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show garnered CBS a proposed $550,000 fine.
Free from the FCC's indecency and profanity regulations, premium cable channels in the late 90s and early 2000s started featuring programming that pushed the boundaries of what was once considered acceptable nudity on TV. In the late 90s, it wasn't uncommon to see bare breasts or butts in sex scenes. By the late 2000s, it was no longer shocking to see full frontal of a woman. And even nowadays a man's full-frontal region is no holds barred.
Here's our list of the TV shows that have the most nudity, beginning in 1998.
Based on the book of the same name by Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City follows the personal and professional lives of four 30-something plus women in New York City. SATC was one of the first shows with explicitly sexual content, featuring both explicit sex scenes and scenes of women talking explicitly about sex. It resonated with women around the world, as it examined issues women commonly experienced in their relationships, but perhaps never talked about publicly. Men have even credited the show for giving insight into the female perspective on sex and relationships.
Many of the graphic sex scenes featured self-proclaimed "try-sexual" Samantha Jones. While actress Kim Cattral often exposed her breasts for the camera, nudity in some of the more explicitly sexual scenes was often hidden by undergarments and carefully-placed bedsheets. In one memorable scene, Samantha planned to greet her boyfriend with perfectly appointed sushi covering her private parts.
At some point, all of the women except for Sarah Jessica Parker (whose contract stipulated no nudity), exposed their breasts for the show. There were also plenty of male bare bottoms shown throughout the series.
Entourage chronicled the acting career of Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), a young A-list movie star, and his childhood friends from Queens, New York City. According to Mark Wahlberg, the show was conceived when his assistant asked if he could film Wahlberg and his friends, as she thought they were "hilarious."
In earlier seasons, women's breasts were occasionally exposed. In later seasons, particularly season seven, topless women became much more prevalent. In one episode, a brief background shot of naked men were shown on a porn set. In another episode, full-frontal female nudity was displayed in a scene of adult-film star Sasha Grey going skinny-dipping. Additionally, there were plenty of bare butts throughout the season.
While the sex scenes of Entourage don't often include graphic detail, viewers witness thrusting and moaning, bare breasts of women, and both male as well as female bare bottoms.
Based on the British series created by Russell T. Davies, Queer as Folk was the first hour-long drama series on American television to portray the lives of gay men and women. In order to portray gay relationships with realism, the actors had to sign a 21-page contract stipulating that they would appear nude in the show.
Some critics have praised Queer as Folk for portraying the most realistic sex scenes in film and TV history - after all, it was the first show to feature a simulated sex scene between two men. While the sex was not gratuitous, and you won't see full-frontal nudity, many sex scenes looked and felt authentic.
Arguably the most authentic scene of the series was when Justin Taylor (Randy Harrison) loses his virginity to Brian Kinney (Gale Harold). Not only does Brian teach Justin about the particulars of sex, but he also shows him, in graphic detail, how to perform a specific sexual act (though it is never explicitly shown).
Californication follows protagonist Hank Moody (David Duchovny), an L.A.-based novelist, struggling to overcome his sex addiction, among other things like alcoholism and drug use. Ironic enough, Duchovny went to treatment for his own sex addiction during production of the show - a classic case of life imitating art imitating life.
Californication featured explicit sex scenes with full female and partial male nudity. Sexual activity is realistically depicted, but explicit details are never shown onscreen. Bare breasts as well as both male and female butts are showcased throughout the series, and the show features all kinds of sexual experimentation throughout.
Californication became an instant target for the religious right, who successfully lobbied advertisers in Australia and New Zealand to cease their sponsorship of the show. Nevertheless, the series remained on air for seven sex-filled seasons.
Based on the blog and books by the pseudonymous "Belle de Jour," Secret Diary of a Call Girl was written by Lucy Prebble, who is also the author of The Sugar Syndrome and ENRON. The series has been compared to Sex and the City by many critics, mainly due to its humorous approach to sex.
The sexual humor derives from the odd sexual requests that Hannah Baxter (Billie Piper) receives as a high-class call girl in London. For example, one client, while having sex with “Belle,” (her pseudonym) asks to refer to herself as different barnyard animals, such as a goat and pig; another client wants to wrestle sumo-style before doing the deed; and (arguably) the strangest was when a client requested bottle-feeding before sealing the deal.
While there is an abundance of sex in Secret Diary, viewers are only privy to partial nudity, albeit much of it, including bare breasts and bottoms.
True Blood is based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris, detailing the co-existence of vampires and humans in Bon Temps, a fictional small town in northwestern Louisiana. Language experts have affirmed, "Bon Temps" translates as "good times," which means "Louisiana" should mean "naked" with how much nudity, sex, and overall depravity is displayed over the course of the show.
Throughout the series, the audience viewed "fang-bangers," bondage, threesomes, girl-on-girl and boy-on-boy action, orgies, and more. The sex scenes throughout the show are plentiful and raunchy – "True Guilty Pleasure" at its finest.
True Blood (among other shows) has been scrutinized for the amount of gratuitous female nudity it reveals while allowing for little representation of the male front. In its six seasons, there are only two instances of the full male form. For example, when the vampire goddess Lilith rises from a pool of blood and walks around fully nude for extended scenes, she and her female vampire followers are shown in full frontal. But when a male character drank Lilith’s blood and ascended from a pool of blood, the camera cuts away before it reveals what's below his waist.
Spartacus is based loosely on the Thracian gladiator, who from 73 to 71 BCE led a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic departing from Capua. The series was short-lived, airing its last season in 2013. But it made its mark in TV history with an abundance of swords, savagery, and sex.
Unlike many shows on premium channels, Spartacus featured full-frontal nudity from both women and men – and the number of instances was pretty equal. In fact, for some characters, including males, it was a rarity to be clothed at all. Full-frontal male nudity is the norm for this show. You won't see any complaints about sexism or the objectification of women here. In many viewers' and critics' eyes, Spartacus remains the undisputed champ of TV nudity.
A list about nudity in TV shows wouldn't be complete without Game of Thrones. The amount of nudity in Spartacus often rivaled this show, but due to its popularity, Game of Thrones is more often the victor in this arena. Though plentiful, many scenes in the series leave the viewer feeling uneasy rather than titillated, unlike other HBO shows like Sex and the City or Entourage.
Game of Thrones has repeatedly been scrutinized for its sexism, misogyny, gratuitous nudity, and violence against women. Like other shows discussed on this list, full-frontal nudity is common with women, which is most often depicted in the brothel scenes.
While there are plenty of brazen nude scenes showcased through the series to date, last season's "walk of shame" arguably rivals them all. In the season five finale, the fallen queen, Cersie (Lena Headey with the help of a body double), is made to walk naked (full frontal and back) through the streets of King's Landing after having confessed to adultery. One of the most horrific scenes in Game of Thrones history, viewers are to surmise that even queens are subject to public humiliation.
A remake of an award-winning British series, Shameless tells the story of Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), father of six children, who spends his days drunk and high while his kids learn to take care of themselves. It's up to eldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) to provide for the family.
Nude scenes are a common occurrence in Shameless, and the show is unapologetic in its depiction of teenage sexuality. The show portrays teenagers as they are – one character wants to lose her virginity and brings a "lose virginity” poster to school.
Fiona is the character that can most commonly be found nude in the show. In one memorable scene, Fiona has sex in a car on top of a sandwich. She comes from a low-income family who can't afford to spend money on going out, so she has sex – a lot of it – and she likes it. Making sex look real is important to Rossum, who wasn't afraid of signing a contact stipulating nudity. Like other series on this list, such as Sex and the City or Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Shameless isn't afraid to bring humor to sexuality.
Girls follows the lives of a close group of 20-somethings living in New York City. Sound familiar? Though the show has a similar overarching story-line to Sex and the City, Girls is much more sexually explicit.
There are no boundaries to the amount of time the main character Hannah (Lena Dunham, who also created the show) spends naked in the show. We have seen her eating cake on a toilet nude, playing ping-pong nude, talking on the phone nude, and often just being nude for the sake of being nude.
Naysayers have criticized that unlike shows such as Game of Thrones and Spartacus, the nudity in Girls is pointless, and that because her body is quote unquote "normal," Dunham plays the nudity card way too often. Dunham has stated in retaliation that the nudity actively adds authenticity as well as defies gender stereotypes - and if you don't like her body, then that's your problem.
House of Lies follows a group of management consultants who stop at nothing to seal business deals and make money.
The first episode opens with series protagonist Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) waking up on his ex-wife's (Dawn Olivieri) bare butt after a night of mistake sex. Marty tries to put on Monica's tight dress on the bed, and then pulls her half naked to a chair and manages to cover her bare breasts before their child, Roscoe, enters the room. Later in that same episode, Marty visits a gentleman's club where plenty of bare breasts are exposed and two women get intimate in the bathroom.
While perhaps the greatest amount of nudity is shown in the very first episode, viewers see bare breasts and sometimes bare bottoms throughout the first season. This type of nudity is displayed in subsequent seasons, though less often, and many frontal shots are often unfocused.
The Girl's Guide to Depravity is a comedy/drama series based on Heather Rutman's popular book and blog of the same name. The show follows two women, Lizzie (Sally Golan) and Samantha (Rebecca Blumhagen), and the rules they use to have fun and avoid being hurt in relationships. Each episode is themed to a certain rule, such as rule #12: "The best way to get over a guy is to get underneath another guy" and rule #9: "Always be the bigger bitch."
Sex is aplenty throughout the course of the show, and viewers often see exposed bare breasts and bottoms. The series has been praised for the realism it brings to sex scenes and not over-choreographing them with unnecessary and oftentimes unbelievable moaning and screaming viewers are accustomed to hearing.
Masters of Sex is a period piece set in the late '50s and '60s based on the book of the same name by Thomas Maier. The show follows the story of gynecologist William Masters (Michael Sheen) who conducts research into human sexuality with assistant Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan). Their research helped to launch the sexual revolution in the U.S.
Masters of Sex has its fair share of nudity, but most sex scenes are shown in snippets. Furthermore, there's a lot of scientific equipment and procedures in sex scenes that don't rally very much emotion. The show doesn't have too much full-frontal nudity, but when it does the camera is typically a safe distance away from its subject – like a case study.
The series focuses on the rules of sexuality more than the act - and leaves its viewers asking themselves questions like: "How have sexual mores changed?" or "Are we still reluctant to talk about sex?"
Orange Is the New Black, created by Jenji Kohan, is based on Piper Kerman's memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison (2010), about her experiences at FCI Danbury.
The show features its fair share of nudity - most commonly girl-on-girl encounters - since it takes place in a female prison. There are occasional instances of brief partial nudity; however, sexuality on the series is used for the purpose of exploring the relationships (both intimate and platonic) of the women locked behind bars.
In the show's second season, there was a scene with full-frontal male nudity. Kohan, also the creator of Weeds on Showtime, deems that she loves graphic sex - and the more sex the better. Therefore, viewers can expect to see much more nudity in upcoming episodes.
In the first season, nude scenes are so plentiful in Black Sails that it seems like just a part of everyday life for its characters. Viewers often see bare bottom and breasts, as well as full-frontal nudity. There is a brief scene in which Jon Silver is brought by his shipmates into a room to meet "Black Beard," who, as it turns out, is named after the hair that covers her private regions. The scene features brief full-frontal female nudity, as well as a few other topless women.
While we see several instances of explicit female nudity, there are various instances of full-frontal male nudity in the first season as well. In one scene, a man's entire body is revealed after a woman leaves him spread eagle on a bed. Uncensored male nudity is displayed in various other scenes throughout the course of the show.
While many shows discussed on this list only show the full female form, Black Sails is an equal-opportunity nudity displayer.
Of course, with the bevy of sexually charged programming on cable networks like HBO and Showtime, it doesn't look like nudity in TV shows is declining in any way. Now, with Netflix and Amazon in on the game, there's more freedom than ever for television producers to show off their, uh, assets. Did we miss any of your favorite shows? Let us know in the comment section below!