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Why Isn’t There More Sex In Fantasy TV Shows?

Summary

  • Fantasy TV shows lack sex and sexuality, even though the genre has become popular among adult audiences.
  • Game of Thrones and The Witcher are exceptions, as they include sex, but most fantasy adaptations avoid it.
  • The lack of sex in fantasy TV shows can be attributed to the absence of sex in the source books, time constraints, and the desire to appeal to a broad audience.


The fantasy genre has been growing in popularity on television, but with so much of it being aimed equally at an adult audience, it’s strange that fantasy TV shows are lacking in sex and sexuality. Unlike most genres, fantasy TV adaptations have been a hard sell relatively recently. It wasn’t until Game of Thrones became the biggest show on television, and in some ways, the biggest show ever, that fantasy was taken seriously. Suddenly, the potential in the genre was evident, and different networks and streamers started to snap up fantasy IP.

Adapting fantasy novels to TV has been a mixed bag. Some fantasy TV series have been excellent, with strong, compelling writing, unique worldbuilding, and vibrant characters. Others have been less successful, unfolding like derivative copies of what’s come before, or shoving so much exposition into their episodes that good writing and character development become afterthoughts. No matter the quality, the beats of the fantasy genre generally remain the same, including one: fantasy TV is missing swagger, particularly of the sexual sort.

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Game Of Thrones & The Witcher Aren’t The Norm, But The Exception

Jon and Dany sleeping together in Game of Thrones season 7

It would be easy to use Game of Thrones as an example of a fantasy TV show that had sex, and quite a bit of it; The Witcher is another. But Game of Thrones and The Witcher remain anomalies of fantasy TV. Since Game of Thrones‘ conclusion and The Witcher‘s premiere, fantasy TV adaptations have had even less sex, even in the depiction of characters in romantic relationships. The stories have plenty of fantasy worldbuilding, lots of magic, and more than a few reluctant heroes learning to grow into their power. Even with all that character growth, the realm of the carnal remains largely unexplored.

It’s also worth pointing out that the sex depicted in Game of Thrones was usually non-consensual, with the series including so much rape and sexual assault that it drew valid backlash from viewers, or sex that was bought and paid for. There was rarely ever romance involved. Instead, rape was used as a lazy mechanism for character development, or for shock value. Save between a few characters, sex was rarely a spontaneous act of genuine connection and deep feeling.

Why There’s (Usually) No Sex In Fantasy TV Shows

Morfydd Clark as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Fantasy TV shows often lack sexual content because they’re mostly adapted from Young Adult novels, particularly for streaming services.

One explanation for the lack of sex in fantasy TV shows is that there’s a lack of it in the books on which they’re based. Most fantasy series are adapted from YA series, particularly the ones adapted for streaming services. While YA fantasy series are great, quite a few, particularly the ones selected for adaptation to this point, there’s no sex involved. There’s often plenty of pining, unrequited love or slow-burn romance, but rarely is there sex. As a result, it’s hard to write that into a TV adaptation without feeling forced or unnecessary–thus, writers’ rooms skip it altogether.

Fantasy IP being snatched up by streamers, especially Netflix, which is notorious for canceling fantasy series after one or two seasons, also impacts the story. The best shows gain an audience because of their characters; the writers are given time to evolve and shape them over multiple seasons. Fantasy TV series don’t have much leeway in that regard. There’s a lot of worldbuilding to lay out and lore to establish. With no guarantee that a show will last more than a season, there’s little time for anything else but plotting and exposition. Character development doesn’t get as much time, much less the ability to craft a complex, sexual relationship between two characters.

Making Fantasy TV Shows Too Clean Limits The Genre

The darkling kept alinas letters from mal in shadow and bone

While the inclusion or exclusion of sex in a TV show doesn’t make or break it, it does feel as though the fantasy genre is afraid to explore all aspects of character relationships. All too often, fantasy TV has made the genre feel too generic and safe. The clear aim is to gain as broad and general an audience as possible, which means cutting scenes or storylines that might risk alienating more PG-inclined audiences, including more conservative adults. This approach may very well be hurting the fantasy genre.

Streaming and network execs always prefer to appeal to the broadest audience possible, partly because of the large production budget that comes attached to most fantasy TV adaptations. But it’s fair to argue that one reason some fantasy shows have failed is that they’ve done nothing to set themselves apart. TV audiences today are smart, they’re savvy, and with so much to choose from, they’re looking for something unique. New shows that push boundaries and upend the tropes of their genre encourage people to keep watching, while shows that play it safe usually drown in the sea of content. Introducing sex to fantasy TV isn’t a magic fix, but it’s certainly a place to start if the genre wants to start evolving past always relying on the same old stories.

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