Over the years as television has sought new audiences (and revenue streams), some channels have relaxed the old standards for acceptable sexual content. Starting with the big pay-cable giants like HBO and Cinemax, siphoning down to pay-per-view and the other pay-cable offerings, and now some second-tier cable networks (like FX) have begun to show sexual and language content that used to be forbidden to TV viewers.
Could this trend be a help to science fiction content for television? Science fiction, in its regular depiction of aliens, future cultures and advanced technology, has had as a regular theme the exploration of alternative sexual practices, mores and inhuman biologies. In books, these depictions were publicly considered to be okay (if racy)… mainly because there were no pictures, and visual depictions of sex are usually the first thing to be censored by authorities.
Television and movies being a visual medium, therefore, it makes sense that sexual subjects would be in most cases edited away… or, if the story could not be told without them, the story would not be told. Which, when you think about it, is exactly the way television has treated all sex since its invention.
But now that standards are relaxing, and we’ve seen Dennis Franz’ butt on national airwaves (and much sexier butts since), sexual content, skin on skin action, non-heterosexual and even unorthodox sexual activities have become acceptable—usually with prior warning labels and suggestions to apply parental discretion.
Does this mean that the public is ready to see alien sex, with more than two sexes, different genital arrangements, unexpected copulatory methods, etc? With other aliens exclusively, it might come off as a sort of weird nature documentary… but how about when humans participate in there somewhere? Will seeing Kathy being impregnated through her nose, or Bob putting his hand into an alien’s sensory canal to induce orgasm, work for audiences?
Okay, maybe things don’t need to be so… extreme. But some SF stories feature unusual sexual arrangements. Would TV executives allow the depiction of sex with a man and three Venusians, with four different types of genitalia between them? Could audiences handle what would look like a woman being penetrated by the probosces of a giant insect? And would any possible squeamishness be risked by executives in order to put a particularly powerful program on?
Or would we just get Alien? Which, if you think about it, is about a creature that forcibly uses humans to gestate its offspring, killing the humans in the process… a particularly rough form and result of cross-species sex, if you will. Of course, the Alien movies are about the idea that this forced sexual contact is bad, and these creatures must be stopped. But suppose the humans lived through the process, and even enjoyed it… would we look at this series the same way? Would we allow it to be shown on TV?
Right now, we get the easy titillation of aliens who were essentially like humans, but with some sexual attribute that humans might find fascinating or attractive in real life (prehensile penises, forked tongues, multiple breasts, green skin, etc). But as time goes by, and TV execs get a bit more adventurous—probably just in an attempt to score fresh ratings wins, but still—we may see a day when the kind of sex that makes science fiction unique, makes its way to our televisions, opens us to new story experiences and gives us something really exotic to watch.