We’re in the golden age of full-frontal male nudity on TV. It’s about time

The curious thing about most of society’s established linesis that the world doesn’t end when they’re inevitably crossed. Take full-frontal male nudity on television, which for decades was considered an apocalyptic risk. Turns out we are now in the golden age of the penis on TV. No blurred hints, no brief flashes as a character rises from bed – the male appendage is having its moment on our screens. Plenty of moments.

Taylor Zakhar Perez plays Shane in Minx, who gets his gear off.

In fact, the preferred sequence is an overload of penises (side note: what is the collective noun for the penis?). In Stan’s terrific 1970s comedy Minx, budding feminist editor Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond) gets funding for her magazine from a soft-core pornographer who holds a casting call for the launch issue’s centrefold. As the first hopeful unzips, we get a montage of penis Polaroids and their proud bearers. The men grin, gyrate, or even twirl their member. The staff, like the audience, start evaluating.

The feminist magazine Minx is the focal point of the series of the same name, which dares to show naked men.

“No wiener is the same, babe,” Joyce is told by one of her seasoned colleagues. “There’s shorties, flatties, long ones, fatties.” Television is also learning the same lesson. Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That … had erstwhile supporting player Harry Goldenblatt (Evan Handler) revealing himself for Charlotte (Kristin Davis), while Irish actor Paul Mescal added to the unadorned romantic carnage of Normal People with a post-coital shot of his penis.

But it doesn’t matter how many penises are shown, even with the celebrated gym shower shot from Netflix’s Sex/Life leading the way – it would be impossible to square up the decades of female nudity on television. The scales were beyond unbalanced, with the strip club as a pervasive setting and Game of Thrones using sex workers as a vessel for storytelling so often in the early seasons that the term “sexposition” had to be coined.

Harry Goldenblatt (Evan Handler) reveals himself to Charlotte (Kristin Davis) in Just Like That…Credit:HBO Max/Binge

Female breasts and pubic hair were mostly used as a means of visual pleasure for male viewers, even in some instances of sexualised violence (Game of Thrones again). There isn’t the same gratuitous impulse when it comes to female viewers and full-frontal male nudity. For the most part, shows are working their penis shots into the narrative, even when there’s an overload as in Minx. Whether it’s due to restraint or a double standard, women still don’t get a casual eyeful.

With male characters, penis shots are often used to convey a fraught psychological state. On HBO’s Euphoria – can you believe it took this long to mention it? – the infamous locker room sequence had high school football star Nate (Jacob Elordi), whose sexual development began with watching his father’s recordings of random sexual encounters, feeling overwhelmed by the collective nudity of his teammates. The 30 or so penises surround the oversized teen as if he’s being enveloped.

Creator Sam Levinson’s stylised depiction is both explicit and serious. But Euphoria does address the distinction between flaccid and erect penises (the latter are simulated with prosthetics). Full-frontal male nudity is often depicted in a simple point-of-view shot. Obviously, there are limitations with ratings and comparisons to pornography, but male nudity is rarely connected to sexual experience in the same way as female nudity. There’s a limit on enjoyment.

There’s also a clear distinction between stars and bit players. While a few lead men on television have bared all – see Oscar Isaac’s brief glimpse in Scenes from a Marriage – it’s still mostly extras who do the bulk of the unrobing. No one would expect a male lead to have a nude scene as stilted and unnecessary as the one – take your pick, they’re innumerable – that Abbie Cornish had in Jack Ryan.

Full-frontal male nudity on television is in its early stages, with showrunners vacillating between shock value and laugh-out-loud surprise. The possibilities are still being discovered, be it emasculation or exhibitionism. Repeating traditional approaches to female nudity would be foolish. Can show makers be more innovative? We may have shorties, flatties, long ones and fatties, but what matters is making them count for something more.

Stan is owned by Nine, the owner of this masthead.

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