TV

The Dick Stays in the Picture: HBO’s Long History of Full-Frontal Penis

From "Real Sex" to "Game of Thrones," a look back at the junk-filled journey to that controversial "Euphoria" locker room scene.

Before it even aired, the second episode of HBO’s newest drama Euphoria had the internet aghast, as the promise of some 30 dicks is wont to do. The pilot featured old McSteamy himself, Eric Dane, brandishing a prosthetic schlong, but this past Sunday’s edition kept things real and multitudinous.

The dick deluge was part of a story line involving football captain Nate (Jacob Elordi), his struggles with identity, and his subsequent foray into super toxic masculinity.

While Nate loves the thrill and the glory of football, he is none too pleased with all the cocks and balls of the locker room.

“He hated how casual his teammates were about being naked,” Rue (Zendaya) explains in voiceover. “How’d they’d talk to him with their dicks hanging out.”

To illustrate this point, a fully clothed Nate is shown surrounded by a locker room teeming with nude, rowdy men. He stares dead-eyed in front of him, lest he catch sight of the literally dozens of weiners flopping around him. The camera, however, is not so shy, and the viewer is treated to what Nate is missing—in slow motion, no less.

According to series creator and writer Sam Levinson, the original cut had “like, 80 more” penii, but even HBO has to draw the line somewhere. To certain viewers, the hype was unwarranted—but even in 2019, full-frontal male nudity tends to get folks a little dicksterical.

But Euphoria’s peen scene actually feels like a 30-year culmination of the premium network’s long, uncut history of cock shots. HBO showcases roughly a phallus a year, so it seems Euphoria really just brought decades of boundary-pushing to a… head.

Let’s Talk About Real Sex

In November 1990, HBO premiered Real Sex, which was originally a documentary special but went on to spawn 33 episodes over the course of 19 years. Described by Newsweek as “the 60 Minutes of sex,” the docuseries covered a wide range of topics far outside the realm of missionary with the lights off, from sex toys and polyamory to, as Vulture recalled in a 2013 oral history, “the vaginal molds of porn stars, squirting demonstrations at swingers’ conventions, and workshops in which participants were prompted to dip their testicles in sprinkles.”

Produced primarily by women, the show aimed to destigmatize sex after a decade haunted by the AIDS epidemic.

“Everyone was so frightened of sex and there was nothing like it on TV. People kind of didn’t dare,” producer and director Patti Kaplan told Vulture. “Sheila [Nevins, the creator of Real Sex] thought, ’People are still having sex and they’re still having fun and being playful. What are they up to?'”

Turns out they were up to foot fetishes, liquid latex, and penis puppetry (yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like).

Before airing its final episode in 2009, Real Sex introduced households across America to the bizarre and fantastical while raising the bar (or lowering it, depending how you look at it) for the depiction of sexuality on the channel’s scripted series. Though HBO has removed Real Sex and other more explicitly salacious shows from its platforms, male nudity lives on—and it is thriving.

Full-Frontal Fanaticism

In film and on TV, dicks are usually used for one of two purposes: for “art” or as a punch line. HBO programming has used them for both, to varying effects. The network has faced criticism, even from its own shows and creators, for exploiting women. The artistic merit of acclaimed early-aughts shows like The Sopranos and The Wire offered an argument against accusations of gratuitous female nudity. Then Entourage happened and that argument went flying out the window.

Male nudity was mostly limited to the classic butt shot, something regular cable and even network channels began adopting in the ’90s. HBO’s slogan during that time was “It’s not TV, it’s HBO,” meaning it could do things those other networks couldn’t. Shows like Oz, Six Feet Under, and the landmark miniseries Angels in America took advantage of HBO’s looser lines of censorship and offered up both thrilling fare and a heaping helping of naked dudes.

Still, a double standard persisted at the network for decades. The thing is, male nudity can serve a dramatic purpose, but unlike female nudity, it’s used equally for comedic effect. A naked woman is rarely the butt of a joke—she is meant to be a figure of desire, regardless of her own agency, if she has any—whereas a naked man can often be threatening, sometimes be vulnerable, and very frequently (intentionally or not) be hilarious.

The 2015 HBO movie 7 Days in Hell, as well as shows like Togetherness, Eastbound and Down, and The Comeback have mined laughs from an exposed cock. Society has, through years and years of repetition, become inured to female nudity, but male nudity still feels taboo, so as with anything naughty, we’re tempted to laugh at it. Also, penises are just funny to look at. And they’re almost always flaccid on screen because, as we all know, there’s nothing more dickstracting than a rock-hard rod.

It’s worth noting that HBO even dedicated three whole-ass seasons to a show about a man and his member, Hung, though the penis in question remained largely unseen, save for one brief scene. By our last count, Sex and the City, as much as it did to push the envelope on women’s sex lives, never featured a penis. The first SATC movie, however, is a different story.

Oddly enough, shows about sex tend to be stingy with the pork and beans, but they runneth over in genre-specific fare. Until the big-budget fantasy juggernaut Game of Thrones took over the world, prison drama Oz, which ran from 1997 to 2003, was the undisputed champ-peen of HBO, now famous for its phallic fervor. However, after the network unleashed the dragons, a decent trickle of one-eyed monsters followed suit in series like Looking, Westworld, and The Deuce. Meanwhile, the weed anthology series High Maintenance has the most cavalier attitude towards male nudity, and arguably does the best job of weaving that wood into its plots.

The merit or necessity of all these dicks is debatable, but we should at least be happy to be able to have this debate. Look around—we’re no longer confined to a TV landscape heavy with underbrush and devoid of tree trunks. The grass is green, and the peen is plentiful. HBO led the way, but now dicks are free to stream all over the place. What a time to be alive.

HBO’s 30 Years of Full-Frontal Dong: A Timeline

Particularly notable schlong shows in bold.

1990 – 2009 – Real Sex

1997-2003 – Oz

1999 – Private Dicks: Men Exposed

2001 – Six Feet Under

2003 – Angels in America

2004 – Deadwood

2005 – 2007 Rome

2006 – The Wire

2010 – Big Love

2011 – Hung

2011-2019 – Game of Thrones

2012 – Boardwalk Empire

2013 – True Blood, Eastbound and Down

2014 – The Comeback

2015 – Looking, Togetherness, The Leftovers, 7 Days in Hell

2016 – The Night Of, Vinyl

2016 – 2018 – Westworld, High Maintenance

2017 – Big Little Lies, Girls

2017 – 2019 – The Deuce

2019 – Euphoria

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat