TV’s Most Influential Gay Male Sex Scenes

If this article were being written about important gay male sex scenes on television prior to 2000, it would be extremely short. In fact, it would cover exactly one sex scene. And that wasn’t even an actual sex scene, but more a postcoital cuddle between thirtysomething’s Russell and Peter, because, well, that’s all there was.

And then in 2000, Showtime decided to adopt a new slogan for its struggling cable network: “No Limits.” And to test those non-limits, they let a soapy drama called Queer as Folk premiere with what it called ” the longest lick down the backside of a boy of any TV broadcast in history.” Queer as Folk was a show that clearly didn’t know the meaning of the phrase “fade to black.”

Since then on the broadcast TV channels, however, there hasn’t exactly been an explosion of hot man-on-man action. Still, there are a handful of shows over the years that showed men either about to have sex or having just had sex, all slowly changing the landscape for gay male visibility. Those scenes have been among the most groundbreaking moments in television history. ER, thirtysomething and Brothers & Sisters all made it onto our list because they each represent another step on the long road toward televised sexual parity for gay men.

Still, cable’s where it’s at for gay male sex, even if it’s been toned down since Queer as Folk ended its five-year run. Queer as Folk , Noah’s Arc (which aired on Logo,’s parent company), and Dante’s Cove (here!) all unabashedly showed their gay male protagonists as fully sexualized, frequently naked characters. Meanwhile, shows like HBO’s Six Feet Under, The Wire and Oz went with groundbreaking story lines, but played coy with the explicit sex.

1. thirtysomething: Russell and Peter

This 1989 scene from the popular drama thirtysomething is the godfather of all gay male sex scenes on television. Titled “Strangers,” the episode depicted series regular Melissa’s friends Russell (David Marshall Grant) and Peter (Peter Frechette) in bed together, sharing an intimate moment and a kiss — although the kiss didn’t make the final cut of the show.

For sexiness, it barely ranks, but its importance can’t be overstated. At a time when homosexuality was becoming ever more prominent in the news and closely associated with the exploding AIDS epidemic, television was startlingly devoid of representations of gay men in anything other than stereotypical roles. To show two men simply lying around in bed after having sex, engaging in some comfortable pillow talk just like the other characters on the show, was probably more radical for 1989 broadcast television than showing soft-core porn on cable in 2000 — and not just because of the shock factor. It showed gay men as sexual human beings, not one-dimensional caricatures or joke fodder.

It was a long, long time before television tried anything like that again; airing the episode cost the network more than a million dollars in lost ad revenue. Because of the enormous controversy it caused, “Strangers” wasn’t shown in reruns, either.

Hotness Rating: 2/10
Romance Rating: 8/10
Significance Rating: 10/10

2. Queer as Folk: Brian and Justin

From its very first episode in 2000, Queer as Folk showed its gay and lesbian characters exploring almost every sexual theme possible on film, including the series’ first sex scene, the so-called deflowering of 17-year-old Justin (Randy Harrison) by the man who would be, mostly unwillingly and never monogamously, the love of his life, 29-year-old Brian (Gale Harold).


There had never been anything like it on television before, and there’s not likely to be anything quite that explicit again anytime soon. Not even later shows that include gay male sex scenes that air on gay cable networks (Noah’s Arc and Dante’s Cove) have gone where Queer as Folk dared to tread. In fact, when Logo recently aired reruns of Queer as Folk, it edited some of the sex scenes out.

Which raises the question: Do we need to see it? Queer as Folk went further than most straight-oriented TV dramas — right up to the border of soft-core porn and, some might argue, over it. They explored story lines involving public sex, sexually transmitted diseases and open relationships, and tied those plot elements into explorations of commitment, sexual identity, self-esteem and gay culture. Could Queer as Folk have done that without pushing the envelope with its sex scenes?

Maybe, maybe not. “No limits” isn’t just about sex; it’s about working without preconceived boundaries and trying to do something new. Sure, it was a soap opera with pretty, naked people, and no one’s arguing that it was great art. But sometimes knowing your lovers don’t have to sleep in their underwear or have their sex scenes fade inexorably to black sets you free in other ways, too. (Although, of course, sometimes it is just all about the pretty, naked people.) Fortunately for history, DVD lives forever. You can see Brian and Justin in their first, most explicit, and most romantic sex scenes, just the way the “No Limits” folks intended them to be seen, and decide for yourself.


Hotness Rating: 10/10
Romance Rating: 5/10
Significance Rating: 10/10

3. Noah’s Arc: Noah and Wade

Every show has an “it” couple, and Noah (Darryl Stephens) and Wade (Jensen Atwood) are “it” on Noah’s Arc. They’re on this list because of the historical significance of Noah’s Arc as the first drama focusing exclusively on black gay men. But they’d be here even if there were 10,000 other shows focusing on black gay men, because Noah and Wade are in love.

Oh sure, it’s a soapy, dysfunctional love, but if you can watch the scene where Wade’s holding Noah’s hand in the hospital after Noah gets gay-bashed without choking up, you might want to go see the Wizard about getting a heart.

That said, there aren’t 10,000 other television shows focusing on black gay men. Noah’s Arc is about the lives and loves of people who are almost never shown on television. As Rod McCullom told earlier this year: “It’s extremely important for us to see our images, as imperfect as they may be. And for some people, this is the very first time they saw black gay men on television, the very first time they saw black gay men on television express love toward each other, interacting with each other.”


Noah’s Arc didn’t shy away from showing the sexual side of those expressions of love, although it pulled back a bit from the “no limits” of its predecessor, Queer as Folk. In the series premiere, Noah is falling hard for Wade, a supposedly straight man he knows through a writers’ group they both belong to. When Wade suggests coffee, Noah goes. When Wade suggests they watch his new action film together, Noah goes. When Wade suggests they go dancing at a gay club, Noah goes. And when Wade suggests a three-way with a woman he knows, Noah freaks out, is advised by his closest friends not to do it, and then, of course, goes.

Naturally, at that point Wade figures out that three’s company, sends the female friend home, and endearingly, awkwardly and oh-so-erotically asks Noah to go to bed with him. And — surprise, surprise — Noah goes.

The course of true love never runs smooth, in life or on soap operas, so of course they break up and get back together. That’s what soap couples do. Their reunion after Noah is gay-bashed gets all the points for romantic sex, but Noah and Wade’s first time takes the prize for breaking ground — and making it both hot and sweet.

Hotness Rating: 8/10
Romance Rating: 7/10
Significance Rating: 8/10

4. Queer as Folk: Ben and Michael

If Brian and Justin are the poster boys for the undefined, unconventional open relationship, fellow Queer as Folk couple Ben (Robert Gant) and Michael (Hal Sparks) carry the flag for marriage, monogamy and queer family values.


Ben and Michael weather health challenges, tensions over their different HIV status, adopting an HIV-positive foster child, Michael fathering a baby with a lesbian friend, and buying a home together. In the show’s fourth season, Ben and Michael go to Toronto (where the show was filmed) and get legally married.

That was certainly not television’s first gay wedding, but their first night back home in the United States — complete with wedding bands on their beautifully entwined fingers, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes’ punky version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for a soundtrack, and the truly awesome abdominal muscles of out gay actor Robert Gant — was certainly television’s first gay wedding night.

Hotness Rating: 6/10
Romance Rating: 8/10
Significance Rating: 9/10

5. Noah’s Arc: Ricky and Dwayne

So you’re thinking, Dwayne? I don’t remember any Dwayne on Noah’s Arc .

That’s kind of the point, because Ricky (Christian Vincent) probably doesn’t remember him either, given the fact that Ricky burns through the boys at something like the speed of light. Which is, of course, part of his charm.


In the premiere episode of Season 1, “My One Temptation,” we meet Ricky, one of Noah’s best friends. If you’ve never seen the show, you’ll be amazed to find out that Ricky’s not the one with the biggest muscles, but he’s definitely the one with the busiest sex life.

Dwayne, played by actor and model Nate Adams, was a clerk in Ricky’s boutique. Well, he was until Ricky instituted a “no doing the help” policy and promptly fired him, did him in the storeroom, then rehired him. Oh, Ricky.

While the other characters in Noah’s Arc are all in relationships or chasing them, Ricky starts out joyfully single and sexually active. He does end up testing the waters of coupledom later in the series, but we first meet him as the attractive, human face of cheerful promiscuity.

The gay community hasn’t always welcomed representations of gay male promiscuity in drama, and Ricky’s characterization was both welcomed and criticized. Using elements of a stereotype in a characterization is always tricky, and there’s a double burden for a character who is a gay man of color. But Ricky and Dwayne’s storeroom sex scene just busted onto TV screens without apology or angst, marking the first graphic representation of gay men of color having recreational sex in television history.

Hotness Rating: 7/10
Romance Rating: 4/10
Significance Rating: 7/10

6. The Wire: Omar and Dante

Actor Michael K. Williams, who plays “homothug” Omar Little on HBO’s The Wire, has no problems playing gay. And Omar has no problems being gay. He’s TV’s first completely unthreatened, unconflicted gay stickup guy with a heart of gold.

Do not, however, kill his boyfriend, because the guys who tortured Brandon (Michael Kevin Darnall) to death in season one definitely paid for it. Omar’s next lover, Dante (Ernest Waddell), also discovered that one of the main drawbacks of being Omar’s guy is being kidnapped and tortured, although, unlike Brandon , he survived.

In the third episode of the series’ second season, “Hot Shots,” Dante teases Omar into proving he’s really gay by having sex with him. Omar is not all that hard to convince, and, says producer and writer Rod McCullom, their scorching kiss was “debated across black pop culture, even discussed by rappers and basketball players.” Now, that’s a hot — and important — sex scene.


Complexity and depth aren’t often found in television characters of any color or sexual orientation. The Wire breaks all kinds of ground with the character of Omar Little. As McCullom wrote, “Williams’ performance as Omar is one of the best portrayals of a black gay man ever seen on television. One moment he is ruthless and cutthroat; the next, he is sweet and tender with one of his boyfriends.”

Hotness Rating: 6/10
Romance Rating: 7/10
Significance Rating: 8/10

7. Six Feet Under: Keith and David

In 2001, HBO debuted Six Feet Under, a drama about a family of undertakers. Funeral director David Fisher (Michael C. Hall) and his cop boyfriend Keith Charles (Mathew St. Patrick) were American television’s first ongoing gay interracial relationship.


Other television boundaries surrounding gay male sexuality definitely got pushed when Keith and David went out for a wild day of paintballing, after which they end up in bed with Sarge (Josh Stamberg). This encounter launched an in-depth story line about threesomes and open relationships, and an examination of monogamy and its alternatives.

What makes this so groundbreaking is that it took place not on Queer as Folk or Noah’s Arc, shows clearly aimed at gay men, but on an Emmy-winning drama on cable’s premiere channel. It was an unapologetic look at a certain kind of gay relationship.


Keith and David’s tumultuous relationship weathered a number of storms before veering, somewhat unfortunately, into the obligatory gay parenting focus of which TV dramas are so fond. Six Feet Under was never sexually graphic, but its sexual story lines were edgy and controversial — and, like its gay characters, always fully integrated into the overall story.

Hotness Rating: 5/10
Romance Rating: 5/10
Significance Rating: 8/10

8. Dante’s Cove: Toby and Kevin

Oh, Dante’s Cove, how terrible you are in your cheesy fabulousness. The series begins in 1840, apparently an era when the women used parasols and wore lots and lots of eyeliner and Madonna’s 1983 black lace gloves. Grace, an evil sorceress, curses her fiancé for having hot gay sex with the butler, and there’s lots of full-frontal nudity and chaining and whipping by candlelight. It’s brilliant.

Then we cut to modern times where Toby (Charlie David) and Kevin (Gregory Michael) have fallen in love and have hot gay sex pretty much everywhere — like the beach with the waves crashing over them, and on their hot, sweaty bed in Toby’s hot, sweaty apartment with hot sweat pooling artistically on their naked skin, intercut with camera angles shot through the whirring blades of a fan.


This show is kind of Queer as Folk meets Charmed meets, oh … Dark Shadows, anyone? With lots of gay sex. And however lacking it might be in greater cultural and social significance, that’s definitely a television first.

Hotness Rating: 8/10
Romance Rating: 6/10
Significance Rating: 5/10

9. Brothers & Sisters: Kevin and Scotty

Brothers & Sisters marks the first time we’ve seen a sexually active gay character (Kevin Walker, played by Matthew Rhys) given full romantic parity on a drama on broadcast TV, but it is something we’ve seen often on cable. So the truth is, if Brothers & Sisters were on cable instead of ABC, it probably wouldn’t be on this list.

But this show is on ABC, which is why, when watching “Date Night,” the fifth episode of the series, gay and straight viewers took pointed notice when Scotty and Kevin (Luke MacFarlane) shared a steamy kiss that was clearly a prelude to sex. It had been so long since gay viewers had seen gay characters on network television behaving in any realistically sexual way that the internet buzzed with the news the next day.

Like its broadcast television forerunner thirtysomething, Brothers & Sisters only shows implied gay sex. (To be fair, the show doesn’t show a whole lot of heterosexual sex, either.) On the other hand, unlike Russell and Peter on thirtysomething , Kevin is a regular member of the cast and actually has a sex life. When Kevin fell in love with closeted actor Chad Barry (Jason Lewis), viewers were treated to several scenes of the two men falling into bed together or waking up together, all handled refreshingly matter-of-factly.

Hotness Rating: 4/10
Romance Rating: 7/10
Significance Rating: 8/10

10. ER: Chaz Pratt and friend

This scene from the 13th-season episode “Reason to Believe” is certainly a first for NBC, which managed to get us through eight seasons of Will and Grace without showing any actual sex.


ER’s Dr. Gregory Pratt (Mekhi Phifer) comes home and finds his brother Chaz (Sam Jones III), naked and doing the wild thing in the shower with a friend. Given the steamy sex scenes typical of ER ’s straight characters, this single scene marked a turning point in the depiction of gay male sexuality on the show.

The story line was introduced last November and just got picked up again recently, so here’s to more of Pratt’s gay brother and broadcast television’s first gay shower sex scene.

Hotness Rating: 4/10
Romance Rating: 2/10
Significance Rating: 8/10

11. Oz: Beecher and Keller

HBO’s Oz barely made it onto this list — not because Toby Beecher (Lee Tergesen) and Chris Keller (Christopher Meloni) , the “it” couple of the show, didn’t have sex. They did. Not because they didn’t love each other. They did. Not because people don’t find the couple hot. They do.

No, it’s because somehow on this show, even though there’s kissing and nudity and violence and suffering and even true love, there don’t seem to be any actual sex scenes, not even of the fade-to-black variety. Nonetheless, what is shown is groundbreaking simply for depicting a gay relationship that goes so far beyond the relatively happy (for television), normal couples usually depicted on sitcoms and dramas. These are seriously damaged, messed-up men who make for riveting watching.


During the course of their relationship, there’s an offer of anal sex as a form of apology, and the famous laundry room kiss, neither of which is, precisely, a sex scene. Still, within the genre of the prison drama, and with all its limitations as far as storylines go, this show does go beyond implied sex, even though it doesn’t quite show it. Proving that, Showtime’s optimistic 2000 proclamation notwithstanding, there are definitely still limits.

Hotness Rating: 4/10
Romance Rating: 4/10
Significance Rating: 7/10