Television shows have come a long way in recent years in terms of their portrayal of sexuality. No longer just served up for titillation, the characters’ sex lives are often presented in a more realistic light that captures the complexities and joys of everything from a one-night-stand to a long-term relationship. A recent crop of explicitly sex positive TV characters who are strong and self-possessed has really challenged the often-negative depiction of sexuality in the media.
These characters embrace sexuality in all its forms. Whether they’re having sex with men, women, tons of people, or no one at all, they have an open, no-shame approach to sexuality that’s refreshing. So if your Netflix queue needs a little sexing up, then these shows can fulfill that need without any judginess. Sci-fi, superhero, and comedy shows are all represented, as well as intense dramas (and a modified telenovela).
With picks that range from the late '90s to current series, these shows run the gamut in terms of genre, but they all have one thing in common: a positive (and often realistic) portrayal of sexuality that doesn’t marginalize or shame the characters. Caution: there may be some slight spoilers ahead. I’d hate to ruin a beautiful plot twist from Buffy for anyone, even if the show did wrap up over a decade ago.
1. Jessica Jones of 'Jessica Jones'
The titular heroine of Jessica Jones is an abuse survivor who goes on to enjoy a fulfilling sex life on her own terms. Her enthusiastically consensual relationship with Luke demonstrates both characters' capacity for a healthy sexual relationship (Luke's concerns about not hurting Jessica are especially kind), and their encounters are portrayed in a positive light on the show.
2. Jane of 'Jane The Virgin'
Can a character who does not have any sex be considered sex positive? Yes! In Jane the Virgin, the heroine is, as the title implies, not sexually active. As one of the show's writers, Jennie Snyder Urman, explained in Think Progress, "she’s not a virgin because sex is bad. She’s a virgin because of all of these specific things in her life that have led to that decision." Jane's decision is respected by the other characters, and likewise, she does not judge those who choose to have sex. It's overall a very positive portrayal of sexuality in its many forms.
3. Nola Ross of 'Revenge'
Revenge's Nolan Ross is a notable character not only because he's bisexual, but also because it's presented in a very low-key way. As Casey Quinlan wrote in The Atlantic, "Ross tosses out the information casually, like any other fact about himself, suggesting to the audience that this knowledge isn’t a great revelation—not because Ross is the most dapper man in the Hamptons, but because bisexuality is not a big deal." But a TV show that normalizes nonheteronormative sexual identities is a big deal indeed.
4. Samantha of 'Sex and the City'
Sex and the City's Samantha is probably one of the forebears of the many sexually liberated women who rule TV shows today. Upfront and sexually adventurous, she enjoys herself and doesn't judge her friends' sexual explorations.
5. Sophia Burset of 'Orange Is The New Black'
Many of the characters from Orange is the New Black would qualify as sex-positive, but I'm giving her top billing for the excellent lesson in female anatomy that she provides the other inmates in the fourth episode of the second season. Sophia's struggles and triumphs as a transgender person are presented with great empathy on the show, demonstrating the lengths she will go to in order to own her body and sexuality.
6. Virginia Johnson of 'Masters of Sex'
Based on a real-life researcher, Virginia Johnson from Masters of Sex is sex-positive in a more studious way. As the TV show demonstrates, Johnson's pioneering research into human sexuality was not always well-received in the 1950s and '60s, but her findings helped undo the taboos behind many sexual topics.
7. Willow of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
Okay, I could write an encyclopedia detailing all the awesomeness of Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Suffice it to say, her move from meek nerdling to powerful boss-witch also includes her ability to come to terms with her sexuality. Accepting her relationship with Tara for what it really is, Willow and her friends adopt a positive view of sexuality that doesn't judge anyone for who they desire.