Thanks to the gradual dominion of cable and streaming over traditional broadcast television, TV characters are having better, franker, and more nuanced sex than ever before. While HBO and Showtime used to corner the market for surprising and shocking sexual moments on cable, other networks have joined in on the fun—bringing sex to TV viewers like never before.
So in this, the Golden Era of TV Boning, we’ve put together a list of the very best sex scenes on televison. Every entry on this list is memorable for one reason or another: some because they’re iconic for the series or characters, some because they’re transgressive, some because they're just plain hot.
Game of Thrones (Season 3, Episode 5: "Kissed by Fire")
Jon Snow has made some vows, and Igritte wants him to break them. There are many memorable sex scenes in Game of Thrones, but nothing beats this intimate, literally steamy cave tryst. Kudos to Jon Snow for being a virgin and still going directly downtown.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 6, Episode 9: "Smashed")
Three seasons of sexual tension finally pay off in this moment, as Buffy and Spike segue seamlessly from fighting to fucking as a house literally collapses around them. Buffy’s sixth season made some missteps in its move to a darker, more explicit tone, and the Buffy/Spike relationship soured later in the season—but this first hookup is one for the ages.
American Gods (Season 1, Episode 3: "Head Full of Snow")
Though not the first standout sex scene from American Gods, this was the most important in terms of defining what made the show powerful. Putting a visually ravishing spin on a passage from Neil Gaiman’s novel, this sequence sees a young Middle Eastern man, Salim, share a night of passion with his taxi driver, who happens to also be a god. Showrunner Bryan Fuller has spoken eloquently about the dynamics of the scene, and making it “sex positive for a gay man who comes from a country where homosexuality is punishable by death and you can be thrown off of a rooftop.”
Mad Men (Season 5, Episode 1: "A Little Kiss")
Half a great sex scene is in the buildup, and this one comes after Megan’s unforgettable, ill-advised "Zou Bisou Bisou" dance at Don’s birthday party. Don comes home to an angry Megan provocatively cleaning the apartment in her underwear, taunting him for being old and boring. As they start angrily making out, it becomes clear this is a game they’ve played before, adding an intriguing twisted layer to their suspiciously idyllic new relationship.
Girls (Season 4, Episode 1: "It's All Fluid)
Lena Dunham's HBO comedy series was never one to shy away from provocation, particularly when it came to sex. Nearly the entire cast appeared nude at some point on the show. And while we were used to watching topless (or pantless) cast members on screen over the course of its six-season one, the most shocking sex scene involved that offered little nudity—but rather Ebon Moss-Bachrach's face buried in Allison Williams's ass.
Outlander (Season 1, Episode 7: "The Wedding")
Trying to pick just one great sex scene from Outlander is near impossible, but Jamie and Claire’s iconic, sensual first time is so definitive that the show now frequently calls back to it. It’s a scene characteristically defined by the female gaze, beginning with Claire taking Jamie’s virginity, and continuing with her instructing him to take his shirt off, so that she can admire him fully before round two.
Orange Is the New Black (Season 2, Episode 10: "Little Mustachioed Shit")
Whether in flashback or present-day, the ever-shifting sexual dynamic between Alex and Piper is one of OITNB’s consistent highlights. Season two flashes back to one of their early hookups, and features Alex going down on Piper seemingly for the first time. Unfortunately Alex’s girlfriend shows up before Piper can return the favor, but disregarding that, this is one of their greatest moments.
True Detective (Season 1, Episode 6: "Haunted Houses")
Rust hooking up with his partner Marty’s wife was one of the most predictable elements of True Detective’s first season, at least on paper. But the way it actually played out was fascinating and fully unexpected, as Maggie—fresh off the revelation that her husband is cheating on her yet again—goes to Rust for revenge sex. The scene swiftly goes from hot and urgent to hollow and disturbing, as Maggie realizes what she’s done and Rust realizes he’s been played.
Lost (Season 3, Episode 6: "I Do")
The cage arc was not one of Lost’s strongest, but this long-awaited hookup made the whole thing just about worthwhile. After Sawyer’s forced to break the news to Kate that they’re imprisoned not on their island, but an Alcatraz-like second island with no hope of escape, she does the only rational thing and jumps his bones. Kate might have ended up with Jack (just one of the things wrong with that finale) but her chemistry with Sawyer was incomparable.
Twin Peaks: The Return (Season 1, Episode 18: "Part 18")
Back in the original days of Twin Peaks, the mere idea of Agent Cooper having sex seemed far-fetched—much less with Diane, the long-mysterious woman to whom he addressed his aural journals. But the deranged finale of the show’s 2017 revival featured a sex scene between the pair that was neither sexy nor romantic, but still intensely powerful. Just like so much of this finale, it’s a mesmerizing, elliptical scene underscored by an indefinable sadness, and will haunt you for days.
You’re the Worst (Season 1, Episode 1: "Pilot")
Two toxic assholes get kicked out of a wedding, steal a blender, and go home together for some unexpectedly phenomenal sex. The pilot of You’re the Worst is both efficient and explicit as it establishes Jimmy and Gretchen’s dynamic, their realistic dirty banter interspersed with enough actual conversation to hint that this is already turning into more than a one night stand.
Sense8 (Season 1, Episode 6: "Demon")
RIP, Sense8. No other show could possibly have delivered this insanely hot, mind-boggling, polysexual orgy, which took the show’s premise—a group of strangers become psychically and emotionally linked—to its logical sexy extreme. In one of the most genuinely diverse hookups ever put on screen, a gay man of color, a transgender lesbian (played by trans actor Jamie Clayton), and two straight men all begin having sex with each other in four separate locations at once. It goes well.
Homeland (Season 1, Episode 7: "The Weekend")
Carrie and Brody’s romance wore out its welcome by the third season of Homeland, but during these early episodes it was electric. Their unforgettable cabin getaway is sexually cathartic but laced with tension; despite their intense physical connection, Carrie is now (correctly) convinced that former POW Brody is a double agent, and he has no idea she’s onto him. Nothing about their relationship is a good idea. But in their most painful, touching moments—like when Brody tells Carrie, mid-coitus, “I just want to live here for a second”—it’s hard to remember why.
Jessica Jones (Season 1, Episode 3: "AKA It’s Called Whiskey")
As a character recovering from the trauma of sexual and domestic abuse, Jessica Jones’s sex life has a different weight to it than that of most heroes. Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg was keenly aware of the need to show that Jessica still has sexual agency, and the ability to enjoy sex—hence the power of her vigorous, passionate, bed-breaking fling with fellow superhero Luke Cage.
The Americans (Season 2, Episode 6: "Behind the Red Door")
Intrigued by her husband’s dual life, Elizabeth asks Philip to seduce her as his alias, “Clark,” who she’s been told is an animal in bed. But when a reluctant Philip finally relents and gets rough with her, she’s horrified, the change in him triggering her own traumatic memories. This emotionally messy, smart sequence embodies all of The Americans’ most compelling ideas about identity and disguises within marriage.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.