From the 'Brady Bunch' bed to that 'Dawson's Creek' kiss, here are the on-screen moments that pushed limits and changed minds on sex.
This silent film is considered by film buffs to be the first time a woman was featured completely nude in a non-pornographic way in an American movie. Munson played a model who poses for an artist in the movie; she's also shown partially nude in Purity (1916). It's almost impossible to track these films down, but you can still see Munson all over the place; because she was a professional nude model who just happened to be cast in Hollywood movies. There are 15 statues of Munson's nude form in New York City alone.
Although an early review called this sitcom from the now defunct DuMont network "overly cute" because of the wife's "squeals," Mary Kay and Johnny (played by Mary Kary and Johnny Stearns) were the first couple to share a bed on TV. The show, which took place in their fictional Greenwich Village apartment, eventually moved to CBS; though because it was recorded and broadcast live, most of the episodes are considered lost.
Although they slept in two single beds pushed together in the first season, once their fictional son was born on the show, the couple spent the rest of the series sleeping in two twins in the same room. Bonus trivia: while Lucy was expecting her son onscreen, you still couldn't say the word "pregnant" on television, as it was considered too crass.
In "Plato's Stepchildren," Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) are forced to embrace by aliens. The episode aired just one year after the Supreme Court ruled on Loving v. Virginia, striking down states' bans on interracial marriage, so it was still considered provocative.
Although the Munsters and Bewitched's Darrin and Samantha were also married couples who shared a bed on national television, The Brady Bunch was the first depiction of a human couple to share a duvet.
In this ABC original movie, Hal Holbrook plays a divorced man who has been living with his lover, Gary (Martin Sheen) for years and has to come out to his teenaged son. The movie won the Golden Globe for Best Miniseries, along with a Writer's Guild of America honor, that year. While there is no sex scene, per se, it was the first time a gay couple was portrayed on television with compassion. Holbrook's character tells his son, "Gary and I have a kind of marriage. We … we love each other.”
In this PBS adapted version of Bruce Jay Friedman's off-Broadway play, Steambath, the characters wake up in a sauna and learn that it's a version of the afterlife. Perrine, who Vice has dubbed "the thinking man's sex symbol," drops her towel on camera, resulting in the first full frontal nudity scene on public access television.
In this made-for-TV movie that aired on primetime NBC, Michael Pierson (Aidan Quinn) comes home to tell his parents (Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara) and grandmother (Sylvia Sidney) that he's gay — and HIV positive. This was the first time HIV/AIDS was mentioned in mainstream pop culture.
In ABC's made for television flick, Mariette Hartley's Gail, in trying to get over her dead husband, falls for Lynn Redgrave's Marjorie. While the will-they, won't they sexual tension was at the heart of the film, the New York Times wrote at the time that "passion between the two women" was not shown, and instead their intimacy was restricted to "rather tentative hugging" and "washing each others' hair."
ABC's Soap was controversial throughout its four seasons for all kinds of reasons, including Billy Crystal's character Jodie, an openly gay man, actively dating other men. Although it was meant to be a parody of daytime soap operas — hence the patricide, mother and daughter "sharing" a tennis pro, and characters getting "sex changes" — the series still pushed the limits of what made for "acceptable" primetime viewing. Here, a gay man was a punchline more than anything.