Lesbian sex on television – is Europe more open?

by TheLinster

by The Linster

First, thanks to my wonderful pal, Heather Hogan, for filling in last week. She is quite the writer, isn’t she? I want to be her when I grow up.

Before my unfortunate incarceration, I promised to take a look at how countries outside the U.S. have responded to the kind of sexual situations that sent the Parents Television Council into a tizzy over U.S. Skins.

I must admit I’m surprised.

Take this screenshot of The Sun on the day after the first episode of the fabulously sexy Lip Service.

Yes, I know it’s The Sun, where stirring up scandal is a specialty. Still, the story seems to reflect a bit of shock from readers. “Telly fans kicked up a stink last night after the BBC’s new lesbian drama showed a sex scene in a funeral parlour. Scores contacted TV Bis and web forums after Lip Service featured women romping in front of a corpse.”

Full disclosure: I have no memory of that scene being in a funeral parlor. I just remember thinking, “This is gonna’ be gooooood.” (It was.)

A group called The Christian Institute unsurprisingly reported similar outrage, but sort of shot itself in the foot when it said “scores” of viewers complained out of 580,000 viewers. Maybe “scores” has a different usage in the UK, but I tend to think of it as less than a hundred, which would be a fraction of a percent. That’s not a lot of outrage.

More reasoned was the Guardian’s review, which pointed out that the not-groundbreaking way in which Lip Service portrays lesbian relationships is itself hugely groundbreaking. But the comments sounded direct from red-state America.

“Western societies have crossed the line. They have gone from celebrating freedom to celebrating the things that freedom allows. Yes, freedom allows men to shack up with men and women to shack up with women. That’s nothing to celebrate.”


The Sapphic storyline on Coronation Street got a similar reception to Lip Service’s from The Sun.

Various sources reported “thousands” of complaints about the storyline but, again, no specifics. But since 6.7 million viewers tuned in for the first Sophie/Sian kiss, even several thousand is a low percentage. That the lesbian plot line would get any outcry at all, given Corrie’s history of controversial themes, is kind of amazing.

According to Brooke Vincent and Sacha Parkinson, who play Sophie and Sian, the most disappointing reaction to the lesbian relationship came from within the production. A director prohibited the pair from kissing during a promotional clip, even though Graeme and Tina, played by Craig Gazey and Michelle Keegan, were allowed to kiss “because they’re a male-female couple.”


Other European countries have managed to cross the Rubicon between straight and lesbian relationships with panache, leaving naysayers to talk mostly to themselves. Spain’s storylines on Hospital Central, Infidels, Los Hombres de Paco and others are not only uncontroversial, but quite popular. (Sarah Warn covered the topic comprehensively in an AfterEllen.com article in 2009, in case you’re unfamiliar with the shows. Or even if you are.)

Italy, in contrast, seems to be somewhat prudish about lesbian sex, if a recent USA Today report is correct. A television commercial for the Renault Twingo reportedly was banned by several Italian broadcasters due to its overt lesbian sexual theme. According to the London Daily Mall, Italy’s state TV RAI and Prime Minister Berlusconi’s Mediaset stations refused to air the ads. OML, however, is quite happy to do so. (Both RAI and Mediaset refuted the story.)

I have no idea what the voiceover says, but I know one thing: I would not choose that moment to go for a drive.

What is your experience with public reaction to the portrayal of lesbian sex on television? What shows or storylines have we missed?

One Comment to “Lesbian sex on television – is Europe more open?”

  1. Avatar of Nikki says:

    I think its good that tv shows are finally starting 2 show lesbian relationships & stuff, i aint a lesbian personally but I have relatives and friends who are, I think people should stop being so old fashioned about it, its real life & being a lesbian aint wrong or anything..its still abit of a shame tho, that like brooke and sacha off corrie couldnt kiss in the add like their other co-workers could, just because they are both female!!

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