By Gen Terblanche30 May 2023
Say yes to sex-positive streaming
Close the curtains, turn down the lights and cosy up for grown-up story time. We’re talking about shows and movies featuring adults of all shapes, all sizes, all races, and all abilities who want a good time between the sheets.
There’s a lot more to that than sex. There are plenty of shows that shoehorn mandatory porn time into the story the way we get ad breaks on TV. Other shows use sexy shenanigans to titillate and thrill as they hit the buzzer marked “Sex and Death”, or they centre on painful sexual relationships that border on abuse and addiction. We’re looking to slip into something more comfortable.
Here they are, at your leisure and for your pleasure, sex-positive series and movies you can stream right now.
How often do you see movies centred on an older woman’s pleasure? Usually we have to make do with beach walks in white cardigans. Widowed retired teacher and mother of two Nancy (Emma Thompson) has never seen what all the fuss about sex was about.
Let’s just say while her husband always got his, he never bothered to even try to tick her box. Now in her 60s, she wants to finally see what has poets, artists and musicians stampeding to sex town. It’s time to call in a professional, and Nancy taps young, handsome sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) for the job because if she’s going to buy a two-hour sexperience, it may as well be with someone hot. She just has to get over a lifetime of managing everyone’s else’s needs, and silence the nagging voice of her inner critic, first.
Fortunately, Leo the pro knows that pleasure is a full body and mind experience, and he offers Nancy a judgement-free safe space to explore and discover.
For a less rosy (but still funny) look at men in sex work, try the Thomas Jane comedy series Hung, which sees his character Ray struggle to get into sex work because he’s so used to judging women (both of which are played for laughs in the show) by whether they serve his own appetites. Through the series, though, Ray gets a crash course in understanding the work part of sex work, and develops a new, more balanced perspective on desire and femininity.
For another spotlights on male sex workers, with a more dramatic and less sex-positive atmosphere, watch crime drama series American Gigolo with John Bernthal, which focuses on the exploitation, manipulation and abuse rife across the adult entertainment industry in LA.
This movie (adapted from André Aciman’s 2007 novel about first love and exploration) miraculously dodges the age-gap ick despite centring on 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) falling head over heels into love, lust and confusion with his father’s confident, messy 24-year-old graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer). While it’s not a love that can outlast the summer, Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) hints to him that the awakening it offers is still something to be treasured.
The world around Elio blooms with sensuality as he explores his own feelings. And the lyricism in how his story is filmed forms a stark contrast to Hollywood’s normal presentations of young male loss of virginity – which tend to bawdy comedy, status seeking, and crude posturing as schoolboys try to show off to each other, rather than connect with a partner.
Romantic drama Disobedience (based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Naomi Alderman) explores what happens when someone’s sexuality falls outside the bounds of their religion. When bisexual photographer Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) returns home to the hyper conservative Orthodox Jewish community where she grew up for her father’s funeral, she also reencounters her childhood best friend and first love, Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams).
The two women compare lives – the one who stayed, married, and denied part of herself and suffers a deep unhappiness as a result, and the one who left family and community behind so that she could be her authentic self. As the two reconnect, Esti admits that she’s a lesbian, and the kisses and sexual encounters between the women (which are filmed with a sensitivity and respect that only enhances their blazing hotness) pull her back from despair. Esti realises not only what suppressing her physical desires has cost her, but that she still has the choice to walk any other path in life that she wants, including being a mother outside of the community. In Disobedience, sex and sexuality are a source of joy that shouldn’t be ignored.
Adulting might have had South Africa clutching its collective pearls as it pulled the sheet back on four guys and their sex lives in gorgeously lit, perfectly moisturised detail.
But aside from the dynamics between Vuyani (Luthando ‘BU’ Mthembu) and his abusive sugar mama, Beth (Winnie Ntshaba), when Adulting gives us on-screen sexy times, it’s about equal pleasure. The show normalises both men and women’s physical desire, and when they’re in bed, its characters pride themselves in making sure that their partner has a good time too, even if they have to tie themselves in knots or do a headstand in a bunny suit to do it.
In this world, good sex ends with everyone involved lying back and panting in a sweaty heap afterwards, singing each other’s praises, saying thank you, smiling and laughing. How often do you see that on TV?
Many of The Wife’s beautiful, heartfelt, romantic and downright erotic sex scenes had us hot under the collar as they showed the characters’ incredible chemistry catching fire on screen. But the series is a mixed bag when it comes to sex positivity, as some episodes also include intense scenes of sexual violence.
In all cases, though, it’s never sex in your face for the sake it. But if you’re going in for a re-watch and you’d like to avoid the abuse scenes, consider reading through the The Wife recaps on Showmax Stories first.
Intersectionality meets joyful sexuality In this lively comedy drama series about adult entertainment. Joyce Prigger (Olivia Lovibond) joins the sexual revolution of the swinging 1970s by becoming the editor of an erotic magazine for women, with the help of seedy publisher Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson). Through the series, experience slowly teaches white feminist Joyce that she needs to become a determined advocate for equal rights for everyone, especially Black women like Doug’s secretary, Tina (Idara Victor). Minx magazine hires all genders, races and sexual orientations, and the magazine’s model “audition” scenes revel in the body positivity that Minx wants to bring to everyone who’s been marginalised or fetishised by mainstream pornography. Get ready for an eyeful of nudity that is, for once, actually necessary to the story!
Through Tina, Doug and Joyce, the series uses comedy to skewer the attitudes that equal rights advocates were up against in terms of social change and sexism in the 1970s. But it doesn’t diminish Joyce’s struggle to shake off her personal inhibitions about sex – an ingrained belief that surrendering to pleasure would place her in a position of weakness in relation to men.
It allows Joyce to call out the dodgy issues with consent she’ll land up with if she has a sexual relationship with Shane (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the fireman who’s working for her as a model, and also allows Shane to call out his colleagues’ small-minded sexism when they try to belittle him for becoming a model for a women’s magazine. Go get it, Minx!
In this single-season comedy series based on the 2017 Tom Perrotta novel, 40-year-old single mom Eve Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn) is at a loose end after sending her son off to college. She has the house – and herself – to herself, for the first time in forever. Given licence to do as she pleases, a laptop and the full scope of the internet’s naughty side, Eve sets out to discover what that is, exactly.
But as she starts to see the X-rated possibilities all around her, it turns out it’s not just her sexy side that Eve needs to rediscover. And the show delivers an expression of middle-aged women’s sexuality that doesn’t cater to male fantasy. Even when Eve gives 19-year-old Julian (Owen Teague) a shot, the reality doesn’t play out like the hot cougar pornography she’s seen online.
Throughout the show, Mrs Fletcher says a big yes to sex, then steps back to look at how we fulfil that desire. In contrast to Eve, her son Brendan (Jackson White) is in for a shock as college life pulls the rug out from under his deluded sexual arrogance and entitlement, and gives him a kick in the butt from the concept of mutual consent, in sex and in humour.
Caution: This series might turn you into a Kathryn Hahn-sexual.
Real talk: documentaries about sex
Along with delightfully sexy series, Showmax has an eye-opening library of documentary and reality series that get real about who’s doing it, and how, around the world. There’s so much more to the sex education story than where babies come from! And when it comes to getting to grips with self acceptance, there’s nothing quite like a bit of perspective. Let’s talk about it.
South Africa’s Afrikaans community is often seen as deeply conservative but this docu-reality series is about the blow the lid off that potjie. As clinical psychologist Bradley R Daniels leads a panel of 10 Afrikaans people in opening up about what they do when the neighbours aren’t looking, and what they’re curious about, we see the true range of how Afrikaans people pursue pleasure.
The panellists also comment on on-screen interviews with sex workers who reveal what their clients ask for, owners of adult entertainment shops, and a host of people who enjoy alternative expressions of sexuality.
Hot on the heels of Sex in Afrikaans, this documentary series hosted by writer Kim Windvogel and journalist Romantha Botha asks what the rest of South Africa gets up to after dark in a way that normalises talking about taboo topics (even beyond the ins and outs of sex) in a comfortable, chatty and non judgemental way.
South Africa’s celebs including Lesego Tlhabi (Coconut Kelz), Moonchild Sanelly, and Siv Ngesi lead the way as they tell funny stories about their own firsts and clueless moments (episode 1 is a treat). This is a fantastic starter series as its open curiosity is backed up by scientists of all stripes telling us what their research really reveals about human sexuality and pleasure.
Sex Etc: The late Mark Pilgrim and sexologist Dr Elna Rudolf host this (2005) openly curious talk show about sex and sexuality.
Cara Delevingne is on an open-minded, open-hearted journey to explore her own sexuality and she’s taking us along for the ride.
The series moves from the science of why women in gay relationships are having more orgasms than their heterosexual sisters, to exploring a wide array of gender expressions in cultures around the world, and looking into the world of ethical pornography for everyone. In episode 5, she chats with South African polyamory activist and “self love sangoma” Muvumbi Ndazlama, and in episode 6, Carla comes to South Africa on the trail of how colourism impacts the idea of physical attractiveness.
Sex Life: For the truly curious, this three-season pornucopia of global human sexuality takes us everywhere from lesbian clubs for bicurious women, to a trans-inclusive strip show, to a day of work with an erotic underwater photographer, and much, much more.
Seven Black South African women who work as adult entertainers demystify their daily lives, both on and off the clock, in this reality series. We learn their back stories as they uncover how the work they do now often helps them to reclaim their bodies and lives after sexual exploitation and abuse – and how they navigate clients’ feelings of entitlement to female bodies on online platforms like OnlyFans.
As well as humanising a line of work that’s often devoured in private by the same people who shame it in public, the series’ cast exudes hard-won body positivity and self love in the face of the racism and warped standards imposed on women’s bodies in the adult industry.
Gigolos: For more sex workers and adult entertainers telling their own stories with a sensational reality twist, watch this American reality series.
Naked SNCTM: For a deep dive into the exploration of sex work, the high-end club Naked SNCTM opens its doors in this reality series about how their staff cater to the fantasies of its rich and famous clients.
Now cool it!
Does all this sex talk have you hot under the collar? If you’re looking to cringe your way right out of it, Jamie Morton’s comedy special My Dad Wrote a Porno reveals what it was like for him to stumble across his dad’s alter ego, Rocky Flintstone, writer of the erotic novel Belinda Blinked.
Together, Jamie and his friends James Cooper and Alice Levine form a book club no one wanted, as they read excerpts from Belinda Blinked out loud and deliver some literary criticism.
Stream Adulting on Showmax
Sex and Pleasure: Soul Ties
More addictive shows to binge-watch
New seasons of your favourite series, now streaming
The latest seasons of Power Book III, New Amsterdam, Bel-Air, Succession, Minx, Gossip Girl and more are all streaming on Showmax.
20+ addictive South African reality shows to stream
Stream The Real Housewives of Durban, This Body Works For Me and more of South Africa’s best reality shows on Showmax.
Made in South Africa
Lawyer up with 6 hard-hitting legal dramas
Legal dramas like Perry Mason, Suits and Billions raise the stakes for great TV and are available to stream on Showmax.
Hail to the thief in White House Plumbers and 6 more tales of political fails
Woody Harrelson makes history in White House Plumbers, a comedy-drama about the conspiracy of fools behind Watergate. Plus 6 more tales of political fails.