10. Six Feet Under
It’s weird to think that Alan Ball went on to create True Blood after helming Six Feet Under, not least because the latter was basically the opposite of a fantasy. For the most part, sex on this death-obsessed series was realistic and plot-driven. There were times when it got a little weird — there was Brenda’s sex addiction, which led to everything from threesomes to play parties, and David’s brief foray into the bar scene — but never without a good reason. We consider Six Feet Under to be the gold standard for non-creepy sex on HBO and proof that you don’t have to gross people out to get them talking.
9. The Sopranos
Even if so much of the show hadn’t been set in a strip club, there still would have been a lot of widely varied sex on The Sopranos. But, to their credit, the writers generally avoided freaking us out by working the steamy scenes into the plot so that we rarely got a context-free cringe-fest. As the blog Writing Women points out, the series highlighted the difference between Tony and his associates’ treatment of the ladies they love and those they objectify: “With the women they love, such as their wives and girlfriends, the Soprano men, but most notably Tony, engage in intimate and tender lovemaking. With paid professionals, such as call girls and strippers, pleasure is involved, but it’s primarily a business deal. It’s no secret that Tony Soprano sleeps around but he only engage in certain sex acts with a specific type of woman.”
8. Sex and the City
The ladies of Sex and the City famously lived up to the show’s title by exploring all aspects of sex and romance at the turn of the millennium. S&M, vibrators, Viagra, same-sex experimentation, guys who could only get off in public, “funky spunk,” and the dangers of being “the up-the-butt girl” are only a few of the issues Carrie and her single friends tackled. But the hookups themselves never got as graphic (or uncomfortable) as they do on many of HBO’s other shows — perhaps because Sarah Jessica Parker famously refused to do nude scenes.
7. Boardwalk Empire
For the most part, Boardwalk Empire delivers standard HBO sex — it goes on a few seconds longer than it needs to, just to make sure everyone who’s tuning in for boobs enjoys their premium-cable perk. The reason the show ranks higher than a few others is that the pairing of Paz de la Huerta with Steve Buscemi is so difficult to watch. She digs her nails into his chest, she calls him “Daddy” (gag), and it’s awkward enough to see one of our favorite actors and, well, Paz de la Huerta share scenes with their clothes on.
Often referred to as “Sex and the City for men,” Entourage tended to be pretty frank about the sex lives of its Hollywood hangers-on. Some highlights include E and Sloan working their way through a terribly awkward attempt at anal sex, and that one episode with the bunny sex. But there was always more dudebro talk about the act than unflinching depictions of it, meaning that Entourage still can’t touch many of its HBO rivals for sheer creepiness.
5. Big Love
It’s not that most of the sex on Big Love was especially bizarre in itself. There was that weird flirtation between Ben and Margene — who didn’t give birth to him but is still, for all intents and purposes, his mom — and all the shudder-inducing stuff Alby used to get up to in public bathrooms. Mostly, the reason that we’re ranking this so high is the polygamy, especially considering that Bill, of all people, is the one who gets to have such a disproportionately high amount of sex. We especially didn’t enjoy seeing him with Margene and remembering that they’d been getting it on since she was a minor.
At this point, we’ve seen three episodes of Girls and — minor spoiler — the sex act that looks most pleasurable is an attempt at semi-public masturbation. The scenes between Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, and her non-boyfriend, Adam, are particularly cringe-worthy, every flaw and grimace and inappropriate comment rendered in unflinching detail. The fantasies are joyless, and the use of contraception is scarily imperfect. But the girls’ sexual issues are also fairly realistic, taking this show out of the running for HBO’s top three.
3. Bored to Death
No one who’s familiar with Bored to Death creator Jonathan Ames’ fiction should have been surprised that there was so much weird sex on this HBO sitcom. There was plenty of bondage to go around, a copious amount of voyeurism (remember the furries?), a highly uncomfortable threesome, and some sweet, sweet love between Zach Galifianakis and an “elder lover” roughly twice his age. Those incidents alone may have been enough to land Bored to Death at #3 on our list, but what clinches it is Jonathan’s X-rated dalliance with a woman who turns out to be his half-sister.
2. True Blood
It isn’t an episode of True Blood if there isn’t an incredibly creepy sex scene (and when we say “sex,” we’re even excluding the several horrifying rapes, because that’s a different thing entirely). Sometimes it’s Eric and/or Pam having their way with a chained-up human slave in the basement of Fangtasia, other times it’s Sookie’s vampire ménage-á-trois fantasies, and every once in a while you get something truly nauseating — like the time Bill went to bed with his maker, Lorena, and spun her head all the way around. We’re still having nightmares about that one.
1. Game of Thrones
There’s all kinds of sex on Game of Thrones: covert same-sex trysts, dwarves paying to do unspeakable things with prostitutes, the eye-poppingly athletic encounters between Danaerys and Khal Drogo. But it isn’t the astonishing variety alone that wins Game of Thrones the dubious honor of Creepiest Sex on HBO — it’s the fact that the pairings are so often incestuous. Although we haven’t been, er, treated to a scene between Craster and his many daughter-wives (shudder), we have endured a whole lot of squicky contact between siblings Cersei and Jaime Lannister. If that weren’t enough, we recently saw Theon groping a pretty blonde lady who we soon learned was his sister. George R. R. Martin, do we need to have a talk?