“Insecure” – Giving In to Temptation
Season 1, Episode 5 – “Shady as F*ck”
It was the big bang that quickly set “Insecure” and Issa Rae’s character on a new path. When her old flame Daniel re-enters her life, Issa attempts to keep her feelings in check. But with boyfriend Lawrence on the couch at home, and the fire mostly extinguished in that relationship, it was only a matter of time before she’d give in to that lust. And it happens in Episode 5 of Season 1, when Daniel invites Issa to his recording studio, and the two end up making a lot more than music. That set the stage for Rae’s character’s self-exploration on the show, and she’s been on that new journey ever since.
“The L Word” – Beginnings
Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot”
“The L Word” opens on the story of Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) and Tina Kennard (Laurel Holloman), a couple looking to start a family, but having a terrible time trying to find the right sperm donor. After several missteps, the couple brings a guy back to the house for insemination the old-fashioned way. But he attempts to put a condom on, and when the women tell him no, he figures out what he was invited back to do — and bolts. Bette and Tina admit they weren’t into the plan anyway, and proceed to show each other what really turns them on.
“The Leftovers” – Kevin Goes Jogging
Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot”
Iconic before the episode even aired, the pilot’s introduction of Mapleton — a small town in upstate New York representative of a world coping with incomprehensible loss — doubled as an introduction to the man, the myth, the legend: Kevin “BSD” Garvey, played by Justin Theroux. Out for a morning jog around town, Chief Garvey’s oath to protect and serve came under risk when his uncontrollable nether-regions threatened to poke someone’s eye out. Though coverage from real-world tabloids drew a lot of inquisitive eyeballs to the first episode, the bulging gray sweatpants weren’t meant to be the focus or even a moment of levity. Later, the series incorporated an unending and inventive onslaught of dick jokes referencing the accidentally iconic sequence (much to Theroux’s chagrin), which helped make the sexiest scene of the series a callback worth remembering — you know, for non-prurient reasons.
“Looking” – Work, After Hours
HBO/John P. Johnson
Season 1, Episode 8 – “Looking Glass”
Arguably, the sexiest scenes in Patrick and Kevin’s relationship happened outside the bedroom. Even in an environment as otherwise sterile as a Silicon Valley game design office, the budding attraction between boss and fellow employee had an unspoken taboo quality to it. Kevin’s “It takes all of my will power not to lunge and kiss the fucking shit out of you” took on a different context as the series went on, but as an expression of boyfriend-transcending lust, it pretty much says it all. As the camera gracefully moves in closer as these two men grapple with their palpable feelings for each other, it’s proof that sexiness can be gentle, too.
“Masters of Sex” – An Experiment Gone Right
Season 1, Episode 6 – “Brave New World”
Like some of the other shows on this list, most of the TV-MA “Masters of Sex” scenes weren’t designed to be erotic. There was a clinical approach to the experimental Season 1 scenes that mirrored what Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson were doing in their groundbreaking human sexuality study. But eventual academic oversight and a crack in their not-quite-double-blind approach both forced Bill and Virginia to take matters into their, erm, hands. Agreeing to treat themselves merely as scientific subjects quickly morphed into something different. Seeing the tiny changes in their first encounter, going from professional to something more was an exciting turn that carried with it a hint of tragedy. Knowing that this would forever change their dynamic spelled a certain level of doom for Bill’s marriage, but the show is so focused on that particular moment that all other concerns melt away for the briefest instant.
“Outlander” – Claire and Jamie Travel to Pound Town
Season 1, Episode 7 – “The Wedding”
Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) first night together as husband and wife somehow managed to be both romantic and incredibly erotic, a balance that their love story has struck over and over again. The scene unspools much like foreplay and sex, wringing out tension with unhurried moments like Jamie unlacing her corset and stays, but then offering release as the two frantically come together. The heightened air of discovery — Jamie sees her fully unclothed at last, and she introduces the virgin to some very adult pleasures — is intoxicating. If only everyone’s first time could be so memorable and sublime.
“Party Down” – Pancake Lady
Season 1, Episode 4 – “Investors Dinner”
There’s something about the goofiness of the way that Henry and Casey plan their friends-with-benefits situation that a) you just know is never going to last and b) seems more tempting than it actually is because they’re at work. Watching them set up ground rules that they won’t keep goes up a notch when Henry finally summons the self-confidence to tell off an insufferable guest at a ritzy house party. The steamy-car encounter in the mid-credits tag doesn’t last long, but mixing food and dirty talk seemed only natural for a show about catering. This on-and-off-again relationship would only get more complicated from there, but the fumbling and the no-strings-attached nature of it all made this one of the show’s most oddly endearing moments, too.