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Stop Trying to Bring Back the Hays Code. Let Shows Be Horny!

A man lies on top of a woman outdoors, surrounded by trees, as they look into each other's eyes.

Now that You season 4 is out on Netflix Penn Badgley is making the PR rounds and one anecdote in particular is sticking out: He says he asked to have far fewer sex scenes in season four of You, with the ultimate goal of having none. Per Buzzfeed:

“Fidelity in every relationship, including my marriage, is important to me,” Penn said. “It’s got to the point where I don’t want to do that.”

So after You Season 3, Penn had a private discussion with the show’s creator, Sera Gamble, where he shared his hope of going down to no sex scenes at all. Penn remembered telling Sera that his “desire would be zero, to go from 100 to zero” in Season 4, but he was aware that this may not be possible.

I’ve always found the lust around the character of Joe Goldberg in You ick. The man is a sexual predator that kills women for sport in the pursuit of his obsession, so with that in mind, I’m OK with making him and the show less sexy. (Although I did love the suburban swinger couple in season 3. Those two ruled.) Ultimately, I don’t think you should do anything you’re uncomfortable with, and boundaries change as you get older or situations change.

What I’m not OK with is the weird social media reaction to Badgley’s comments, which are puritanical and just anti-horny. Here is an example of what I’m talking about:

Since the Tweet is cut off, I’ve written it out for you:

Penn Badgley requesting to have zero intimacy scenes moving forward with any of his projects because he respects his marriage too much & feels it’s unnecessary to both his public image & acting is the only thing that brings me hope for men today

I’ll reiterate that people get to set their own boundaries and leave it at that. This is not about Badgley. This is about the weird, regressive response calling for media as a whole not to be horny, and I’m not the only one to pick up on this:

OK, so the Hays Code, if you’re not familiar, is the reason why Lucy and Desi slept in separate beds on TV despite being married and why you could actually see a woman’s nipple in a movie before 1934. The Hays Code was a self-imposed set of rules instituted in 1934 because Hollywood pushed it too far, and the conservatives in American society were in an uproar over the content of movies and the way actors behaved off-screen, so the studio heads wanted to institute a self-regulated set of codes rather than be regulated by the government.

If that sounds insane, it is, because in 1915, the Supreme Court ruled that free speech did not extend to motion pictures. (This is later overruled in 1952. Ah the Supreme Court, a long and storied tradition of getting it completely and utterly wrong.) So basically, the more prudish among us, rather than just not consuming content, decided to control it for everyone for 34 years. (The code was active from 1934-1968.) Some of the tenets of the code included: no “white slavery” (of course, if you’re wondering, no other mention of slavery for any other race), no interracial relationships, and no nudity.

The Hays Code was instituted to make shithead racists, who want to control women, happy. All content is catered to them and their conservative viewpoints because it literally never occurs to these people to just not watch something, and they cannot fathom a world where not everything is made specifically for them. When people complain about how “old movies” were better because of the lack of sex, they’re really saying they liked the racist code the studios followed. It wasn’t because 80 years ago was a gentler, less horny time. It was because it was a more oppressive time in mass media when conservative viewpoints were the default because of the fear of government interference. (So, I guess for conservatives, it really was “the good old days.”)

When the code was finally abolished in 1968, the current rating system administered by the Motion Picture Association of America we have now was instituted. It’s not perfect, but it allowed for more adult content, and for that, I’m grateful! Although it still has a bias to allow more violence over sex into a non-R movie, per

The MPAA is generally considered to be more lenient towards violence in evaluating ratings for children, but tougher on sex and non-sexual nudity (frontal male nudity in particular).

America is so weird about sex, but that statement will shock no one except, perhaps, the people complaining about nudity and horniness in our TV and movies. Look, Disney is a multi-billion dollar media empire with its own streaming platform. There is nary a nipple or simulated sex scene to be found on Disney Plus as far as I know. (In America, that is—I understand outside of America, you all get the good stuff.) It’s not like it’s hard to avoid horny media right now. In fact, for those of us that enjoy horny shows, we’re in a real scarcity phase. Not since True Blood left our screens in 2014 have American audiences had a good, entertaining, trashy, horny show to watch.

What I find so offensive about this entire discourse is that everything seems so sexless right now. Every other movie out right now is an antiseptic PG-13 superhero movie, which, no offense meant if you like those, but when was the last time there was a solid R-rated adult thriller released like A Perfect Murder? I’m not even asking for an erotic thriller like Unfaithful because I know in the year 2023 that’s asking too much.

I think I, like the people who Tweeted the reactions above, have such a strong response to people wanting more chaste media because it feels like true adult content (that isn’t straight-up porn) is few and far between. If there are actors who have no problem with sex scenes, why shouldn’t we get shows and movies that have them? We should be in a golden age of sex scenes and horny media due to the adoption of intimacy coordinators as the industry standard. (HBO mandated all sex scenes needed one going forward in 2018.) This is ethically sourced trashy goodness for us all. I genuinely feel bad for anyone who doesn’t derive pure joy from Sookie Stackhouse having a threesome dream about two vampires. That’s trash art in its purest form and an escape from your mundane life of taxes, rent, and everyday minor annoyances. Let shows be horny, and stop being weird about it. Barring that, you’ve got 34 years’ worth of Hays Code content to enjoy; leave our horny shows alone.

(featured image: Netflix)

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