From the earliest female orgasm to Hollywood’s initial, groundbreaking sex scene.
Sex on screen is hardly taboo in the era of Love Island and OnlyFans. We’re all but used to a little full-frontal nudity on our primetime television shows –– and not just in the post-marital “making love” sense. In the past two decades, we’ve entered a new age of cinema: We’re witnessing forms of straight, queer and interracial intimacy. We’re following trans protagonists as they embark on sexual, coming-of-age journeys of their own. We’re witnessing kink culture in new and exciting ways.
For every great step forward in the ways sex is depicted both on television and in film, though, there was a trailblazer –– some starry-eyed creative taking a chance on whether or not an American audience was ready to witness newly emboldened (and often utterly truthful) depictions of sex in this day and age. That’s why we scoured the internet in search of all of history’s most iconic on-screen firsts, from interracial intimacy to full-frontal nudity. Someone had to walk so Meg Ryan could run –– by which we mean, perform a full-scale female orgasm while seated at a diner in When Harry Met Sally.
First on-screen kiss: The May Irwin Kiss, 1896
It should come as no surprise that the first cinematic kiss took place between a Victorian couple in this old-school film depiction of a Broadway stage play.
First *erotic film*: Le Coucher De La Mariée, 1896
1986 was a hot and heavy year for the film industry. Following the medium’s first-ever on-screen kiss was the first formally documented erotic film, which centered on a newlywed couple enjoying their wedding night. Sure, there’s no dead on intercourse (we’re talking 19th century here), but we do see the bride undress behind a screen while her husband watches and it is, well, erotic.
First on-screen sex scene: Ecstasy, 1933
While not exactly raunchy by modern standards, this early 20th-century film stars a young Hedy Lamar –– and it was certainly ahead of its forebears at the time of its release. Even better? It also depicts the first-ever on-screen female orgasm.
First on-screen male nudity: I Am Curious (Yellow), 1967
This racy Swedish number was wildly influential in the U.S. specifically due to its sultry nature: Thrillingly enough, it’s generally acknowledged as the first example of full-frontal male nudity.
First on-screen female nudity: Inspiration, 1915
This silent film stars Audrey Munson, who poses in the nude for an artist –– which is true to form is that, at the time, Munson worked professionally as a nude model who just so happened to be cast in the occasional Hollywood movie.
First on-screen trans nudity: Transparent, 2017
This killer ABC drama stars trans actress, Alexandra Billings –– who plays a close friend and confidante to the show’s protagonist. She’s depicted fully in the nude early on in the show, while her boyfriend gives her a massage, making television history in the realm of openly celebrating trans bodies.
First televised interracial kiss: Star Trek, 1968
We have Star Trek to thank for the first televised interracial kiss, which took place in an episode titled “Plato’s Stepchildren.” In the episode, Lieutenant Uhura and Captain Kirk are pressured to embrace by a team of aliens, and it aired just one year after the Supreme Court struck down states' bans on interracial marriage.
First interracial movie kiss: The Crimson Kimono, 1959
While a handful of interracial kisses made it to the big screen around this time, many depicted white actors, made up to look “ethnic”. That said, 1959’s The Crimson Kimono was the Hollywood production to feature an actual interracial kiss: between Japanese-American James Shigeta and Victoria Shaw.
First on-screen lesbian kiss: L.A. Law, 1991
In a 1991 episode entitled "He's A Crowd," L.A. Law stars Michelle Green and Amanda Donahue share a kiss after a major workplace success. While it did break new ground, plenty of folks reference the kiss as a stunt, being that neither character ends up as a lesbian (and said kiss occurred during sweeps week).
First on-screen gay kiss: Dawsons Creek, 2000
In the season 3 finale of the oh so iconic Dawson's Creek, we see queer history being made when Jack (Kerr Smith) makes the dramatic journey to Boston to declare his love for Ethan (Adam Kaufman) –– after which they share a stunning, romantic kiss for the first time on network television.
First interracial sex scene: 100 Rifles, 1969
This popular action flick starring Jim Brown and Raquel Welch features a steamy hotel sex scene –– just one year after television’s first interracial kiss.
First lesbian sex scene: Personal Best, 1982
From director-screenwriter Robert Towne, this major, mainstream production centered around a young (hot) athlete (Mariel Hemingway) who falls in love with her teammate (Patrice Donnelly) –– and, well, the rest speaks for itself.
First televised lesbian sex scene: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, 2003
This cult-favorite serial ran for seven seasons –– and in that final season, we witness none other than the first-ever lesbian sex scene in broadcast TV history, which takes place between characters Willow and Kennedy who have long maintained a heated romantic subplot.
First cinematic gay sex: Another Country, 1984
Ultimately about an affair between two boys at a strict British boarding school, this ‘80s flick follows a young Rupert Everett and his dashing love interest, Cary Elwes. The sex itself is cut, throughout, with flashbacks and cinematic transitions, all of which render the scene….a bit evasive. But, in reality, this has long been the norm. In fact, it’s oft-cited that 2019’s Rocketman, the Elton John biopic, is the first-ever major Hollywood motion picture to display an authentic gay sex scene.