Tits and Dragons: Sexposition - Troped!

VOICE OVER: Eric Cohen
Written by Justin Giglio

Ever wonder why there are so many sex scenes in hit shows like Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Deadwood, and many others? The answer might not be what you expect. In this episode of WatchMojo's Troped, we'll be breaking down Sexposition, a combination of sex and exposition, and a trope that's all over cable tv shows. We'll look at why Sexposition is so common in the Golden Age of Television and in the height of Peak TV, and check out some of the most famous examples of this titillating trope in pop culture.
Written by Justin Giglio

Sexposition - Troped

“Sexposition.” Say it with me. All one word. “Sexposition.”
Welcome to WatchMojo’s Troped - the series where we deconstruct the clichés, archetypes, and story devices that won’t go away.
In this episode, we’re taking a look at Sexposition: scenes where characters can dump information ad nauseam and still hold viewers’ attention because there’s naked people in the frame.

Typically, expository dialogue that aims only to flesh out some backstory or set up a plot point in the future can feel tedious, boring, overly long, and ultimately uninteresting.
But, shove all of that into a scene with attractive people roaming around in their birthday suits, and voila…
… people start paying a lot more attention.

A portmanteau of “sex” and “exposition,” many, many, many shows have been guilty of this trope in the past, but the term was only coined in 2011 by critic Myles McNutt in a review of an episode of Game of Thrones, specifically the 7th episode of the 1st season, You Win or You Die. Since then, the term has taken on a life of its own, with many critics going back and re-evaluating the use of this trope in older shows, primarily cable shows where nudity is a-okay.

Namely, The Sopranos - some of the most crucial and memorable scenes of the series played out in The Bada-Bing, a strip club owned by the mob. A few wise guys would be planning a hit or fighting amongst each other in the foreground while naked women danced to 80s hair metal in the background. Or Deadwood - with Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen delivering countless info dumps during one-on-one sessions with his… employees.

In his review that gave the term legs, McNutt focuses on a specific scene, one in which the audience gets to learn a lot about Littlefinger: his past, his motivations - we get a glimpse inside the mind of a character who, up until that point, was something of an enigma. All of this takes place in his brothel as he instructs two of his prostitutes on the proper way to fake passion with a customer - as we listen to his monologue, we watch as two naked women rub up on one and other. Do the naked women add anything to the narrative? Well, not really. They’re really just there to make sure the audience doesn’t zone out half-way through Littlefinger’s big speech and miss an important piece of narrative information.

A number of criticisms have been thrown at shows that are guilty of overusing this trope, particularly Game of Thrones. Most critics who have a problem with the trope tend to agree that it’s a sign of laziness on the writer's part, appealing to our most basic desires to keep our attention where it would otherwise be lost.

So why is Sexposition so commonplace in the era of “peak TV” and the height of the hour-long cable drama? Well, modern TV dramas have gotten more and more complex since “The Golden Age of Television” began. With all that added nuance, character backstory, and in a lot of cases convolution, a lot more information needs to be delivered to the viewer in order for them to be expected to keep up with who’s who and what’s what. To keep up with the high demand for information, sex and nudity is just one of the tricks writers can use to hold your attention.

These scenes aren’t inherently bad, and can even offer some crucial character and plot moments, but they are quite effective at covering up what would otherwise be a snoozer of a scene and when they are overused, they make the show ripe for parody.