Actors like Anna Kendrick, Kevin Bacon, Natalie Dormer, and Chris Pratt have all spoken out about gender equality when it comes to nude scenes, and while a smattering of series — Showtime's Shameless, Starz's Outlander and Spartacus, HBO's Oz, and Netflix's Sense 8 — have showcased naked men, the fact remains that female nudity is featured infinitely more on television.
But the creator of Showtime's The Affair, Sarah Treem, did her part to balance the scales by featuring full-frontal male nudity — a first for the Golden-Globe winning show — in the Season 2 premiere.
“We don't ever want this show to be about just showing women's bodies because they're titillating,” Treem told BuzzFeed News at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills in August. “We want it to be as equal as it can.”
The scene comes halfway through the Season 2 premiere, as the perspective shifts from Noah (Dominic West) to his estranged wife, Helen (Maura Tierney). We see Helen in bed with Max (Josh Stamberg), a family friend in the first season who has clearly become more in light of Noah and Helen’s separation. After they have sex, Max stands up to order room service and Helen — as well as the audience — comes face to face with Max’s flaccid penis. (Treem declined to say if a body double was used for the scene.)
“That moment of male nudity in the premiere is very much about Helen looking at a new penis and it depressing her because it's not her husband’s,” Treem said. “That whole first scene is about the experience of having sex with someone who isn't her husband and how depressing it actually is. We felt the nudity was appropriate for where she was in that scene and that it would be an important thing about having sex with somebody new; there's new genitalia you have to contend with and it can sometimes throw you.”
Given its intimate subject matter, The Affair, which also stars Ruth Wilson and Josh Jackson, regularly features its actors in various states of undress and Treem was relieved to find that Showtime didn’t challenge her choice to feature full frontal male nudity. And while she did bemoan the fact that women are still, by and large, asked to spend more time naked on screen than their male counterparts, she is more frustrated that the lack of male nudity is representative of a larger issue.
“It frustrates me in general that women's experiences are not explored in depth on television in the way that I recognize as truthful,” she said. “I don't particularly feel strongly about nudity one way or the other — believe it or not, it's not even close to my preoccupation when it comes to making this show — but I am interested in telling these incredibly intimate stories from four different POV’s, so let's get intimate with women.”