In the Golden Age of television — or Peak TV, or Oh God Make It Stop There’s Just Too Much TV — shows aren’t just more cinematic, they’re offering us more of everything. That includes more sex scenes, which have become increasingly prevalent, revealing, and, yes, even artful in recent years. We recently chose the 25 best movie sex scenes of the last 25 years, and with the smaller screen’s growing resemblance to its cinematic brethren, we thought it only right to do the same for television. We also assumed that making a list of the 25 best TV sex scenes of the last 20 years would be far easier and much less surprising. Spoiler alert: We were wrong.

Why 20 years and not 25? After performing a bit of incredibly boring and totally scientific research, we came up with a sizable shortlist of contenders — and we realized that the, ahem, rise in TV sex scenes can be traced back to the late ’90s. Not necessarily a mind-blowing revelation, given that this is also around the time that prestige TV began its takeover of the medium.

Still, there are a few surprises on this list. So before you find yourself shouting at the computer screen, wondering how in the hell scene X was ranked that much higher than Y, or why your favorite scene (like Margot and Alana on Hannibal, which tragically fell just below our cutoff) isn’t featured, here’s how the voting system works: Our panel of five experts (i.e. people who watch too much TV) each chose their 25 favorite scenes from the original shortlist. We tallied their votes, came up with a shorter shortlist, and asked our writers to rank them in order of preference.

A bunch of very tedious math and many unsexy spreadsheet columns later, we bring you the final list. So light those candles, grab the rosé, crank up your bow-chicka-wow-wow music of choice, and get ready to revisit the steamiest scenes that the Peak TV era has to offer.

The 25 Best TV Sex Scenes of the Last 20 Years


25. The Leftovers
“Solace for Tired Feet” (Season 1, Episode 7) 

Rewatching this scene after The Leftovers finale makes it even more rich and emotional. Kevin and Nora’s romance was a constant stop-and-start in Season 1, held back by their individual grief (not to mention that G.R., which was a total mood-killer). But when Kevin finally arrives at Nora’s door, they both take their first step toward healing and give themselves permission to feel good for the first time in years. It’s a sexy scene (I mean, have you seen what Theroux and Coon look like naked?), but Max Richter’s slowed-down Leftovers theme gives it much-needed tenderness after all the emotional turmoil of the episode. – Erin Oliver Whitney

24. House of Cards
“Chapter 24” (Season 2, Episode 11)

The marriage between Frank and Claire Underwood often seems more an alliance between like-minded politicians than an amorous relationship. That lent extra OMG oomph to this scene from late in the show’s second season, where simmering tensions between the Underwoods (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright) and their personal bodyguard Edward Meechum (Nathan Darrow) suddenly erupt in a, well I don’t know the exact pronunciation, but I believe it’s ... ménage à trois? House of Cards mostly kept the repercussions of Undermeechum under wraps in subsequent seasons, but the memory of this surprising bit of eroticism lingered on, reframing how we thought of the show’s lead couple and their hidden hunger for more than control of the White House. – Matt Singer

23. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
“Why Is Josh in a Bad Mood?” (Season 1, Episode 17)

I’m a sucker for all things musical, and no one captures the intersection of vulgarity and sweetness like Rachel “F— Me, Ray Bradbury” Bloom. At its core, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about unhealthy fixation on the wrong kinds of love, and Rebecca’s relationship with Santino Fontana’s Greg is a literal “S— Show” in the making. Still, it’s impossible not to delight in the slow musical realization that “D-Day in my lady-parts” has given way to something more. The song itself isn’t even a duet — keeping the gaze exclusively female — while such charmingly crass lyrics as “gettin’ a pounding on the bidness goin’ on in my thighs” perfectly compliment the scene’s increasingly risqué visuals. – Kevin Fitzpatrick

20th Century Fox

22. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Touched” (Season 7, Episode 20)

For a series built on awakening one each generation, there’s no small irony in Buffy’s Willow empowering countless others both on the show and off. Willow became for many the TV embodiment of gay visibility and coming out, and it follows that she’d provide network TV’s first lesbian sex scene at a time said relationships were still played for titillation (looking at you, Ally McBeal) if shown at all. I’ll grant that Kennedy was no one’s favorite choice for Willow after Tara’s death, but their first official coupling served both as an intimate allowance of happiness beyond grief, and one of four lovely embraces “Touched” spotlights amidst the impending doom of the series finale. – KF


21. True Detective
“Seeing Things” (Season 1, Episode 2)

Who are we to argue with the judgment of the sexperts at Mr. Skin, who called actress Alexandra Daddario’s lap-dance with a handcuffed Woody Harrelson the best screen nudity of 2014, and then just this year declared her the winner of their unfortunately named Hottest Celeb tournament, the “Whack-It Bracket?” To be a little less gross about it, what makes this scene so genuinely remarkable is that while revealing that Marty’s cheating on his wife, True Detective also explains why: By contrasting the images of ugly sexual violence that dominate this series with something softer, more playful, and arrestingly sensual. – Noel Murray


20. Mad Men
“The Beautiful Girls” (Season 4, Episode 9)

We’ve seen a back-alley quickie on Mad Men before (remember Don and the waitress?), but Joan and Roger’s sex on a Manhattan sidewalk is less about getting off and more about the comfort and safety of intimacy. After the two are robbed at gunpoint by a stranger, the panicked pair begin to kiss and make love beside an apartment stoop. The most crucial part of the scene is that Joan’s the one who initiates, despite Roger’s previous attempts to rekindle their affair. He’s in a morbid spiral after the sudden death of Don’s secretary Ida, and she’s just experienced an upsetting violation; in that moment, physical intimacy offers them both a sense of security, even if just temporarily. – EOW


19. American Gods
“Head Full of Snow” (Season 1, Episode 3)

Gay sex is still a rarity on TV, and in a world where leprechauns raise the dead with the flick of a coin, scenes of intimacy between two men shouldn’t feel so miraculous. That’s precisely the touch Bryan Fuller brought to American Gods, as a chance meeting between salesman Salim and a cab-driving “Jinn” becomes a beautifully intimate, fleeting connection between lonely souls. It isn’t just that Fuller made sure to depict gay sex realistically, but also that their shared Middle-Eastern heritage added an extra layer to Salim’s timid advances, all swirled with Fuller and David Slade’s gorgeously artful photography (and a not-insignificant amount of dong). – KF

18. Friends
“The One Where Everybody Finds Out” (Season 5, Episode 14)

Throughout Friends’ fifth season, Monica and Chandler try to hide from their chums that they’ve been having sex because they’re unsure if they’re in a real relationship or just in a fling. One by one, folks stumble on the secret — including Phoebe and then Ross in “The One Where Everyone Finds Out,” as both of them at different times stand in the apartment that formerly belonged to “Ugly Naked Guy” and see the lovebirds going at it across the alley. The two sex scenes inspire some of Friends’ funniest moments, like when Phoebe tries to coerce Chandler to confess his affair by seducing him. “I’m very happy we’re gonna be having all the sex,” he gulps. “You should be,” she coos. “I’m very bendy.” – NM


17. The Sopranos
“Christopher” (Season 4, Episode 3)

This tryst between Janice and Ralph on The Sopranos was edgy even by the standards of HBO, a channel known for pushing the boundaries of sexuality onscreen. The BDSM, the sexy toy, the surprisingly explicit frankness of their dirty talk; it was all startling when this episode debuted in 2002 and it still packs a whallop today. Sex on The Sopranos was always about power; who wanted it and who wielded it. That was never more true than in this particular case. Beyond the sheer shock value, the scene evokes the complicated range of emotions between Janice, Tony Soprano’s self-centered sister, and Ralph, one of his most cunning and ambitious capos. And the poetic irony of Ralph leaving his current lover for Janice, only for Janice to immediately turn her attention to another member of Tony’s crew, is too beautiful for words. – Matt Singer


16. You’re the Worst
“Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Ah, the old chestnut of “boy meets girl, boy systematically destroys relationship with unyielding narcissism, attends girl’s wedding to another man and meets other girl with equally crippling emotional damage.” Some of You’re the Worst’s best relationships were only kernels in the show’s pilot, but the initial hookup of Chris Geere’s Jimmy and Aya Cash’s Gretchen felt fully-formed and unapologetically dirty from the beginning. (Thanks FXX!) It’s also worth noting that its stop-and-start nature is filled with examples of the two communicating what they like; as honest a depiction of first-time sex as it is an admirable one. – KF


15. Orange Is the New Black
“I Wasn’t Ready” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Orange Is the New Black covers a lot of ground in just the opening minutes of its first episode, as Piper remembers how much she once loved taking hot showers with her lesbian lover Alex ... just before her soapy daydream crashes into the reality of where she is now, shivering in the cold water of a women’s prison stall. Later we’ll learn that Alex — who’s responsible for putting Piper behind bars in the first place — is an inmate in the same jail. And so, once again, even the freedom of a happy memory gets slapped away, like so much contraband. – NM

14. Broad City
“Knockoffs” (Season 2, Episode 4) 

After nursing a painful crush on her super hot millennial Brawny man neighbor for months, Abbi finally gets the chance to see what’s under his flannel shirt ... only to find out that Jeremy is a little kinkier than she expected. Okay, a lot kinkier. Turns out Jeremy is really into getting pegged (Google it), which, as Ilana notes, is an empowered, cathartic gender-reversal dream come true. Watching our beloved Abbi, whose eternal awkwardness and low-key neuroses make her the most relatable, commit to Jeremy’s pegging request is pretty wonderful — and only slightly bested by Ilana’s glorious reactions to it. – Britt Hayes

13. Game of Thrones
“Winter Is Coming” (Season 1, Episode 1)

It’s a bold move to kick off a series with an incestuous sex scene, and then end that scene on a climax (sorry) of attempted murder. But that’s exactly what makes Game of Thrones, well, Game of Thrones. In the final moments of the series’ pilot, Bran scales a wall and catches a pair of siblings in the act. Director Tim Van Patten brilliantly obscures Cersei’s face to make the reveal all the more shocking. This is not merely a scene about secret desire, but about the bloodshed and chaos that desire can cause. The political pieces that shape the series were already set in place, but Bran’s discovery, followed by the Kingslayer pushing the Stark out the window, was a nudge to the domino maze of Game of Thrones drama to come. – EOW

12. Broad City
“Coat Check” (Season 2, Episode 9)

If you’re a fan of Broad City, then you or someone you know has undoubtedly made a comment about how Ilana Glazer sort of resembles Alia Shawkat. They probably hear it all the time. But Glazer puts that obvious observation to excellent use in an episode in which fictional Ilana crosses paths with her doppelgänger (Shawkat) and, unsurprisingly, falls head over heels. Ilana’s devotion to self-love goes from aspirational to A Problem pretty quickly, but it’s never not funny, particularly because it, like so much of Broad City, smacks of realness. Eventually, Ilana finds that ego wish-fulfillment probably isn’t the best basis for a relationship, especially when her doppelganger breaks the deal by revealing that she doesn’t smoke pot. – BH

20th Century Fox Television

11. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Innocence” (Season 2, Episode 14)

The anxiety that any young person feels over losing their virginity is amplified in one of Buffy’s most memorable moments: When the Slayer sleeps with her vampire boyfriend on her 17th birthday and inadvertently turns him into a cruel, soulless killing machine known as Angelus. Joss Whedon typically subverts horror clichés like “sex = death,” but here he indulges, because Buffy and Angel’s night of passion and subsequent days of dread are important steps in her accepting her supernatural responsibilities. Later, when her mom asks how her day went, Buffy mumbles, “I got older.” Sex often turns kids into grown-ups in an instant, but never quite like this. – NM


10. Orange Is the New Black
“Empathy Is a Boner Killer” (Season 3, Episode 3)

There’s a lot of hookups on Orange Is the New Black, but it’s the shifting power dynamic of Alex and Piper’s relationship that’s made them the show’s most tumultuous and dramatic couple. Their sex scenes can be plain hot (shower sex), they can be sweet (on a prison bunk), or, like their angry library sex, fueled by rage. After Alex learns Piper is the reason she’s back in prison, she becomes the dom in their sexual relationship, pinning Piper down behind a stack of books and taunting her with insults. How fitting that Piper only gets more turned on by her girlfriend’s aggression and light punishment. Sex isn’t just about expressing lust, but, as OITNB often explores with these two, can become the language for working out the uglier aspects of a relationship. – EOW

9. Mad Men
“A Little Kiss” (Season 5, Episode 1)

The two-part Mad Men Season 5 premiere will forever be remembered for two things: Megan (Jessica Paré)’s weirdly seductive performance of “Zou Bisou Bisou” during Don’s surprise birthday party, which sets the odd tonal stage for the other thing. In the second part of the episode, Don goes home to confront Megan, who left work early after hearing a co-worker’s lewd comments about her Zou Bisou-ing. Still upset about the party, Megan strips down and begins furiously cleaning the loft. Don’s gonna Don, so he seizes the opportunity to turn the emotional temperature in his favor. Although she initially pushes him away, Don exerts dominance and she relents in what could be described as a borderline problematic moment. But what makes this scene so effective is its self-awareness; we aren’t meant to think any of this is healthy. – BH


8. The Americans
“Comrades” (Season 2, Episode 1)

FX’s The Americans isn’t generally known for its out-there sex scenes (well, at least between its married Russian spies), but the Season 2 premiere certainly took things up a few notches to crystallize Philip and Elizabeth Jennings’ newly re-forged bond. 68 notches, to be exact. There’s no such thing as taboo in a marriage regularly comprised of wigs, seductions and international espionage, but finding the two in such an intense embrace (with neither on top) offered effective shorthand of everything they’d been through together in the prior season, not to mention another lifetime of trauma for poor Paige. – KF


“Truth” (Season 1, Episode 5)

Masturbation is one of the most common human activities (or so I’m told), and yet it remains very rarely depicted in popular culture. When it is shown onscreen, it’s almost always the stuff of masturbatory fantasy. Leave it to UnREAL, a canny deconstruction of reality television, to present one of the few memorably unglamorous visions of masturbation on television. Show producer Rachel (Shiri Appleby) pleasures herself, briefly and with little enthusiasm, in an equipment truck while glancing at some porn on her phone. The scene itself is bracketed by two sequences from UnREAL’s reality-TV-show-within-a-show, Everlasting. “Here, at Everlasting, chivalry is not dead,” the show’s plastic host boasts to the camera. When they cut back to him and the rest of the Everlasting cast he continues “So in the spirit of true courtship...” By exposing the gap between the artificial and the authentic in what we see on television, UnREAL forces us to confront our own desires, of both the carnal and pop cultural varieties. – Matt Singer


6. Sense8
“Demons” (Season 1, Episode 6)

Four beautiful people, a Jacuzzi, a sweaty gym workout, a strip tease on a balcony, and a ton of orgasms. I’m sorry, but is it hot in here or am I just super turned on? A lot of wacky stuff happens in the Wachowskis’ Sense8, but most thrilling of all is the first season’s orgy. The sensates are still getting their bearings on their conscious connections when Will (Brian J. Smith), Lito (Miguel Angel Sylvestre), Nomi (Jamie Clayton), and Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) suddenly start having sex with each other in four locations at once. It’s a super hot scene, and it’s also the most diverse one on TV, showing unabashed desire between two straight men, a gay man of color, and a trans woman (played by a trans actor). The Season 2 orgy is even more diverse, but this was the scene that really blew my mind. – EOW


5. Mad Men
“Out of Town” (Season 3, Episode 1)

Oh Sal. The trials and tribulations of closeted Sterling Cooper art director Sal Romano made him one of my favorite (not to mention one of the saddest) characters in Mad Men’s seven seasons. Even Sal’s big sex scene ended unhappily; just as he was about to finally give in to temptation with a hotel bellboy, the fire alarm goes off. The few moments of bliss before the alarm, though, are even hotter than the simultaneous rendezvous between Sal’s co-worker Don Draper and a comely flight attendant. (Bryan Bratt’s facial expressions in this mostly wordless scene are incredible.) This crackling electricity in the sequence also resulted in one of Mad Men’s greatest dialogue exchanges; after Don discovers Sal and the bellboy, it looks like he’s going to confront him on their flight home to New York. Instead, Don pitches Sal a new idea for a London Fog ad that includes three heavily symbolic (and somewhat ambiguous) words: “Limit your exposure.” –  MS

4. Game of Thrones
“Kissed by Fire” (Season 3, Episode 5)

Poor, poor Jon. The Stark family’s bastard joined the Night’s Watch to defend the realm alongside a band of honorable brothers, only to discover that the Seven Kingdoms had been sending its dregs to watch the Wall for years. By the time Jon goes undercover with his sworn enemies the Wildlings, his notions of “vows” and “purity” have gone by the wayside — which is what makes throwing away his chastity for the gruff but seductive Ygritte such a sweetly symbolic moment. The lovers both discard their codes and prejudices and succumb to their humanity, in a dark, cold cave in the middle of nowhere. Later, of course, they’ll go back to trying to kill each other. But in a moment of surprising warmth and tenderness, Jon Snow realizes he really does know nothing — and that maybe he can still learn. – NM


3. Westworld
“The Well-Tempered Clavier” (Season 1, Episode 9)

In what is empirically and objectively the hottest sex scene on our list, Westworld madam Maeve (Thandie Newton) wakes up fellow host (AKA robot) Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) to the artificial nature of their reality, and sets their brothel room ablaze as the two begin to screw each other literally to death. The ample availability of guilt-free sex is supposedly one of the main selling points of Westworld’s futuristic theme park, but while the show itself features plenty of nudity, most of it is cold and clinical; with hosts like Maeve or Rodrigo stripped nude as their diagnostics are checked and tweaked by the park’s technicians. The raw passion between the these two is fun. It also underscores something very important: If Maeve and Hector could have sex this steamy, the Westworld hosts must be alive. – MS


2. Jessica Jones
“AKA It’s Called Whiskey” (Season 1, Episode 3)

It’s hard to say where exactly Marvel’s Netflix series draw the line at adult content, but Jessica Jones immediately stood out for its willingness to embrace sex, and from a firmly female perspective at that. The hard-drinking Hell’s Kitchen hero has an appetite that could break most men — assuming she doesn’t do it herself — and the realization that neither she nor Luke Cage can hurt one another makes for one impressively cathartic hook-up. There’s a more troubling context around the pair’s coupling (and we don’t mean the mystery of how Jessica keeps her jeans on), but in the earliest read, Jessica and Luke offer a refreshingly sex-positive and bed-breaking romp that would make even Iron Man blush. In a narrative focused almost exclusively on rape, survival, abuse and recovery, Jessica and Luke share one of the few moments of intimacy worth cheering. – KF


1. Girls
“One Man’s Trash” (Season 2, Episode 5)

No episode of Girls has been more discussed than “One Man’s Trash.” When Lena Dunham’s Hannah takes a brief detour to the hoity-toity brownstone of a hot doctor named Joshua (Patrick Wilson) to apologize for whoever (cough, Hannah) is dumping garbage in his bins, she awkwardly kisses him and then, well, life comes at you fast. The recently-separated Joshua is the poster boy for just about everything people hate(d) about Girls, only he lacks the female parts necessary to incite proper internet outrage. Hannah and Joshua enjoy a sexual rollercoaster ride of a weekend filled with low-key hot sex and half-naked ping pong, until Hannah lets her guard down in a cringeworthy navel-gazing monologue.

The episode could easily be titled “White People Problems,” as the point it’s making is that these people are hardly suffering — Joshua is a stupidly attractive single doctor with a stupid-nice home, woe is him; Hannah is an aspiring writer whose only real struggle is an inability to get over herself long enough to write something about ... herself. Instead, the big hot-takeaway for too many viewers was the insane suggestion that Patrick Wilson would ever have sex with someone who looks like Lena Dunham — as if it’s so crazy to think that a lonely middle-aged man in America would ever welcome a romper-wearing, DTF millennial into his bed. Attractiveness is, like everyone’s personal problems, all about perspective, and while the ridiculous internet reactions to Wilson and Dunham’s sexual interlude were gross at best, it proved that episode title may have been more clever than we thought. – BH