November 28, 2018

HBO Intentionally Creates Content that Uses Sexual Violence to Entertain

Media—whether in the form of the written word, movies, television, or the visual arts, etc.— is a powerful driver of social norms. Unfortunately, HBO has a long history of using sexual exploitation and violence to entertain. HBO produces enthralling storylines, intermixed with highly sexualized and violent content, which presents the mix of sex and violence as mainstream entertainment.

Many shows on HBO, like The Deuce, Game of Thrones, and Westworld, have portrayed sexual violence alongside statements that the shows seek to expose or address these themes in a thoughtful manner. Unfortunately, by creating gratuitous sexual violence scenes that include nudity and drawn-out scenes HBO often produces content that puts the viewer in the position of a voyeur of sexual assault.

Sexual violence is not a topic for @HBO to exploit for mere shock value or titillation. Sexual violence is a real social harm, with real (not fictional) victims, who bear the scars of their abuse for their entire lives. Click To Tweet

Further, for years, HBO has normalized the sexual exploitation of prostitution and the pornography industry. 

HBO has employed prostitution as the context for scene after scene of nudity, sex, and exploitation. From parades of naked women on display for sexual sale, to the setting of casual dialogues, political intrigues, and orgies, brothels, pornography studios, and the naked women in them are the wallpaper of Game of Thrones, The Deuce and Westworld. Beyond the routine buying and selling of women (some of whom look like mere teenagers), the prostituted women in Game of Thrones and Westworld are subjected to sadistic violence, torture, and murder. Further, the show, Cathouse: The Series, is essentially an extended commercial promoting the real-life pimp Dennis Hof and his brothel. Women featured in the program are sexually objectified in the extreme, and are shown performing sex acts with a variety of sex buyers who visit the brothel.

When prostitution is normalized, it becomes more difficult for law enforcement to convict the sex traffickers, pimps, and sex buyers who are abusing women, men, and children. The Denver Police Department confirmed that when jury pools review cases of 17 or 25 year olds who have been exploited in prostitution or sex trafficking, the juries assume these victims are wholly autonomous and wealthy based on what they see in TV shows and movies.


A list of some of HBO’s most sexually exploitive programming includes the following:

The DeuceHBO’s current television series The Deuce chronicles the growth of the pornography industry and of prostitution in New York City during the 1970s and ‘80s. The show’s main themes – the pornography industry and prostitution – tee up its producers for gratuitous pornographic scenes and disturbing, graphic sexual content.

See NCOSE’s project on The Deuce here.

Game of Thrones, a current HBO series that began in 2011, is based on George R.R. Martin’s book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” which is a medieval fantasy revolving around two powerful families and their struggle for power. Replete with female nudity, other sexual content abounds. Scenes suggesting brutal, anal rapes of women, incest, child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and sex slavery, sexual torture of men and women, as well as the sexualized killing of female characters are commonplace in Game of Thrones. With this series HBO has made themes of torture pornography the stuff of mass entertainment.

See NCOSE’s project on Game of Thrones here.

Boardwalk Empire was a 2010-2014 HBO series focusing on bootleggers, gangsters, and politicians in the 1920s-1930s. This show was critically acclaimed, and regularly featured brutal violence, intense sexuality and graphic nudity. Sex and murder were combined in multiple episodes (like the season 4 premiere as an example,) asphyxiation is used during sex, incest between mother and son, full frontal female nudity, full frontal male nudity.

Hung was a 2009-2011 “comedy” series focused on the story of Ray Drecker, a high school basketball and baseball coach, whose life begins to spin out of control. Following a series of emotional and financial setbacks including a divorce from his high school sweetheart, a bad financial decision that leaves him heavily in debt, a fire which leaves his home badly damaged, and the departure of his teenage twins, who go to live with his ex-wife, Drecker is desperate and looking for money-making ideas. After a chance meet up with Tanya, a former fling, at an entrepreneurial course, the two team up to market him as a male prostitute through a business they call “Happiness Consultants.” Nudity and scenes depicting sex are standard fare.

True Blood was a 2008-2014 HBO series that followed the story of a waitress, Sookie, and her encounters with vampires, werewolves, and various other supernatural forces. This show quickly became known for its amalgamation of graphic violence and graphic sex. True Blood features regular partial nudity, sexual thrusting and moaning, along with depictions of choking, biting, coercive sex, murder of a sexual partner during intercourse, incest, orgies, etc.

Tell Me You Love Me was a 2007 HBO series that revolved around the sex lives of three different couples. This series portrayed such realistic depictions of intercourse, oral sex, and masturbation that many viewers believed real sex acts were occurring on the screen rather than simulations. Eventually the director of the show had to publicly state that the show did not depict real sex. When asked about why the sex scenes were so graphic she stated:

“It was in the script. I got this script and there was a scene where [Carolyn] masturbates her husband and then examines the semen, kind of like a scientist. That was written and it was my decision to go along with that and shoot it in a matter-of-fact way. I can’t say there weren’t lots of giggles and laughter and nervousness on the set when we were shooting it; it was a very funny situation. At the end of it, I said, ‘I don’t know if we need to be applauded or spanked’… But it’s not real, it’s simulated.”

Cathouse: The Series is an HBO television series ostensibly about life at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, a legal brothel in Nevada owned by pimp Dennis Hof. The first episodes were aired in 2005, following two HBO documentaries Cathouse (2002), and Cathouse 2: Back in the Saddle (2003). Additional episodes of the series were aired in 2007-2009, and as well as in 2011. The series not only shows negotiations between prostituted women and sex buyers, but also includes full female nudity and extended scenes of sex acts between prostituted women and sex buyers. The show also follows the relationships between Hof and several of the women he prostitutes, who for periods of time are also his “girlfriends.”

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.

Further Reading