In visual media such as television and film, sexposition is the technique of providing exposition against a backdrop of sex or nudity. The Financial Times defined sexposition as "keeping viewers hooked by combining complex plot exposition with explicit sexual goings-on". Its purpose, according to James Poniewozik, is to divert the audience and give characters something to do while exposition is being delivered, which is what distinguishes sexposition from merely gratuitous titillation.
The term was coined in 2011 by the blogger and critic Myles McNutt to describe scenes in the HBO TV series Game of Thrones in which characters reveal crucial information related to plot and character development during intimate scenes. Author George R. R. Martin said this technique is in line with the purpose of sexuality in the A Song of Ice and Fire books, and acknowledged that this technique allows for the exposition of motivations and incentives not available to the TV show. As the show has to convey details of many characters and backstories from the books, sexposition is useful to deliver the information to viewers in condensed form.
The term has since been retroactively applied to similar practices in many earlier works, including the older HBO shows Deadwood and The Sopranos (frequently set in a strip club), many older cop films (likewise) and even the 1930s comic strip Jane. According to James Poniewozik, the novelty of the practice is not the nudity, but the manner in which it accompanies exposition, for which older TV shows with less complex plots did not have as much need.
Critics have disapproved of sexposition because, in their view, it uses inappropriate tactics, insults the audience's intelligence by appealing and succumbing to carnality and covers up the screenwriter's failure to build cohesive narratives, having to rely on long drawn out sequences of exposition made watchable only through appeals to sexuality. Some criticize sexposition for catering almost exclusively to heterosexual men. Neil Marshall, director of the second-season episode "Blackwater," recalled that he was repeatedly urged to add more full-frontal nudity during filming. The producer told him, according to the director, that "[e]veryone else in the series is drama side. I represent the pervy side of the audience", an experience that Marshall described as "pretty surreal" to happen on the set of a major network production.
Game of Thrones showrunner David Benioff admitted that he does "pay less attention to intricate plot points delivered during sex scenes", while co-creator D. B. Weiss disagreed, countering that "Sex grabs people's attention. But once it has their attention, it tends not to let go of it." While the effect is reportedly different for different directors, they say "Every one of those sex scenes is there because we wanted that particular scene in the show. There is not a sex scene quota from HBO." Time reported before the seventh season in 2017 that "Even if Benioff and Weiss don’t always admit it, the show has changed. Scenes in which exposition is delivered in one brothel or another, for example, have been pared back".
Huffington Post critic Maureen Ryan contrasted sexposition—which she said was useful if used to convey much information that would otherwise be boring—with "H.B." ("Hey, boobs!"), which she described as scenes that only exist to show (usually female) nudity.
Fan site Winter is Coming cited an April 2012 skit on Saturday Night Live when discussing Marshall's anecdote. Aired more than a month before the Marshall interview was published, the skit purported to be an episode of HBO First Look featuring Adam Friedberg, 13 year-old "creative consultant" to Game of Thrones. Played by Andy Samberg, the teenage boy was proud of "mak[ing] sure there are lots of boobs" and various sexual acts during expository scenes. Author Martin (Bobby Moynihan) called Friedberg "a visionary. He knows that even when I didn't write sex into a scene, I was definitely thinking about it." The real Martin is aware of the skit, joking at San Diego Comic-Con that Friedberg could not attend because "[t]here was a scene in Belfast with no boobies in it and he needed to go there to put that to rights".
- Hann, Michael (March 11, 2012). "How 'sexposition' fleshes out the story". The Guardian. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
- Berwick, Isabel (June 2, 2012). "Lunch with the FT: George RR Martin". Financial Times. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
- Originally in: McNutt, Myles (May 29, 2011). "Game of Thrones – "You Win or You Die"". cultural-learnings.com. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
- Kuperinsky, Amy (2012-04-16). "It's not a dirty word: Here's the explanation of 'sexposition'". NJ.com. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
- ""Game of Thrones" fails the female gaze: Why does prestige TV refuse to cater erotically to women?". Salon. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
- Marshall, Neil (June 1, 2012). "Neil Marshall Game Of Thrones Podcast". Empire. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- Mechanic, Michael (March 5, 2013). ""Game of Thrones" Creators on Shark, Sexposition, and Season 3". Mother Jones (March/April 2013). Retrieved March 7, 2013.
- Egner, Jeremy (2013-03-29). "Your 'Game of Thrones' Questions, Answered". The New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2013.
- D'Addadio, Daniel (2017-07-10). "'Game of Thrones': Inside the World's Most Popular Show". Time. Retrieved 2017-09-02.
- Ours is the Fury (June 1, 2012). ""Blackwater" director Neil Marshall on nudity and creating the battle". Winter is Coming. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- Samberg, Andy; Moynihan, Bobby; Killam, Taran (April 14, 2012). "HBO First Look: Game of Thrones". Saturday Night Live. Season 37. Episode 721. NBC.
- Sims, David (April 15, 2012). "Josh Brolin/Gotye, S37/E19". A.V. Club. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- Day, Patrick Kevin (June 7, 2013). "Comic-Con: 'Game of Thrones' panel focuses on nudity, Diana Rigg". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 14, 2012.