A Focus on Sexuality in Westeros

By Alexandra Mitchell on Aug 16, 2015 to Game of Thrones

HBO has never shied away from sex in its programming.  Real Sex, Cathouse, and Sex and the City are just a few examples of how much HBO doesn’t hesitate to use sex as a plot device.  Plenty of other shows include sex, however, it isn’t the main topic.  Game of Thrones is one such program.

Affairs, rape, prostitution, and casual sex appear quite frequently.  And that is only the heterosexual side of the coin!  Bisexuality and homosexuality also make appearances.  Let’s not forget about the twincest either!

HBO GAME OF THRONES - - SEASON 4 Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister - Photo by Neil Davidson/HBO

HBO GAME OF THRONES – – SEASON 4 Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister – Photo by Neil Davidson/HBO

But why is it so important?  In the grand context of George R.R. Martin’s stories, sex is rarely the important piece of the puzzle.  With some notable exceptions, Rob Stark sleeping and marrying Talisa for example, sex is not often the point.  It’s certainly enjoyable, but not always necessary to the story.  However it could be necessary for society.

As I’ve mentioned previously in relation to gender politics, Martin has created a world similarly based in medieval practices.  Patriarchy especially dictates the world order, so some sexual practices are more accepted than others.  But while Martin creates this world, he also creates characters that purposely rebel against it.  The show easily runs the gamut from celibacy to prostitution, heterosexuality to homosexuality.  The society we currently live in also very patriarchal, so while the medieval aspect doesn’t fit, the rest compares.oberyn

While heterosexuality is a staple in patriarchal societies, bisexuality, and homosexuality happen less frequently.  Oberyn Martell is one such, stunning example.  Not only does he come from Dorne, where women are able to have more political power and bastard children are accepted in society, he is a bisexual man.  Played by Pedro Pascal, the roguish Oberyn feels at liberty to invite whomever he wants into his bed. Pretty bold for a guy in a medieval setting to seek sex with other men, but he does what he wants and whom he wants.  Renly Baratheon, portrayed by Gethin Anthony, attempts to hide his relationship with Loras Tyrell but the realm isn’t convinced.  With Renly now gone, it seems Loras, played by Finn Jones, isn’t as bashful about his homosexuality in the recently aired fifth season.

While prostitution is abundant all over Westeros and even across the narrow sea, celibacy is just as popular.  Maesters take a vow of celibacy when they choose to study, as do the Septons and Silent Sisters.  The most obvious example is the Night’s Watch, who vow not to take a wife or bear any children.  But we know how well those vows work (I’m looking at you, Jon Snow…and pretty much most of the Watch who frequent the brothel in Mole’s Town).  I mean the words themselves leave it open to loose interpretation.  A visit to the brothel isn’t marriage or bearing kids.

Though overall frowned upon, Jaime and Cersei carry on an incestuous relationship.  Something the whole Targaryen line is known for doing.  Even the wildling Craster marries his daughters and has daughters with his wives.  Boys not allowed!  While incest is not recommended, it has a place in the story of Westeros, because Jaime and Cersei’s relationship has its place.  So while we may not enjoy the icky sinking feeling of knowing a brother and sister are getting it on (unless that’s your kind of thing…), we share in the story of the characters.

A great thing about shows like Game of Thrones or Girls is that it opens up conversations about sexuality in our patriarchal society.  While bisexuality and homosexuality appear out of place in such a medieval setting as Westeros, sexuality isn’t just black and white.  As society begins opening up our understanding of gender and sexuality, programs like Game of Thrones bring a higher awareness and can provide an easier means of having these important conversations.  It won’t be easy, but if a popular television show can make the difficult talks easier, then I’ll embrace the possible change like the coming Winter.

What are your thoughts on how sex is portrayed in the show? Are lines, such as rape and incest, never to be crossed? Or does the show give us a look into these very real situations that we might not have seen before. Sex always seems to be the most controversial topic out there so feel free to leave us your thoughts in the comments below! We would love to hear them! 

  • Eleonora Iafano

    Sex sells. It always has; it always will. While I have absolutely no issue with how sex is portrayed in the show, I am still completely grossed out by the whole incest thing. It’s wrong on every level there is. And if they were to do away with all sexual assault/rape scenes in the future, I would be a really happy camper. I get it though – it’s a medieval world, ruled by men and often women suffer on the sidelines. I don’t like it and don’t watch those particular scenes, but that was (unfortunately) part of medieval history.

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