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Sex & Nudity

The inclusion of nudity, sexual behaviour, sexual imagery and references to sex should be editorially justified and defensible by the context in which they appear.

Before The Watershed

  • Visual and verbal references to sex and matters related to sex should be editorially justified and appropriately limited and inexplicit.
  • Representations of sexual intercourse must not be shown unless there is "... a serious educational purpose". This means the actual act of sexual intercourse, both real and where it's acted, as opposed to other sexual behaviour.
  • The inclusion of nudity and all references to sexual acts, verbal and visual, must be justifiable by the context. What is acceptable in a mid-afternoon, discussion programme aimed at adults may well not be suitable for inclusion in a Saturday morning magazine show, which attracts large numbers of children. In addition, the way in which material is presented, that is serious, flippant, or crude is likely to be a major factor in determining whether it is suitable or not.


It is most unlikely that any graphic sexual images or any explicit descriptions of sexual activity will be acceptable in pre-watershed programmes unless the programme has a serious educational purpose and, even then, any such material would require careful thought.


For example, whilst showing inexplicit acts of foreplay for example kissing or hugging is unlikely to be problematic in most pre-watershed programming, more overtly sexual activities for example foreplay involving genitalia or showing nudity, oral sex, masturbation, or sexual intercourse is very unlikely to be suitable for a family audience. Even if the sexual activity is happening off camera, it may still be too suggestive for transmission before 9pm, if it is clear what is happening.


Before the watershed, verbal references to sexual activity should be kept relatively inexplicit. Mild innuendo and oblique references to sex are more likely to be acceptable than comments or descriptions that leave little to the imagination.


Nudity in a sexual context is unlikely to be acceptable before the watershed unless strictly limited, whereas nudity in the context of an item about health or education, for example a beauty treatment or medical examination, is less likely to exceed viewers' expectations, although a flagging should be considered.


Full frontal nudity (both male and female), even in a non-sexual context, is unlikely to be acceptable before the watershed, unless there is a serious educational reason for showing it. Less explicit nudity, however, for example above waist nudity, catching a brief glimpse of someone from behind getting out of the shower, naturism, or topless sunbathing is unlikely to be problematic as long as it is editorially justified.

After the Watershed

  • The inclusion of nudity and all references to sexual acts, verbal and visual, must be justifiable by the context.
  • After the watershed, it may be possible to justify the broadcast of explicit nudity and scenes of an explicit sexual nature, with the most explicit material being transmitted later in the schedule, well after the watershed.
  • However, even the most explicit material on terrestrial channels like Channel 4 will not be as explicit as that which can legitimately be seen on video (particularly material classified by the BBFC as 'R18'), on specialist PIN-encrypted television channels and at adult cinemas, because of the different make-up and expectations of their respective audiences.
  • Nudity after the watershed depends heavily on context. The vast majority of viewers, for example, do not object to seeing even the most explicit nudity for example close-ups of male and female genitalia, in the context of medical procedures such as cosmetic surgery, as long as it's shown at an appropriate time and they are properly forewarned. However, the same shots might not be acceptable if presented in a sexual context.
  • Blurring or pixilation, both before and after the watershed, is one way in which otherwise unacceptably explicit material may be rendered acceptable. However, there may be circumstances where, even following pixilation, scenes remain too suggestive or graphic.


When considering the suitability of sexual material in a particular context, no distinction is made based on sexual orientation.


Sexual violence in programmes, as noted above, requires special care. See 'Sexual Violence' earlier in this chapter.

Sex & Children


Sex between adults and under 16s is illegal. Any depiction of such activity, for example in a dramatic context or where real images are being obscured, requires strong editorial justification and very careful handling.


The Protection of Children Act 1978 (as subsequently amended) makes it a criminal offence to take or show an indecent photograph (which includes filming for television) of a minor under the age of 18 and even to involve a minor in a photograph or television image that is itself indecent. For example, it would be an offence to have a child present when the image is created or to broadcast an image where a child's picture had been superimposed onto a pornographic image. This also means that in drama, any actors required to be filmed in scenes of an explicit sexual nature must be at least 18 years old, regardless of the age of the character they are playing. If in any doubt about an actor's age, producers must seek confirmation, for example request to see his/her passport and take a copy to be held on file.


Programmes concerning children who are the victims of sexual offences can raise difficult issues. Programme-makers who are intending filming or incorporating into their programme any sexually explicit material, particularly if it involves people under 18, should consult with their commissioning editor and assigned programme lawyer at an early stage and certainly before any filming takes place or before any such material is acquired or accessed to ensure that it complies with UK law and is transmittable.


See 'Working and Filming with Under 18s Guidelines'.