‘Euphoria’ Sex Scenes and Nudity Controversy Explained

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‘Euphoria’ Sex Scenes and Nudity Controversy Explained

Euphoria, the highly stylized teen drama from HBO, doesn’t debut until this Sunday, but it is already starting to cause its fair share of controversy. Starring Zendaya as a high school student who self-medicates with drugs and alcohol to numb her emotional pain, Euphoria is an unflinching look at teenage life that doesn’t shy away from showing the complex world that Generation Z must navigate. And HBO is standing by its new show—which absolutely does have a lot of sex and drugs—despite reports of controversy during production and outrage from a parents’ group.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, one actor allegedly quit the show because the content was so intense. As THR reports:

While shooting the pilot, actor Brian “Astro” Bradley, 22, a former X Factor contestant and rapper signed to Nas’ label, wanted out of the show. Details surrounding his exit are fiercely guarded, but sources say Bradley was uncomfortable shooting scenes that weren’t in the original pilot script and suggested his character would experiment with homosexuality in future episodes. After a lengthy back-and-forth with producers, HBO stepped in and replaced Bradley with The Hate U Give’s Algee Smith. They reshot his parts in the pilot, including an intense sex scene with 21-year-old actress Sydney Sweeney, who says of the recasting, “Let’s just say I’m very glad that Algee is playing the character.”

The first episode alone shows one truly horrifying rape scene involving a young trans female character (played by 20-year-old Hunter Schafer) and an older man (played by 46-year-old Eric Dane). The scene shows the older man’s erect penis (which is a prosthetic). But that’s not all. The premiere episode also depicts a gruesome overdose and a sex scene involving choking.

There are also multiple instances of nudity throughout Euphoria’s first episodes. THR reports that one scene in the second episode shows 30 penises:

The network also voiced concerns about a scene in the second episode featuring dozens of naked high school boys in what [show creator Sam] Levinson intended as a gender-bent homage to the famous Carrie locker room scene. What made it to air is a trimmed-down version of the original shot, which included “like, 80 more” penises, he says.

The Parents Television Council warned that “HBO, with its new high school centered show Euphoria, appears to be overtly, intentionally, marketing extremely graphic adult content – sex, violence, profanity and drug use – to teens and preteens.”

In an interview with Fox News, Parents Television Council President Tim Winter demanded that HBO pull the plug on the show. “They have a responsibility,” Winter said.

But HBO is standing behind Euphoria, with Programming President Casey Bloys saying, “It’s not sensational to be sensational.”

The show was created and written by Sam Levinson, who, according to THR, based most of the episodes on his own life and struggles with addiction.

“There are going to be parents who are going to be totally fucking freaked out,” Levinson told THR. “It’s a good insight into how hard it is to grow up in this time.”

Bloys also emphasized that the controversial content of the show was pulled from real life. “It may seem boundary-pushing, and the idea of putting [these scenes] on TV may be, but somebody lived them,” he told THR.

And while some of the graphic scenes will certainly enrage more conservative viewers, Euphoria does depict the very real horrors of addiction.

In the show, 22-year-old Zendaya plays Rue, a high school student who gets out of rehab the summer before her junior year. As Zendaya told The New York Times of her character, “I feel like she’s a version of myself with different choices and circumstances. Rue is a good person, she just doesn’t know it. She’s in pain. There’s something innocent and redeeming about her that reminds you that she’s a human first and an addict second.”

She added that she’s not overtly concerned with some of the sex and drug use on the show:

I don’t find it that shocking, to be honest. People will. I kind of accepted the fact that it would be polarizing. I found a little calm in that. Whether people like it or not, it’s real. I’m telling somebody’s story. Just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening all the time, every day. It’s hard for me to speak on addiction because it’s not something I have dealt with directly. But I still had friends who were dealing with things, and I had to help them through it.

It will be interesting to see how viewers respond to Euphoria’s debut on Sunday night. One thing is certain: It’s getting people talking already.

Culture Editor
Matt is the Culture Editor at Esquire where he covers music, movies, books, and TV—with an emphasis on all things Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones.

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