Not suitable for trains: how Bridgerton’s longest ever sex scene set commuters’ pulses racing

<span>Making moves … Luke Newton and Nicola Coughlan in Bridgerton.</span><span>Photograph: Netflix</span>
Making moves … Luke Newton and Nicola Coughlan in Bridgerton.Photograph: Netflix

This week I have seen more than one tweet from mortified people who thought it would be OK to watch the new batch of Bridgerton episodes on the train on their way to work. The reason they were mortified was the first new episode, in which a sex scene goes on and on. And on. And on.

According to people who know these things, the sex scene – between Nicola Coughlan’s Penelope Featherington and Luke Newton’s Colin Bridgerton – was the longest in the show’s history, clocking in at almost six minutes. It was so long, in fact, that Coughlan and Newton managed to break the furniture they were filming on.

Even more inexplicably, it’s a good sex scene, in that it’s absolutely vital to the storyline. It’s a key moment in the evolution of the characters, and an important part of the story. It’s romantic and tender, and also sexy enough to embarrass anyone who made the mistake of trying to watch it on public transport.

Related: Bridgerton season three review – still unbearably sexy

But is it the longest sex scene ever to be shown on television? The answer is no, not quite. Before I proceed, I’d like to point out that I was asked to do this and I really should have charged double for the irreparable damage this research has done to my internet search history, but on we go anyway.

Technically the longest sex scene ever shown on British television comes during episode four of Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble’s brilliant series I Hate Suzie. At the time of broadcast, many headlines declared that this was not only a wildly long sex scene, but a wildly long solo sex scene, lasting a full seven minutes and four seconds. Whether or not it counts is another matter entirely, since the masturbation is used as a framing device allowing Piper’s character to think about her entire life up until that point. Most of it is flashbacks. It’s very cleverly done – and, again, important to the story – but you suspect all the tabloid readers who watched because of a few lurid headlines probably left quite disappointed.

Netflix’s Sense8 – a show still mourned by a devoted few – never shied away from sex. There were rumours that the orgy in the sixth episode was one of the longest ever shot, but again that isn’t quite what it delivered. Although the scene is all meat, so to speak – with three guys and a girl going at it in a variety of positions and locations – it’s let down slightly by its length. Yes, by most standards it’s long, but at four minutes it’s hardly a record breaker. Worse, the whole thing is soundtracked by a Macy Gray song, so that’s something you’ll have to learn to cope with.

Also, it might be worth pointing out that length of individual sex scenes is not the only way to quantify a show’s sexiness. If you want to know which show has the most sex in total, the winner is likely to be Starz’s still-preposterous Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which notched up 79 minutes of sex in its 13-episode duration. Then again, in 2020 a company called UberKinky claimed that 19.25% of David Duchovny series Californication was made up of sex scenes. That seems high but, hey, who am I to argue with UberKinky?

Clearly, though, there’s only one winner here, and that’s the BBC Three adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Even though episodes were only half an hour long, there were two separate occasions in which sex scenes exceeded that of Bridgerton. In episode 11, one stretches on for six and a half minutes. Meanwhile, episode two features a sex scene that lasts for a full 10 minutes. Again, we might have to invoke the I Hate Suzie rule a little here, since a minute and a half of that is flashback. But even if we do, it’s a clear runaway winner. The moral of the story is that you definitely shouldn’t watch Normal People on a train.

Of course, I don’t possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of every sex scene ever filmed for television, so there’s a decent chance that I’m missing some whoppers here. If I am, please be sure to let everyone know. Alternatively, keep it to yourself, pervert. Either way, this is how I spent my morning. I look forward to making eye contact with people today.