The FCC Rules of Nudity: Why Are Penises Banned From TV?

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Sometimes, FCC rules about nudity just don’t make any sense. Breasts are sometimes okay, and once in a while you may catch someone’s behind. However, it is very rare that you will view a man’s penis on television, and believe it or not, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) isn’t entirely to blame.

The rules of nudity on television are vague, at best. The FCC regulates broadcast television, which is why Janet Jackson’s nipple or Miley Cyrus’s twerking can cause panic – but Justin Timberlake’s nipple (had it been exposed) would have been as uneventful as Robin Thicke’s grinding.

The FCC makes determinations of indecency based on a three part test to determine what is considered “obscene” and “indecent.”

  • An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
  • The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and
  • The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

According to the FCC, “indecent material” is a little different–it’s“language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” So, basically, indecent material is sort of obscene, but not really.

These definitions are vague enough. But things get more complicated when you realize these rules don’t really apply to cable television, in which breasts and nipples are exposed regularly.

Since the FCC only regulates television signals sent over airwaves, the rules of nudity regarding cable television are basically determined by the network executives. Unsurprisingly, they have very different opinions of what’s appropriate or worthy of being paid for viewers.

There really isn’t anything prohibiting penises from being aired on cable television, except for a) the belief that paying customers don’t want to see penises or b) cable executives are mostly men who don’t want to show penises, or c) we are afraid of nudity only when it comes to penises.

Maybe it’s our fault as viewers for not making ourselves clearer. It isn’t because of the FCC or an overbearing government that penises aren’t on television; it isn’t because of special rules designed to specifically sexualize women.

Basically, where penises and cable television are concerned, until viewers make it clear to executives that male parts are as interesting as female parts, the rules of nudity are unlikely to change any time soon.

Related on EcoSalon:

7 Annoying Things Men Are Doing with Their Penises

The Other Side of Sexism and the Return of the Sacred Masculine

Image: Mikul Robins