I've written about the double standard in how our society treats depictions of sex versus depictions of violence. In 2002, I wrote in my entertainment newsgroup, "The rating system is a joke. Kids can get in to see an R rated movie without a problem. On the other hand, some films made for a mature adult audience get blackballed. Sex for adults is a no-no, but sexual innuendo for teens seems to be acceptable. Consentual and artful sex for adults gets slapped with an NC-17 rating, treated no differently than pornography, but graphic violence showing death, mayhem, and decapitations gets a mere R rating without a worry."
Anders acknowledges this double standard: "It's a truism that Americans are more upset by explicit sex than explicit violence." It's problematic when people who rate content (and lead to the censoring of that content) look upon portrayals of sexuality and violent content out of context.
The original Game of Thrones source material written by George R.R. Martin has plenty of sex and violence, but it usually serves to move the plot forward or flesh out the characters. As Anders writes, "An example of non-gratuitous sex would be Cersei and Jaime hooking up, in the show's first ever episode. An example of non-gratuitous violence would be the decapitation of Ned Stark." Both those examples served a purpose. There is also a difference between reading those scenes and seeing them unfold in live-action. On TV, there is a fine line between exposition and exploitation.
Sex is rarely depicted as an act of love between two adults in a committed, monogamous relationship. That's because one of the key elements of good storytelling is conflict, so delving into gratuitous titilation and shocking violence is more dramatic.
Is Game of Thrones abandoning good characterization and its intriguing storytelling themes in exchange for cheap and excessive portrayals of sex and gore? Let the debate continue.