When it comes to sex, Showtime’s hit series Shameless is, well, shameless. You get to know the Gallagher brood intimately. The writers do a stellar job using sex as an impetus for character development. The characters’ growth and maturity intertwines with their interpersonal relationships in beautiful and meaningful ways. Each character has their own connection to sex and their sexuality impacts their life in varied ways.
Sex is comfort
Let’s be honest, the Gallaghers’ lives are not easy. They are often looking for ways to numb their pain. Fiona and Ian both seek physical intimacy to calm their minds. For them, sex is comfort.
Fiona is the most physically affectionate of the Gallaghers. She is always ready with a consoling hug for her siblings or friends. Since she is often the giver of affection in her family life, she seeks high levels of physicality and comfort in her romantic relationships. When we see Fiona behind closed doors with a partner she is often wrapped up in them, even if they are not actively having sex at the time. She is long limbs intertwined and hands on face kisses.
In Season 2 Episode 12 “Fiona Interrupted,” Jimmy/Steve chivalrously helps Fiona clean Monica’s blood off the kitchen floor. When the evidence of Monica’s botched suicide attempt is no longer pooled on the ground, she slinks into Jimmy/Steve’s arms and they head to the bedroom. Dare I say most people would not be in the mood for sex after what happened on Thanksgiving, yet it illustrates just how much Fiona uses the act of sex as a security blanket. She craves this safety because of the lack of consistency she had in her upbringing. Her sexual expression is the part of her identity where she shows the most confidence and control.
Like Fiona, Ian also seeks security. In the early seasons, Ian had sexual relationships with men that were many years his senior. Kash and Lloyd/Ned both treated Ian well. On separate occasions, Ian tells Lip that the men are “nice” to him and it is clear that means something to Ian. It is not a leap to theorize that his strained relationship with Frank was a possible conduit for these relationships. Of all the Gallagher kids, Ian’s relationship with Frank is the most strained. It may be because Frank always had an inkling that Ian was not his biological son, but he does not attempt a connection with Ian as he has with his children throughout the series. Ian is the only Gallagher kid who Frank has been physically aggressive towards.
It has to be said, that nobody provided comfort for Ian like Mickey Milkovich did. We first saw Ian turn to Mickey for solace in Season 1, Episode 9 “Along Came a Knock.” When Monica showed up, the first thing Ian did was run to his lover’s house; the same lover that famously told him “Kiss me and I’ll cut your fucking tongue out” only a few episodes before. A short, yet poignant, scene showed Ian’s fingers closing over Mickey’s tattooed knuckles while they were having sex in the freezer of the Kash and Grab. Ian was getting what he needed to cope. As the seasons progressed, Ian and Mickey built an interdependent relationship which centered on being able to be a place of stillness for one another.
Sex is love
Surprisingly, the Gallagher that most sincerely equates sex to love is resident pleasure-seeker, Lip. Though Lip has had plenty of sex for fun throughout the show, his deepest connections began physically and quickly turned to love.
Lip’s relationship with Karen began as friends with benefits and it did not take long for him to fall in love with her. His love for her was unwavering through the first three seasons even though Karen gave him plenty of reasons not to love her. Lip loved Karen, when he should have loved Mandy, who was more than willing to show him love in return. Unlike Lip, to Karen, sex was not love. She never committed to caring for Lip in any capacity other than carnally.
Now, you could argue that the physicality turning to tender emotion with Karen was an exception for Lip, but this is not the case. His relationship with Helene began as a “hot for teacher” affair and shifted swiftly into love for Lip. He was jealous that she was married and even though her relationship was open and Lip had her physically, he wanted more.
In Season 6 Episode 4 “Going Once, Going Twice” Helene drunkenly admitted to Lip that she felt more for him than just a simple fling. The next morning when she brushed off her statements and said she was talking “nonsense” you could see the devastation in Lip’s eyes. After Amanda blows up their relationship, Lip fights for Helene without success. He attempts to dull the pain by sleeping with an array of co-eds but has difficulty becoming aroused. This is when we learn that Lip cannot use sex as a drug. Sex means much more than that to him. In order to excite himself, he looks at a picture of Helene that he has on his phone.
Lip is an intelligent, quick witted, tough character that conceals his romanticism just below the surface.
Sex is Currency
The Patriarch of the Gallagher clan regards sex more flippantly than any of his children do. Frank’s highly casual nature towards sex could be tied to his addictions, sociopathic tendencies, childhood, or relationship with Monica. One could argue that he just enjoys sex and wants to have a lot of it, but the fact is he does not find pleasure in most of the sex he has. He uses sex as a currency that gets him something he wants, whatever that may be at the time.
In Season 1, Frank was looking for a place to live and financial stability. He preyed upon the agoraphobic Sheila who was recently separated and clearly lonely. When he learned of Sheila’s “pain is pleasure” kink, he popped Advil, sat on his seat cushion and went along for the ride. The promise of a comfortable home, potential financial gain and three square meals a day was enough to keep Frank game.
When Frank found out that Dottie “Butterface” Coronis, a long time Alibi barfly and single woman was dying, he made a move for her pension by offering to service her and her house for the remainder of her days. The events that followed were despicable, even for Frank. After Dottie promised him a few thousand dollars and a big screen TV, Frank agreed to play Demented Angel of Death and screw her into her grave. Frank Gallagher: the sexual euthanizer.
Through the series, we are treated to tidbits of information about Frank’s past that could explain some of the reasons for his struggles. Now, this is an article of its own, but I wager that abuse by his mother and a lack of control in his marriage contributed to an emotionally stunted Frank that has an impassive view on sex.
Sex is commitment
The sturdiest and most consistent couple in Shameless’ history is Kevin and Veronica. Their love and commitment to one another carried them through poverty, infertility, loss, new parenthood, and a separation. Kev and V’s struggles are real and relatable. They subsist through their trials and tribulations by leaning on humor, love, sex and one another.
Kev and V clearly enjoy an adventurous and dynamic sex life. Their connection is palpable. They are a testament to of the adage that in the comfort of a long-term and committed relationship, a couple can explore their desires without fear of being judged. They seek to gratify their partner both in and out of the bedroom.
After the birth of Amy and Gemma, Kev and V experienced challenges in their relationship. Veronica did not feel desired by Kev and was craving closeness and physicality, while Kev was wrapped up in the new babies haze. Though they went through a period of separation, they found their way back to each other, honoring the commitment and care they have for their relationship.
The strength of their relationship is evident when Kev and V welcome Svetlana into the fold. They are honest about their desires and feelings for the Russian beauty. In not tip-toeing around their wants and needs, they are able to transcend their coupledom to “thruppledom.” Whether Svetlana will be a part Kev and V’s relationship purely sexually or in an emotional capacity as well, we know that Kev and V honor what works best for their core relationship.
On Shameless the use of nudity in sex scenes is not gratuitous. Exposure makes the viewers feel more connected to the characters’ stories, because you are witnessing them in their most private times. Their openness makes the characters feel more familiar. Stripped down, the actors bring their characters to life with a subtlety so powerful you can read novels behind their eyes.
Though the writers have a penchant for penning steamy sex scenes, their true talent lies in creating characters who are wrought with vividness and depth. The sex is brazen, but the motivation behind sex for the Gallaghers’ is far more nuanced.