This chapter investigates the ways in which sexual discourse on television is regulated by state intervention and by the operations of the market. I am using ‘regulation’ here in the Foucauldian sense, which goes beyond the idea of regulation as ‘explicit rules’ to include the way in which all forms of discourse contribute to the ‘regulation of sub­jectivity’ through classification and legitimation (see Chapter 1). A comparison of the state-regulated public service ethos of the UK system with the largely commercial orientation of the US system allows for an assessment of the effects on sexual repre­sentation of an increasingly market-led system arising from the current transition to digital television as a global business.

In the first part of the chapter I compare the systems and criteria for regulating ‘taste and decency’ that arise from relatively long-term, embedded ways of thinking about sexual representations and practices, especially the influence of Puritan religious moralities and liberal political discourses on censorship (Bocock 1997). Subsequent sections consider the address to consumers and the effects this has had on the citizen­ship claims that have acted as legitimating discourses for television’s public service role. Key themes I explore here are the changing relations between the public and the private in liberal democracies, the political challenge to liberalism from the new social movements in making new claims for sexual citizenship, and the rise of consumerism as the dominant ethos of postmodern capitalist cultures. The influence of these changes on programmes is taken up in detail in subsequent chapters. The purpose of this chapter is to explain the broader discursive context in which those programmes are made.