Ask any “Outlander” fan to name their favorite episode of the deliciously filthy historical time travel series, and they’re bound to answer with a near-spiritual fervor, “The Wedding Episode.”
“Where did you learn to kiss like that?” protagonist Claire whispers in Season 1, Episode 7, between heavy breaths as she gently brushes her nose against her brand-new husband’s.
“I said I was a virgin, not a monk,” Jamie replies with a thick Scottish accent and a coy smile. The light catches his cleft chin, hinting at what it might look like if he surgically attached his buttocks to his face. “If I need guidance, I’ll ask.”
It’s the pillow talk of legend. Next, Jamie’s kilt falls to the floor. He spins Claire’s body around, her back pressed against what I can only assume is the raring-to-go boner of a formerly chaste beefcake. He lifts her slip and cups her bare ass before throwing her onto the bed and climbing on top. They swiftly consummate their marriage in matching white nighties, but it lasts only a few seconds; Jamie was a virgin, after all. So it’s up to Claire, the more sexually experienced lover, to continue the evening.
“Take off your shirt,” she demands. “I want to look at you.” Jamie obliges and the camera revels in the plump perfection of his right and left cheeks. They are, it turns out, even more glorious than what his chin portended.
“I could watch the wedding episode every day for the rest of my life,” a 39-year-old viewer named Desirai wrote in an email to HuffPost. “The tension, the innocence, the awkwardness was palpable. Their chemistry is incredible.”
Some shows are best enjoyed in group settings, with hyped-up fans hurling commentary and reactions at the screen. Others are meant to be binged solo in a cold, dark room. “Outlander,” however, is a show that fans watch in pairs ― more specifically, in (mostly straight) couplings, often after the kids are asleep and before they’re about to, well, fuck.
“Outlander” is the hetero couple’s premium cable-certified stand-in for porn, on-demand foreplay for a generation of women and men thirsty for something more.
In emails to HuffPost, over a dozen women described similar rituals of watching “Outlander,” the Starz series based off Diana Gabaldon’s novels. The show, which premiered in 2014 and will return for a fourth season on Nov. 4, follows Claire, a married WWII nurse, after she is randomly transported back in time to 18th-century Scotland. There, she takes up with a group of rebel Scottish Highland warriors, including Jamie, who eventually becomes her husband.
Though their union was born of necessity, it quickly blossoms into one of the horniest romances to ever air on television.
“We usually put our son to bed around 8 or 8:30 pm, we pour ourselves a glass of whiskey and then watch the show in our living room around 9,” wrote a 38-year-old fan from the Bay Area who preferred to remain anonymous.
This routine is the stock standard: Put the kids to bed, procure beverage, turn on “Outlander,” let the horniness wash over you.
“We watch on the night it airs. Always put the kids to bed, make sure they are totally out, then cue up the Starz app! We sometimes have wine or if we’re not feeling alcohol, homemade milkshakes!” added a 34-year-old fan from Buffalo, New York.
“We always try to watch each episode the night it airs,” wrote a 43-year-old viewer from Rockland, New York. “No routine really, just after we get the kids to bed we have ‘us’ time and that’s when we watch our shows.”
“In the past we made a habit of staying up past midnight to watch the episodes as soon as they released,” 39-year-old Desirai wrote. “We almost always watched in bed.”
At first he laughed and called it mommy porn. Then the steamy scenes and the fight scenes caught his attention.
Most of the fans who responded to my request for interviews on Twitter were straight women who said they identified as fans of the “Outlander” franchise before their male partners did.
“At first he laughed and called it mommy porn,” one fan said of her then-fiance, now husband. “Then the steamy scenes and the fight scenes caught his attention.”
Let’s talk about the steamy scenes, shall we? When “The Wedding” first aired in 2014, critic Mo Ryan said it broke her brain in a good way. Jenny Trout commended the show for being catered “specifically for the straight female gaze.”
In depicting sex as imperfect, emotional, sometimes awkward but still painfully romantic, early “Outlander” was, for so many, unprecedented television. No shy innuendos, no extraneous boobs jouncing this way and that. It’s one of the few shows to take women’s desires ― both emotional and sexual ― seriously.
“I think couples will enjoy it, because it’s neither a male fantasy of a sex scene, nor is it a gauzy boudoir bodice ripper,” showrunner Ronald D. Moore told Vulture. “It feels kind of true. It feels like, ‘This is how it is.’”
Most “Outlander” fans I spoke to said they don’t enjoy watching run-of-the-mill online porn, which one Texas-based fan described as depicting sex, rather than “the physical aspect of love making.” Unlike the scant narratives of videos on Pornhub, “Outlander,” never features sex sans purpose. Even the hottest scenes hark back to the sizzling bond between bonafide soulmates.
“The sex in ‘Outlander’ is not gratuitous,” a 50-year-old fan based in Georgia explained. “It’s bold and sometimes graphic, but there’s an underlying truth in it, and every gesture involved moves with the plot.”
“Watching sex on ‘Outlander’ is more about the intensity and passion of Jamie and Claire’s connection,” said 38-year-old Michelle, who is based in Seattle. “I think we both appreciate watching a couple so completely committed and madly in love with each other and that still want to rip each others clothes off.”
This connection gets Michelle all riled up, she wrote: “And anything that makes me horny, makes Steve horny :).”
Most fans don’t get touchy during the episode, lest one glorious detail go unnoticed. However, as the Rockland fan put it, the show has “absolutely inspired activities afterward. :o)”
Yes, activities. While most people I spoke to don’t full-on role-play the characters during sex, Claire and Jamie’s influence lingers like a perfume for them. “I would say that when we are intimate I tend to think about how Jamie and Claire would be while being intimate with one another,” the 38-year-old Bay Area viewer said. “The touching, the kissing, et cetera.”
For some viewers, even the act of watching becomes a sort of erotic exercise in itself. “Watching it feels like lazy role-playing,” a 29-year-old New Yorker said. “Inhabiting different sexual experiences and perspectives without, you know, talking.”
(Amazon, perhaps even thirstier than its target audience, is very aware of this dynamic. A Prime Video UK commercial promoting “Outlander” unapologetically panders to fans whose sex lives could be spruced up by Scottish role-play.)
But what fans almost always make clear is that “Outlander” is fulfilling desires that pornography and other nudity-prone cable shows can’t. Viewers particularly praised Claire’s dominance in the bedroom, and the show’s decision to depict physical intimacy after miscarriages and sexual assault, as aspects of the series that deepen its impact.
“[Claire] helped me reclaim my sexuality postpartum,” the 34-year-old from Buffalo said.
The show “saved our marriage,” the Georgia-based fan confessed. “Tapped into something that no marriage counselor has ever been able to reach.”
A few of the couples I interviewed have even taken their “Outlander” ardor beyond the nightly routine: They’ve made pilgrimages to Scotland, cosplayed as Jamie and Claire, and incorporated 18th-century attire into their sex lives. As one 29-year-old from Washington, D.C., said, “Corsets, everyone should try them out ;).”
I should note that some viewers I spoke to were adamant that “Outlander” has more to offer than just hot, loving sex. Like, you know, European history and Jacobitism.
But you don’t put the kids to bed to watch a PBS documentary, if you know what I mean.