Well season 2 is a “story” in a tv show but the foundation of the entire thing is the book—and Atwood was definitely writing about sex. Sexual power, sexual non-power, sex as power, sex in different contexts, etc. So for me, by definition, gratuitous sex isn’t even possible in The Handmaid’s Tale—all the different kinds of sex and all the sexual roles & relationships are legitimate and worthy of description. (E.g. June having apparently somewhat enthusiastic, yet still ‘forced’ sex with the Commander outside of the ceremony last season, Ruby giving sex favors but accepting none herself, June’s forbidden-fruit sex with a married Luke, then normalized when he’s husband Luke, etc). It’s part of the whole point.
Tweak a detail and the same scene can be enjoyable, enviable, disgusting, repulsive. Tweak a single detail and the sex scene between the same two people can be completely different (e.g. Nick commanded by Serena to screw June versus June completely desiring Nick). Just imaging the ick factor of what we think of as Nick having sex with inappropriately young girl, isn’t nearly as cringeworthy and complex as watching it play out in a scene where he’s forced (once again) to have sex with someone; someone he doesn’t even consider old enough to provide consent, yet she is most assuredly physically consenting (insisting, in fact) and his life is actually in peril if he doesn’t do this totally abhorrent thing. This is the essence of the Gilead sexual pathology—not gratuitous at all, in my opinion. It’s at the heart of the whole point. Sex is being used as a weapon in all kinds of crazy ways—that’s part of what we’re bearing witness to and being asked to think about.