As part of their ‘Campaign for Real Sex Season’, Channel 4 aired a challenging television show that aimed to dispel the myths about sex pervaded by internet pornography. They did that by making couples have sex in an opaque box, and talk about it afterwards. I’d love to explain the link between those two things, but every time I think about it for too long, I just feel cold all over, my head starts to hurt and waves of nausea crash over my very soul. Nonetheless, I tried to watch Sex Box with an open mind, putting the ridiculousness of the format to the back of my mind.
The format seems to be that the couple are sent into the box, and the experts have a discussion about an element of the way sex is viewed by society while they get it on. The show largely takes a commendably sex-positive tone, and though host Mariella Frostrup seems to feel a need to play devil’s advocate, there’s very little prescriptive attitudes towards the way that sex should be. There’s a lot of interesting discussion about pornography that avoids the usual reactionary stance taken by most of the media, and I think it makes a lot of very good points about the state of sex education in the United Kingdom. Only couples feature in Sex Box, but I’m presuming that’s for practicality’s sake, and the show certainly doesn’t denigrate casual sex in any way, but a majority of the content does seem to be aimed at people in monogamous relationships.
In terms of the couples’ debrief after the event, the conversation tends to vary between the inane and the mawkish. A lot of the show is focused on the couple’s attitudes towards sex in general, which makes the Sex Box seem rather redundant, but we’ve already established that this is something Channel 4 have decided to do that we all now have to just live with. A lot of the conversations are very superficial, and the general vibe of the show does very little to challenge the idea that Sex Box is much more than a gimmick.
The show makes quite a big thing of dispelling the apparent ‘mystery’ of gay sex, choosing Dan Savage as one of the panellists, and I should probably focus on this as well, given the nature of the publication and how qualified I am in judging how effectively it does the job. There are a few clumsy generalisations about how open-minded gay men are about sex (there’s a refusal to acknowledge that slut-shaming doesn’t occur in the gay community). The gay couple who are interviewed seem nice enough, and there’s a lot of focus on the idea that anal sex isn’t the be all and end all of sex between gay men, which I think is a very important message for not only straight people to realise, but also possibly for young gay men who don’t want to feel pressured.
The show has a live studio audience which seems largely redundant, and actually means that the couples have a limited time in the Sex Box, so inevitably they end up being rushed. As with many shows such as this, the show might well have been a good idea, and that somehow got confused at the committee stage, but I suppose the intention of the show has to be commended. However, the programme did feel like it was trying to do too much in the time it was given, and ended up not actually saying very much at all.