Posted on 07 April 2016 by Rachel

Sex Box: I’m bored by this pandering to pornified culture

‘Here I am back and still smouldering with passion, like a wine smoking. Not a passion any longer for flesh, but a complete hunger for you. A devouring hunger.’

(Anais Nin to lover Henry Miller)

I remember stumbling across erotic fiction in my mid teens. ‘Nearer the moon’ by Anais Nin to be exact. Every time I opened the book it was like white heat was pouring from the page. It was scandalous. Daring. Exciting. A woman was writing about the united beating of heart and sex that together can create ecstasy. And oh, such ecstasy! I didn’t really know what any of it meant, but I knew one thing. Anais Nin loved the way sex melted two people into one. She craved the surrender that was at once both beautiful and terrifying. 

Mid teens today are navigating their sexual awakening in a whole new way. Many of them will have seen adults in online porn films do some pretty nasty things to each other before they’ve even had their first kiss. If we were ever in need of a widespread discussion about healthy sexuality it’s now. 

And then up pops new Channel 4 programme ‘Sex Box’. In case you’ve not yet tuned in to this ‘unique TV experience’ let me fill you in. Real couples have sex in a box (we don’t get to see the sex, just the box) to help them open up about life in the bedroom. We meet couples wanting their first gay sexual encounter, their first attempt to get to touch each other without penetration or their desire to add sexual benefits to a friendship of 11 years. 

While the couples ‘do the do’ in the box provided, we’re exposed to talking heads who use winning phrases like ‘watching dogs gave me a boner’ and ‘two years ago I set myself the challenge to sleep with 200 men’ while presenter Steve (who’s credentials to present alongside the expert sexologist Goedele Liekens is that he’s watched lots of porn) shows us the latest sex-toy (a sawn off foot/vagina) and the latest flirting emojis (complete with erect penis in tracksuit).

If ‘Sex Box’ has anything to tell us, it’s that we’ve got a problem with sex. 

Of course, none of us would actually say this. But look at how we laugh at it. Pick at it. Dismiss it. Look at how we struggle to talk about it. Look at how silent the studio falls when Goedele explains that sex doesn’t have to end in penetration because lovingly touching each other’s bodies can be more intimate. 

Who knew?!

And maybe that’s where this show has the power to ‘work’ - as a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks that the whole world needs a blow by blow account of their sex life. 

When one participant was asked what it was like to be in the box having sex, knowing that an audience was only a few feet away, she retorted, ‘I thought ‘There are people out there. That’s great!’’ 

Really? The faces of the ‘people out there’ sat all around the box didn’t seem to think so.

Which is why I’m not offended so much as bored. It’s antiseptic, predictable and profoundly un-sexy. Britain today needs a meaningful conversation about sex, but this isn't it. As a huge fan of frank talking Goedele I really admired how she educated and empowered UK teens in the recent ‘Sex in Class’. But this falls far short and ends up being Liekens in soundbites; great for fridge magnets (’30 mins enjoying each other’s bodies, that’s sex, no?’) but rubbish for real life. 

And real life needs some straight talking. There are too many teenagers sharing sexy pics with strangers online, simply because they ask for them. In the world they’re growing up in, sex is just about body parts. Body parts that should be exposed, seen, used. Even if it’s ‘just’ online. But there’s nothing ‘just online’ about coerced online behaviours that are mis-informing and mis-shaping young people’s off-line reality. 

So I am concerned by programmes like ‘Sex Box’. Mainly because it’s another example of pandering to the pornification of culture. It’s the view that as people are all watching porn anyway we might as well accept the fact that men can’t look at women without wanting to penetrate them and learning where to put your fingers is as much mystery as we can hope for.

I wish it was more scandalous. I wish it had dared to ask whether our societal saturation in porn is giving ourselves the best chance to have healthy and satisfying sex lives, or destroying it. And what we could do if we decided to live and love more authentically, without the pornographers or chat show producers telling us how it and we should be.

One thing ‘Sex Box’ did do well though was show that the really intimate stuff isn’t what happens in the box. It was the conversation the couple had before hand about how they truly felt and what they longed for. This was the real exposure. The true laying bare of lives. And they felt it. 

So maybe the true Sex Box is the one with a sofa and no gadgets. Where people lay down their weapons of attack & defense, and just be. Together. Real. Intimate. Heard.

Would make for tedious TV, but a great sex life!

Rachel Gardner is the founder of Romance Academy

Tags: media, sex and relationship education,

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