Last week, TVNZ announced that they wouldn’t air the controversial UK reality show Sex Box after receiving complaints and a 10,000 strong petition. Alex Casey takes a peek inside and suggests it might not be as bad as everyone thinks.
It’s not everyday one is blessed with the opportunity to turn a deep shade of purple at their desk and hurriedly belch “It’s not porn, it’s just Sex Box!!!” to any colleague walking within a two kilometre radius of their laptop screen. But that’s exactly what I did this week, on a mission to uncover the mysteries of Sex Box, the UK reality show that TV2 picked up tentatively and then dropped last week faster than you can say “but who cleans the sheets?” after an online petition circulated.
Prepare to clutch some major pearls, affect a stiff upper lip and a distant gaze, because the show certainly does what is says on the tin. There is sex. And it does happen in a box. In front of a live studio audience. But before you go screaming for the hills, or watch your disembodied hands sign the 10,000 strong petition that got the show thrown in the TVNZ toilet, hear me out: Sex Box is actually kind of good.
On paper, Sex Box reads like something lifted straight out of a Black Mirror-style dystopian nightmare, an absurd-sounding premise reflected most closely elsewhere in the genius comedy Nathan For You. Parodying terrible inventions and start-up culture, the host Nathan Fielder constructs a soundproof box to place children in so parents can have sex in a family hotel room. It’s ridiculous, a massive joke. Nobody would ever make that. Nothing like that would ever exist.
But it does. Hosted by Goedele Liekens, a sex therapist of 20 years experience, and Steve Jones, a funny Ant and Dec-type in a suit, Sex Box invites couples old and new to air out their sexual laundry, and work on new techniques, all in the comfort of a television studio. Sex Box welcomes all types of people: in the few episodes I saw there were couples of varying age, ethnicity, size, sexuality, and confidence all looking to spice up their lives in the bedroom.
Goedle is the heart of the show, a Belgian professor who won’t go a moment without imitating a penis with her fingers, or imitating a vagina – also with her fingers. She speaks openly and insightfully, probing partners with questions about their preferred positions as casually as someone asking them if they want fries with that. As someone who strictly referred to genitals as “front bums” until older than I’m proud of, it was an alleviating experience to hear another women throw around her P’s and V’s so unapologetically.
It’s the sincerity that makes Sex Box such compelling viewing. However hesitant and shy, couples have the safety of the experts, and the knowledge that nothing they do inside the box will be broadcast to the wide eyes of the audience – much to the dismay of many. Whilst the deed is being done, Jones takes us through the latest in sexual statistics, technology and health. When they are ready, participants exit the booth (fully clothed) and talk about what they just experienced. The oxytocin levels apparently make discussing intimate details all the easier.
And this is where I wonder if the show is as bad as the Christian organisation Citizen Go, the people behind the petition, might think. After watching it, I can’t see much wrong with promoting healthy, frank, discussions about sexuality and sexual health in a suitable time slot. The petition included accusations that the show is “a new low” and “might contribute to the normalisation of sexual violence.”
I would argue that normalising sexuality doesn’t immediately equal objectification or violence, but rather opens up the conversation and creates a space where men and women are able to talk about their sex lives freely and without judgement. It’s built on sex positivity, and if you ignore a few nudie graphics and a man in a penis costume, Sex Box takes sex very seriously.
It’s disappointing to peek a glimmer of progressiveness, only to have the loud voices of an outraged few shut the lid firmly on a huge part of life which remains trapped in the dark. After a few episodes and a lot of new insights I never knew I needed, I realised that we probably need more, not less of shows like Sex Box. Where else can we engage with this kind of exposure to sexuality outside of pornography, a medium which has been proven to literally alter the shape of the brain and actively promote sexual violence against women?
I guess there’s always Game of Thrones…
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