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On Channel 4’s sex box

OK, fine, I’ll do it. I’ll talk about the sex box.

‘Sex Box’ is a new Channel 4 programme that gets couples to have sex in a box, then interviews them immediately afterwards about their experience. It has been described as ‘edgy’, for reasons I can’t quite fathom. It is also a part of Channel 4’s ‘Campaign for Real Sex’ season, a response to the terrifying tidal wave of pornography that threatens to engulf the entire country and turn us into unthinking wank-zombies.

I have a number of issues with this, but I’ll watch the programme anyway because I like it when people talk about sex. It’s hot, and interesting, and usually well worth a listen. However, I’m not entirely sure that the programme is going to do what Channel 4 is hoping. Here’s why:

It’s not as ‘edgy’ as they think

Some people have described this programme as ‘edgy’ or implied that there’s something seedy about the idea of couples having sex in a box then talking about it. Presumably because ‘edgy’ gets viewers, and they’re hoping to pull in a crowd of moist-knickered perverts like me who are hoping to hear a few groans or slapping noises (we won’t get them – apparently the box is soundproofed).

Let me just state for the record that talking to people shortly after they’ve had sex is not ‘edgy’. I’ve been to parties where three or four couples were shagging on the floor in the lounge, occasionally exchanging requests that one or other couple ‘give us a bit more room.’ On one memorable occasion, I was being vigorously shagged by my boyfriend while in the twin bed opposite, the equally genital-locked couple paused for a swig of beer and to ask us how it was going. Not the sexiest moment of my life, I have to admit, but certainly more edgy than shagging in a darkened room.

If at any point you’ve been to a house party, or popped round to a couple’s house for dinner, or even gone in to your parents’ bedroom on Christmas morning to gleefully pull toys out of your festive stocking, I guarantee you you’ve had a conversation with a couple that have recently had sex. You edgy maverick, you.

The actual ‘sex box’ serves no purpose

Given that having a post-sex chat is not particularly unusual, why the fuck do they even need them to have sex in the box beforehand? What purpose does the box serve? It’s as if they think that people forget what having sex with their partner is like, and they need a quick reminder before they get down to the discussion. Do we do this with anything else? If a medical expert is invited to give her opinion on BBC Breakfast, do they insist she performs a quick tracheotomy backstage to refresh her memory?

Unless we suffer from short term memory loss, we’re all sexperts when it comes to our own sex. We know exactly what kind of sex we’re having and – should someone ask us about it – there’s no need to pop home for a quick one just to check you’re not remembering it wrong.

The Campaign for ‘Real Sex’

I get what they’re doing with this: I do. And broadly I agree – most people don’t have the kind of sex that professionals have in porn, and so it’s important to understand that what we see on the screen is usually different to the sex that Joe Bloggs has with his partner on a Friday night.

But this is an obvious, trivial truth. Just as most people don’t repoint brickwork like a professional builder or drive like Jenson Button. Professionals do things differently to non-professionals, because they have spent time developing a skill to serve a particular purpose. Jenson wants to win Formula 1 races, the builder wants to please the client, and porn performers want to do things that will visually entertain you. The average person just wants to drive to the supermarket, build a wall that won’t fall over immediately, and have sex that gets them off.

There’s no problem with porn sex being different to real sex as long as we recognise why and how it’s different.

But pitting ‘real sex’ against pornography, as if the two are diametrically opposed, is bloody odd. Because ‘porn’ and ‘sex’ are not opposites. Sitting on the sofa rubbing one out to xhamster is just as real a part of my sex life as sitting on a guy’s dick. Sometimes people want to fuck, and sometimes they want to watch the professionals fuck, because they either can’t do it or can’t be bothered to do it. I watch porn sometimes, just as I’ll hire someone to tile my bathroom: sometimes you need to call the professionals.

What do I think of the ‘sex box’?

I love that there’s sex on telly. And not just the lovely creamy-breasted, taught-buttocked romping that’s almost the whole point of Game of Thrones, but actual conversations about sex. I like that this programme will bring more discussion about sex to our screens and our lives.

But crucially, I think the way it’s being framed will achieve the opposite of what Channel 4 says its after: “a frank conversation about an essential element of all our lives.” Instead it turns sex into a giggly, ‘edgy’ thing rather than something utterly normal which most of us enjoy in some shape or form. It also puts itself at the heart of deciding what’s ‘real’ and what isn’t. And I’m sorry to disappoint you, but when it comes to ‘real sex’, humping furtively in a ‘sex box’ in a TV studio is no more ‘real’ than porn.


  • Ian says:

    I’d rather read about people having sex in the real world then blogging about it “on the net”

  • 1/3 of kids believe that their sexual behaviour should be modelled on pornography:

    Which tells me that we should be telling them how real sex is different from pornography.

  • Girl on the net says:

    For some reason I can’t open that link, but I’ll try again later. I definitely think we should be telling young people that the sex they see in porn isn’t necessarily the sex they’re going to be having in real life, but as I say, I think that trivial truth isn’t the most helpful thing. The most helpful thing is helping people to understand *why* they’re different rather than simply pitting them as opposites.

  • QuestDove says:

    I dislike this tendency to automatically dismiss any concerns over porn’s ubiquitous presence around young people today and the problems which arise from that, just because you enjoy/use porn (as many adults do – and that’s great.) So many ‘porn positive’ blog writers do this. Not that I’m dismissing your points (the sex box thing is fucking stupid) and I have no idea how sensationalist they’ll be. But as far as the programmes dealing with the effect pornography (particularly violent etc) has on very young people in Channel 4’s ‘real sex’ season goes – it’s a discussion that needs to be had.

    Sorry, it just annoys me that discourse on this subject seems to limited to tabloid anti-porn fear-mongering bollocks, or dismissive “well I like porn!” thoughtless sentiment. So I’m really bloody hoping this season can address it properly.

    • Girl on the net says:

      I think I pretty much agree with you – just because much porn is enjoyable doesn’t mean that we never have to consider the impact of it. But I don’t think I’ve said that, have I? What I’ve said is that I don’t think this ridiculous programme is going to achieve what they’re after.

  • Lorenzo says:

    I’ve been watching formula 1 races since I was a kid.
    Races have been usually shown on the early afternoon of Sunday, when nor kids neither young children are at school or in bed so it was pretty much always possible for me to watch them.
    When a formula 1 car stops at the box to change tyres, about 20 people run to do the job and it takes 3-4 seconds.
    I saw it many and many times. It was exciting.

    Yet, when, recently, I went to get a new set of tyres fitted on my fiesta, I did not expect to be welcomes by 20 mechanics and me to be waiting at the wheel with the engine running.
    I got off the car and waited in the office for a guy to do the job. I wasn’t left unsatisfied or disappointed, I was actually pleased for how swiftly it was done.

    I reckon one of the reasons why my expectations and understanding of the tyre issue were not distorted by the TV was that the experience of normal cars was way more common and, even if I was not able or allowed to drive one myself at a young age, I could grasp the fact that I could go on trips with my family in one, that people could go to work in one, that the different colours of the traffic lights have different meanings, that there was a huge variety of type of cars, that if I had happened to be run over by one it would have had very bad consequences.
    Either I asked questions or I was thought about, but at different ages I was able to understand more and more.
    It was only just before getting my license that I needed to learn about the accelerator-clutch-gears malarkey, the details of the code, the cost of the MOT, the fact that some people even let you get in their car and will drive you around for money!

    To conclude, if “the explosion of online pornography” is perceived as invading spaces where it doesn’t belong it may be that such large empty spaces have been left by parents and other figures who avoid presenting sex as part of the common life experience, in a way suitable to the various stages of anybody development.
    By the way I remember my parents had at home a set of books on sexual education, each of them targeting readers with different ages, from 6 years old to adults.
    It was the late 70’s. How many families with children have nowadays something similar at home?

    And, in reference to Sex Box, while I was growing up it would have not be very helpful, in order to understand how to fit tyres on a fiesta, to watch an interview to a rally driver after his effort.

  • Molly says:

    We came VERY close to being one of the couples on this show but at the last minute decided to withdraw (not in the contraceptive way obviously ;) and the main reason was that we just could not find a reason for the box AND the live audience apart from to titillate. The producers talked a good talk and we so nearly went for it but something inside us never settled, hence the last minute exit stage left.

    I will be fascinated to see how the show comes out though and if they manage to achieve what they aimed to do or if the ‘box’ gimic, as we predict, just gets in the way of that.


    • Girl on the net says:

      Oh wow – I would have loved to have seen you on the show – I reckon you’d have had lots to say and it would be interesting to hear your thoughts. But I don’t blame you for pulling out (again, not in the biblical sense), you’re right: the box and the live audience don’t seem to be there to help conversation, just to make the whole thing seem a bit more ‘naughty’. It’ll pull in viewers, but I’m not yet convinced it’ll help us have a conversation about ‘real’ sex.

  • That guy says:

    I always find a certain amusement to situations like this. Clearly little to no thought has been placed into this program but it will do well.

    It reminds me of Art Basel, one of the biggest art shows in the world and there are always a good few blank canvases painted red and up for sale at $20k. Someone has brought a 20 dollar canvas, painted it red and made a years rent.

    In that regard Sex Box is similar. How did that board meeting go? A group of executives sat around the table, staring wide-eyed at their project manager in anticipation who then comes up with:

    “Okay hear me out here guys, what if we asked some people to have sex.. in a box.”

    I don’t have high hopes for the show. Just look at the promotion for it. Straight after the woman in the advert leaves the box and is asked about the experience she says “it felt really connected afterwards”. That’s not even a sentence, and THIS is the footage they use for the commercial.

    You can guarantee the show will do relatively well though, lets face it Channel 4 know their demographic.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hehe. The ‘it felt really connected afterwards’ makes me imagine a couple that has failed to correctly … umm… ‘disengage’ =)

      I might pitch C4 a few programmes of my own. Keep an eye out for next year’s smash hit ‘Wanking in a phone booth then making a YouTube video about it’

  • QuestDove says:

    You’ve also committed the cardinal sin of the average Daily Mail journalist by criticizing something you haven’t even seen ten seconds of.

    • Girl on the net says:

      I think that’d only be relevant if I’d said ‘oh God, this programme’s awful’, rather than saying ‘I question whether this programme is actually going to achieve what they want, given the weird concept.’

      You’ve made the classic Daily Mail mistakes of a) oversimplifying what I’m saying to make it easier to criticise and b) ignoring my previous reply, in which I agreed with you, so that you could fling another criticism rather than addressing the one we were debating.

      • QuestDove says:

        Oh no sorry, I genuinely didn’t see your earlier reply. Yes, your concerns do seem to be about the concept of this specific programme, my point was far more broad. Sorry.

  • maria says:

    sex-box or real sex. it serves the purpose either way. love the discussion here though. read some of the other posts too. quite good. looking forward to reading more posts like this. – maria

  • You win for ‘wank-zombies’.

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