Woody Allen once said: “Love is the answer, but while you are waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions.” And thanks to Channel 4’s Sex Box, which starts tonight, three couples now have a forum for discussing those questions. All they’re required to do is have sex inside a futuristic portakabin in the middle of a television studio, before emerging, breathless, ruddy-faced and slightly unkempt, to have a cosy post-coital chat with Mariella Frostrup and a panel of ‘sexperts’. Bingo!
The show is part of Channel 4’s ‘Campaign for Real Sex’, a season of programmes “which aim to reclaim sex from porn”. And what better way to reclaim sex than by placing it inside an opaque, sound-proofed cube. “It’s quite a chaste programme,” said Channel 4’s head of factual programming, Ralph Lee, “— there’s no sex in it.”
True, there’s no sex. But I read somewhere that there is a handy colour scheme so that we can all follow what’s going on at home. Apparently the box glows red for coitus; yellow to indicate intermittent foreplay and a chat about whether the tiles in the bathroom need re-grouting; purple for when the mood evaporates and the couple decide to eat Hobnobs and watch Countryfile instead; and blue to alert the crew to unexpected flaccidity.
Typically appalled by the show’s premise, the Mail Online reported that Channel 4 is cynically trying to boost ratings after it was outperformed by Channel 5 for the first time in its history in July. Whether or not that’s true, I’m sort of glad that Channel 4 got in with this idea first.
After all, Richard Desmond’s cut-price Channel 5 version would probably be called something like Fuck Truck. Presented by John McCririck, wearing nothing but oversized underpants and a deerstalker, amorous couples would be expected to have orgiastic sex in a perspex trailer on the back of an eighteen wheeler. McCririck would then walk among the writhing bodies singing Bloodhound Gang’s The Bad Touch into a loud hailer, as the truck winds its way through Leeds city centre.
Alternatively, Desmond could always develop a programme called Snuff Box, a one-hour programme in which oversexed, banter-loving ‘lads’ are lured into a shipping container by a pneumatic blonde, before taking a bullet to the back of the head. I think I’d watch that.
Anyway, Sex Box and the ‘Campaign for Real Sex’ seem to be a product of Channel 4’s eagerness “to talk about sex – real sex – the kind that is actually going on in Britain’s bedrooms”. That’s fine, but aren’t we always talking about sex these days? A better idea for a show would’ve been Sex Library, where anyone who tries to strike up a conversation about sex gets shushed by a stern-faced, conservatively dressed librarian, with half moon spectacles sitting on the end of her beaky nose. Isn’t sex boring now?
And what is ‘real sex’ anyway? With absolutely no apologies for the sweeping generalisation I’m about to make, I imagine ‘real sex’ for men in their late teens and twenties involves clumsily trying to mount someone in a piss-sodden nightclub toilet, while a stumbling, incoherent friend helpfully vomits eight hours of two-for-one shots into the crotch of their ankle-high underwear.
I’m also not entirely sure how Sex Box can liberate us from pornography?
My first experience of porn was in 1989, when I discovered a bin bag full of pornographic magazines in a park behind the newsagents where I worked. I remember turning my bike on its handlebars, as though innocently fixing a puncture, just to give myself enough time to paw at the bag until some of the glossy magazines slipped out and flipped tantalisingly open. I ended up flicking through a ridiculous photoset featuring two naked women cowering beneath a mulleted Dracula – a set of plastic fangs sitting awkwardly in his mouth, with his cape thrown open to reveal a phallus of truly ridiculous proportions.
I only managed to look for a few seconds, though. The sound of Bram Stoker turning in his grave suddenly spooked me (or it might have been a cat darting through the bushes behind me) so I decided to hide the bag in some undergrowth and return to collect my filthy treasure after dark.
The bin bag was gone by the time I returned to fix another fake puncture on my bike, but that was the beauty of porn in the old days – it was a challenge to find! (And in terms of the sodden clumps of Mayfair I once found and tried to dry out on a radiator, difficult to read.) Furthermore, buying just one pornographic magazine over the counter at a newsagents was often prohibitively expensive, especially once I’d hidden it beneath four packs of Chewits, a copy of The People’s Friend and a foam ball and tennis racket set. The young people of today wouldn’t have an addiction to porn if they had to acquire it under those kinds of conditions.
Actually, thinking about it, maybe Sex Box can rid the world of pornography. If this box thing catches on, we might soon be living in a world where all the filthiest, x-rated bits from porn films take place inside opaque, sound-proofed boxes, leaving us to actually enjoy the dialogue and plot in films such as Moulin Splooge and The Italian Handjob. Furthermore, trying to view pornographic images online would eventually be no more exciting than surfing the IKEA website for a self-assembly wardrobe. If pornography was made that dull, I’m fairly certain that people would lose interest.
We can but hope.