Sex Box

Sex Box aired tonight on Channel 4 at 10pm. As promised it featured 3 couples having sex in a sound proof and opaque box. Whilst they were doing that we had vox pop interviews with people on the street and some discussion with the panel of Philip Hodson, Tracey Cox and Dan Savage.

Although the main hook of the show was that it featured a couple having sex in a box this wasn’t the main focus – in fact the box may as well not have been there. Most of the show was a series of unscripted and ‘as live’ discussions which (for the most part) were informative and useful. The couples were given lots of time to talk which made them particularly interesting. The panellists made some good points about communication and different kinds of sexual activity other than intercourse (at times).

The tone of the show was pretty sensible, measured and matter of fact. Some of the Bingo Boxes were defiantly un-ticked and in fact it was pretty good on the following:

All examples are young, heterosexual, white, able-bodied & conventionally attractive couples

The participants in the show were really interesting, fun, open and engaged. They represented a different ages, sexualities and abilities (there was a couple with disabilities, sadly they weren’t on screen for very long) and weren’t the kind of ‘conventionally attractive’ that TV programmes generally focus on.

Sex ed not good enough: Complaining not doing

Although there was the usual worry about Sex Ed not being good enough for young people (which is mostly true) the show did offer some good advice on what good Sex Ed could achieve as well as offering some communication tips.

Kink! (and poly, trans*, bi, etc.) is weird, strange or dangerous

There was a discussion about threesomes in which Tracey Cox said they were a bad idea and Dan Savage said that this wasn’t necessarily the case and has had several with his husband. This reframed the discussion as something that ‘normal’ people do, even presenters.

Toy, drug, shop: Product placement

There was no discussion about a particular sex toy or product or drug and as such steered clear of a purely medicalisation and marketisation (if that’s a word) of sex.

Everyone likes [insert sex act here] so no need to ask first 

Goal focus rather than consent & pleasure

A lot of time was given about how to talk about the kind of sex that we might want rather than simply having the sex we feel we should have. Although there was still a lot of focus on intercourse, particularly for the straight couples (see below).

Despite the good stuff we reckoned the show ticked 7 boxes. Most problematic was how bisexual, trans* and asexual folk were ignored and the assumption that everyone wants sex. Most of the show was a live discussion where in the heat of the moment and in front of a studio audience some mistakes could be made, so I think some allowances could perhaps be made for that.

Only penis-in-vagina sex is proper sex

The first couple in the box referred to ‘sex’, they were briefly challenged by the panel about what this means but this didn’t continue. They said that they once had ‘sex’ for 3 hours – unpicking what kind of sex happened in those 3 hours may have been interesting. There was actually much more discussion about intercourse when we saw the gay couple where the panel were discussing the assumptions we make about same sex couples and thus also different gender couples (though they were saying ‘gay sex’ a lot which was annoying). The last couple challenged themselves when they talked about sex which was interesting, but the panel were talking about ‘sex as intercourse’ for parents. This is a shame because many people who might be too tired for ‘sex’ (whether this is due to parenting or work or illness) may feel that there are many different kinds of sex they could explore having.

Orgasm is the goal of all sexual activity

During the conversation with the second couple Hodson asked about whether one or both of them had an orgasm. This was framed as orgasm being the only point of sexual activity. The couple later talked about hugging, touch and closeness, which was great.

There are only men and women and they are very different

Everyone needs sex to be happy

This square was crossed off almost immediately and was repeated throughout the show.  Not everyone feels sexual desire all through their lives and some people don’t feel it at all and identify as such.

Dodgy stats & bad science

There was a dodgy stat suggesting that the majority of young people have looked at porn. EU Kids Online suggests that it’s only a minority of young people.

Everyone is gay or straight and nothing else

There was absolutely no mention of bisexuality in the whole show, which was a real shame.

ZOMG! (teens! Internet! Sexualisation!)

At the beginning of the show some very basic cause and effect claims were asserted about young people, porn and their sexual practices. None of this is born out by research, which doesn’t demonstrate any causality. Good on Dan Savage for pointing out that we need to help young people to be more critical and literate consumers of porn though.

Here’s a storify from the discussion on twitter last night.

There’s a summary and YouTube link to the programme in our shorter blog post here.

Unsafe Sex in the City (Series 2 Episode 1)

{reblogged from}

A bunch of us sex educator/therapist/academic/writer types have been very busy since last Friday putting this project together: Bad Sex Media Bingo.

On the bingo card you’ll see some common themes that come up in a lot of magazine/newspaper articles and columns and also telly programmes which we (and a lot of people) find really annoying.

I think TV programmes about sex and relationships could be a whole lot better. I was part of a group of people who complained to Channel 4 about The Joy of Teen Sex for instance. If you look at the posts from Team Bish (an awesome team of young volunteers) about various telly programmes about sex you’ll see that they think things could be better too. This is what Bad Sex Media Bingo is about: helping viewers look for the problems with the content and for producers to think about how they can make things better.

So I played along whilst watching ‘Unsafe Sex in the City’ on BBC3 last night. I wasn’t a big fan of it to be honest. I thought it was really sex negative, teen/slut shaming and horridly judgy with 7 boxes ticked. I had a bit of a rant on twitter about it last night which I’ve gathered together in a storify here).

Those boxes were (the links take you to the explanations page at Bad Sex Media Bingo)
Only penis in vagina is proper sex (or penis in anus sex too)
Orgasm is the goal of sexual activity (in the 5 seconds where they talked about sex being pleasurable – the only time it was mentioned)
Everyone is gay or straight and nothing else (they may have other bisexual folk in the series but in the media they are invisible, despite more people identifying as bi than gay or lesbian)
Sex Ed complaining not doing (they didn’t really complain about Sex Ed but they didn’t do very much of it when they really could have. Scaring people about STIs is not good Sex Ed and, I think, does more harm than good).
Complex Topic Over Simplified (young people just get pissed and shag don’t they?)
Token Gay Attractive Couple (though we only saw one of them)
zOMG! Teens! STI Rates (ie the whole show/series)

What was really depressing about last night’s show was that it was an hour of prime time yoof telly which could have been much more useful, informative and entertaining. That this is a series (and a second one at that) is particularly depressing. It shows the low opinion that many TV producers and commissioners have of a) young people and b) programmes about sex and relationships. It made me long for The Sex Education Show to come back, and I really didn’t like that AT ALL.

The only good bits were when young people were chatting to each other about their relationships and how they talked about what was going on for them. This was much more interesting and I wish we had more of that without the judgemental narration and the unhelpful sex negative attitudes.

(Justin –