• Frank Furedi
  • Frank Furedi
  • Sociologist, commentator and author

Why Channel 4’s ‘Sex Box’ Is Worse Than Seedy Porn

Channel Four has launched yet another public service campaign. This time its crusade is to explain to us what real sex is all about. Without a hint of irony they call their gimmicky project - The Campaign For Real Sex! And the justification for this brave initiative is because “many of us find it difficult or embarrassing to talk about sex!” You might wonder what world does Channel 4 inhabit? For in our world sex-talk is so constant that you have to search in an elderly people’s home to come across a hint of embarrassment on this subject.

Sex Box is promoted as a “unique television format inspired by the work of sex researchers, three couples have sex, then talk about it afterwards, while the feelings and sensations are still vivid and truthful.” But why do the so-called ‘sex researchers’ insist that people need to have sex in a box in Channel Four’s Studio before they can talk about it. A blow for science? Or a cheap entertainment format?

One does not need to be a highly qualified ‘sex researcher’ to understand that the sex conducted inside Channel 4’s Box is as real as the coupling that takes place in front of the pornographer’s camera. A sexual act carried out as a performance, one that is a prelude to a public discussion, while the ‘sensations are still vivid and truthful’ involves its objectification. In this sense the programme accomplishes one of the most regrettable outcomes associated with pornography - the fetishisation of sex.

Sex Box is actually worse than banal pornography because it masquerades as a public service project. In reality it is integral to a reality entertainment industry that has contributed to the consolidation of a culture that continually incites audiences to embrace the disclosure of intimate thoughts. This is an industry that incessantly celebrates voyeuristic behaviour. It demands that we talk about our feelings in public and encourages us to be ‘brave’ and disclose our desires to a mass audience. ‘How do you feel?’ is now the only question that matters on reality TV shows, where the more you disclose, the more you are respected. When voyeurism is constantly affirmed is it any surprise that so many people now regard porn as the new normal?

The myth of sex talk

One of the myths peddled by so-called sex researchers and the industry preying on intimacy is that there is something inherently virtuous and positive about public conversations about sex. By all means let’s talk about anything human. But discussions about our sexual encounters gain meaning in the context of an intimate relationship or groups friends and family members. The constant demand for revelation - empties intimacy of meaning. When the very private thoughts that were once only disclosed to an intimate are communicated to a mass audience, then human relationships corrode. Sex also changes dramatically when it becomes a public spectacle. It is only in the private sphere that it is possible to make love; in public, sex becomes just physical coupling. Paradoxically, the more sex is transformed into a public spectacle, the more it becomes unsexed. Sexual desire, a very human attribute, is transformed into a need for physical release.

For most societies sex does not mean a simple physical act. Sex contains meanings assigned to it by culture. That is why physical needs and appetites are expressed through the language of passion, desire or even romance. Sex is symbolically associated with the achievement of pleasure, power, intimacy and love. Since it usually cultivated and enacted outside the public sphere, sex has always retained an aura of mystery. Thankfully this mystery has eluded the imagination of sex researchers. They constantly miss the point that sex is a spontaneous and fluid form of intimate and engagement that cannot be captured in the language of statistics. Which why they can use the model of laboratory rats as the paradigm for a television programme.

One final point. Campaign For Real Sex? Who made them Gods?

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