Participants are steered into a large off white box to do the deed while a panel discusses sex. The couples then come out and everyone sits down for a chat. The tone of the show is pure voyeurism, but there is a surprising mix of diversity in the first episode, including a disabled couple and as a gay couple. I can’t help but think that in America the participants would have looked more like those found on Big Brother. In a society where it is increasingly common to have exposure to sex only through the increasingly soft-focus lens of sexually explicit representations, a show like Sex Box gives us a small glimpse into "real sex."
No one describes this phenomenon better than Ariel Levy in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs:
"I would turn on the television and find strippers in panties explaining how best to lap dance a man to orgasm, I would flip the channel and see babes in tight, tiny uniforms bouncing up and down on trampolines. Britney Spears was becoming increasingly popular and increasingly unclothes, and her undulating body ultimately became so familiar to me I felt like we used to go out."
Terence Blacker at the Independent declared Sex Box titillation masquerading as seriousness and remarked, quite accurately that, "there cannot have been an age quite as contradictory about sex as we are."That's the thing: we are simultaneously immersed in sexual messaging from media, documentaries, advertisements, and reality television, and yet encouraged to be modest about it. The disappointment expressed most frequently for viewers of the show was that there were no cameras inside the box. Presumably these people have not experienced internet pornography. Twitter users responses were both delight and shock in a mixture I am dubbing "prudevocateur."
While Sex Box is certainly knowingly scandalous, sexualization is increasingly posited as empowerment for women — but we're supposed to be well-mannered about it.
It is in this paradigm that Sex Box exists as a slightly avant-guard and yet slightly prudish exploration of sex. As Martin Robbins at the New Statesmen notes, the box is a gimmick, a Schrodinger’s cat-type attempt at exploring sexuality. There have been several comparisons of the afterglow interviews to the locker room chat so popular with sports reporters. Sex Box does step outside of societal expectations by depicting a an old couple, a black couple, a gay couple, and a disabled couple— but it all within the contexts of (presumably) monogamous and loving relationships.
While acknowledging sex between disabled people happens at all is a nudge towards progress, and I am always excited to see Dan Savage (one of the panelists), a closer look at the show confirms that we are treading old territory. The fact is, despite the host Mariella Frostrup purportedly wanting to open up a sexual dialogue, they literally place sex in a box.
I’d be more interested in seeing what happens if they took away the box altogether.