TV Review: Sex Box, Channel 4


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The Independent Culture

Hey you, at the back! Stop that sniggering. People are trying to have sex here! In a box! On national television! If you saw the Porn on the Brain documentary last week, you'll already know about Channel 4's mission to challenge internet porn myths by getting people to talk more openly about what really goes on in the bedroom – or the box. And last night, in the new Mariella Frostrup-fronted panel show Sex Box, that mission was realised. Sort of.

It might sound like the kind of title-first-details-later gimmick commissioning editors dream up in the pub, but no. Sex Box is based on, like, real science and everything. Over to you, "Sexpert" Tracey Cox: "If you get somebody who's just actually had sex, they're all high on it, all the hormones are racing through their body, you're gonna get a much more honest recall of how they feel about it."

Channel 4 had brought together a wide range of different physicalities, sexualities and personalities to prove their point, but the first couple to enter the box were 21-year-olds Rachel and Dean. They exited some time later looking slightly flushed and dishevelled. "Did you have a nice time?" asked Mariella, as if they'd just returned from a day trip to the zoo. Luckily, the rigorous questioning wasn't all left down to Mariella. She was joined by a panel of three, including the aforementioned Cox, agony uncle and psychotherapist Phillip Hodson and Dan Savage, whose ribald and wise advice podcasts have earned him a large fan base in the US.

The box itself was reminiscent of those high-tech loos that local councils erect in binge-drinking hot spots. You couldn't see or hear what went on inside, but there was a big flashing light to indicate occupancy. Romantic, no? This means: (a) No one can accuse Channel 4 of broadcasting a live sex show; and (b) We were reliant on the frankness of the couples to find out what kind of sex they were having inside. Who knows? Perhaps they opted for a game of Cluedo and a nice cup of tea instead.

As it turned out, even the courageous sexperts seemed to get a little uncomfortable during the post-box chat. Gay couple Matt and John were the most open, but they too struggled to break free of euphemisms when it came to talking specifics, while fortysomething Brummie couple Des and Lynette said they'd rather keep some of their foreplay activities private. It wasn't exactly what Channel 4 had promised, but it was unexpectedly funny. Given the choice between answering a personal question about sex or cracking a defensive, diversionary joke, most of us instantly turn into top-drawer stand-up comedians.