'It's education, honest...'

There are five simple rules to follow if you want to show naked people having sex on telly. Vincent Graff and Lucy Rouse report
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sex, a television executive explains, "ticks all the correct boxes - it gets high ratings, appeals to young audiences and is popular with upmarket viewers." You may not be entirely surprised to learn of TV's love affair with the subject. And, just like the beginnings of real-life love affairs, after each date the television company wants to go one step further next time.

Sex, a television executive explains, "ticks all the correct boxes - it gets high ratings, appeals to young audiences and is popular with upmarket viewers." You may not be entirely surprised to learn of TV's love affair with the subject. And, just like the beginnings of real-life love affairs, after each date the television company wants to go one step further next time.

Which is why you may also not be entirely taken aback to learn about the latest makeover programme doing the rounds. Channel 4 has given the go-ahead to a pilot of a proposed series called The Sex Inspectors, in which couples who are not happy with their love lives will be filmed having sex - and then offered a tip or two about how to pep things up.

It is easy to see why Channel 4 is intrigued. Last week, you will recall, the network broadcast Pornography: The Musical, in which porn actresses described in detail what they do on film (and then warbled their way through songs about it), and Teen Big Brother: The Experiment, in which two contestants finally - finally! - did what everyone has been waiting for since the programme began in Britain three years ago.

Daisy Goodwin is editorial director of Talkback Thames, which is making The Sex Inspectors for C4. She says: "Everybody thinks that other people are having better sex than they are - it is one of the world's great myths." Her programme is designed "partly to reassure them that they are not, and also to show people how to make things a little better." If everything goes to plan, her show ought to make things a little better for C4's bottom line, too.

But there can be serious pitfalls if television companies get it wrong. Chris Shaw is the senior programme controller at Channel 5, which appears these days to have a far more grown-up attitude to sex than C4. He has a word of warning: "Getting the tone right on programmes with a sexual content is extremely tough. Any overtly cynical ploy can backfire and make you look extremely tacky and sleazy."

So, how can you avoid charges of sleaze and pass off rumpy-pumpy as good, honest programming? The Independent is proud to present the five defences you can hide behind.

* "It is avant-garde." When sex is arty, it isn't dirty. "It takes the edge off sex," says one programme-maker. "That was the thinking behind Pornography: The Musical."

* "It is funny." If you are witty about sex, how can it be pornographic? When did a picture spread in Hustler magazine contain any jokes?

* "It's educational." We have to show these people shagging; otherwise, how will anyone at home know how to do it?

* "It's a social experiment." Why do you think the latest series of C4's reality show was Teen Big Brother: The Experiment? That was not smut; it was science. Never before have we been able to prove that teenagers locked up together with nothing but time on their hands will end up having sex.

* "It's journalism." This isn't a programme about sex; it's an important piece of narrative about a secretive religious sect whose members happen to get naked once an hour and express their love for God in the form of an orgasm.

If none of those does the trick, you are working in the wrong industry. Try something a little less dishonest, such as ticket-touting.

Goodwin seems clear that her programme falls under category three. But even if a show is educational, there are limits to what you can show. "There's going to be a lot of pixelation in this show," she says, adding that it has to attract a female audience in order to be worth doing. "If we can't get the tone right, we won't do it."

Of course, there is never any hypocrisy at play when television tackles sex. Nor are there any double standards when serious newspapers run 700-word articles on the subject. Anyway, who is the biggest hypocrite here? What are you doing reading this?

Comments