Entertainment TV Live sex on TV – titillating or just tacky?

Live sex on TV – titillating or just tacky?

Sex Box
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When it comes to sex, Australian television has been more promiscuous than Don Juan, or to phrase it in the language of television: our idiot box has seen more action than Sex and The City’s Samantha Jones.

In fact we’ve been watching sex on the tele for longer than it’s been broadcast in colour.

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As such, the suggestion that SBS2’s decision to broadcast Sex Box is too risqué for Australian audiences is beyond absurd.

Quite the opposite. This is arguably the lamest effort at generating a scandal we’ve ever seen. Australian audiences should be offended that they’re suspected of being so easily offended.

Sex Box experts (from left): Phillip Hodson, Tracey Cox, Dan Savage, Mariella Frostrup. Photo: Supplied

SBS promises that on Sex Box “three couples will do what comes naturally – have sex – and then talk about it afterwards – whilst the feelings and sensations are still vivid and truthful.”  

And that’s what they did. Last year. When the show was recorded in England.

That’s right. The couples we’re about to see lie back and think of England, are British. This isn’t even an Australian show. It’s pommy porn.

Not that the sex is seen either. Filmed in front of a live audience (but not broadcast live), the couples disappeared into a large wooden box (which looks a little too much like a cubby house for comfort) to do the deed. They then emerged post-coitus to discuss matters with an agony aunt and a panel of sexperts.

When it aired in the UK on Channel Four in October last year, the critics were unimpressed, comparing the interviews to post-match interviews and suggesting that a show that promised to bring sex out into the open as part of a campaign to reclaim it from pornography, probably shouldn’t have then hidden it away in a shed.

Australia is years ahead of the curve on this front.

Our history of TV sex

In 1972, Network Ten, floundering in the ratings, found unexpected success with Number 96. Known as the show that stole Australia’s virginity, it made a feature out of the sex happening between its characters, dressed sultry actress Abigail in semi-transparent tops and – shock, horror – even had an openly gay character.

It rated its socks (and undies) off.

Advertising had known for a long time that sex sells, but now Australian television had proven it also rates. Having lost its virginity, television in this country took to sex with an almost scandalous enthusiasm.

Jump forward 20 years and the Nine Network tried it all. In 1991 Nine launched Chances, a late night soap opera that didn’t so much feature sex scenes, as occasionally pause to insert some clothed interaction while the characters caught their breath and found their costumes.

In 1992 and 1993, then Bugs Bunny Show presenter, Sophie Lee hosted two seasons of Sex, a prime time factual series that each week gave us the televisual equivalent of the sex-ed talks being given in high school gymnasiums around the country.

Game of Thrones
Incest anyone? As if Sex Box can surpass all the shenanigans on Game of Thrones. Photo: Supplied

Also in 1992, Kerry Packer proved that perhaps the last way to create scandal over the sight of bums, boobs and rude bits on TV was not to air them, when he famously called the network he owned to demand Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos with Doug Mulray be pulled off the air half way through it’s broadcast, with the immortal words “get that s**t off the air!”

So by the time we got to 2008 when Foxtel aired three seasons of Satisfaction, a series set in a Melbourne brothel, no one really batted an eyelid. In the age of True Blood, Game of Thrones, Californication and Sex and the City, sex may sell but it certainly doesn’t scandalise.

SBS (Sex Before Soccer)

Certainly not on SBS. The network’s own staff had joked for years that their acronym stood for Sex Before Soccer. A phrase recently adopted by their publicity team to promote movies during the World Cup.

From its wealth of foreign language film programming to the long-term tradition of the provocative Friday night documentary, SBS has always relished in using sex as one of the tools to lure viewers away from the “major” networks.

In this context, last week’s announcement that SBS2 would be airing the UK television special Sex Box, is about as dangerous and exciting as a Sunday lunch at Granny’s house.

SBS2 in its current guise is about a year and a half old. The channel re-launched in February last year as a young, provocative and bold channel. The channel’s management have made a series of great decisions: commissioning the pop-culture savvy news show The Feed; vacuuming up popular, trendy shows from overseas such as Community; partnering with demographically-compatible events such as Tropfest and Mardi Gras.

Sure they’ve trumpeted a few themed weeks on The Feed – “Sex Week”, “Addiction Week” and “Taboo Week” – and they’ve seen corresponding ratings bumps. Those were publicity campaigns designed to draw viewers to actual quality content.

This isn’t. This is a rebroadcast of someone else’s fairly lame effort to tease and shock.

Sex Box was a transparent gimmick when it aired in the UK. Predictably hyped prior to its broadcast by the tabloids, it generated a slight ratings rises before being reviewed and written off as the empty headline generator it was. Though sure enough the rights were sold to the US so they could make their own version.

Perhaps if SBS were to do that we might get some good television, or at least a good scandal. After all, when SBS last year announced a forthcoming series entitled Masters of Sex, no one would have been truly shocked to learn they’d commissioned a World Coitus Cup. Like it or not, that’s what we’ve come to expect.

So if SBS wants to get our blood boiling over boobs and bums, it’s going to take more than a bit of box-based bonking between a bunch of Brits.

Sex Box airs on SBS2 on Friday, 18 July at 9.25pm

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