What’s in the Sex Box? Not Much, It Turns Out

Channel 4 Sex Box

What is Sex Box?

A. A new program on British public television
B. An R. Kelly song
C. A dystopian game show
D. The new Xbox
E. A pornographic riff on Houdini’s water torture cell trick
F. A natural brand extension of The Box
G. A 1991 La Toya Jackson dance single
H. A box you keep sex in

If you answered A, C, and E, you are correct, although G is technically also valid. Urban Dictionary suggests “a box you have sex in … especially in front of Billie Joe’s house …” or “a Volvo 240.” Wikipedia redirects to “sex drive-in or sex box” to mean garages that house cars where prostitution occurs (in Germany they’re called verrichtungsbox, which means “performance box”). But we’re just talking about a new reality show on British television.

Sex Box is a U.K. TV show on which couples have sex inside an opaque curtained box while a studio audience learns about their relationship from a panel of experts including the American columnist Dan Savage. The show purports to be more than just titillation, couching the outrageousness of the concept with a veneer of helpful psychiatric interrogation. If you prefer your reality TV shows less inspirational and more like the Stanford prison experiment, Sex Box sounds pretty exciting. The big flaw? It apparently doesn’t go far enough. Even though the promotional campaign aimed for manufactured outrage, viewers were complaining on Twitter that there wasn’t enough proof the couples were actually having sex in the box. It’s just like the old joke: The sex is terrible on Sex Box! And such small portions!

A verrichtungsbox (sex box or sex drive-in)

Having established couples in the box also robs the event of suspense. Why not two people who just met? Plenty of people want to be on television so badly that they’d have sex with a stranger inside a box just to do it. A lot of them wouldn’t want the box. Sex Box isn’t very sexually arousing, and it’s only superficially educational. You learn much more about human relationships from the Bravo Housewives franchise. What Sex Box has going for it is its name, which conjures up all kinds of scenarios much weirder and harder to insure for live television than the actual show.

According to Channel 4, Sex Box aims to “reclaim sex from pornography” by investigating intimacy from the inside out. It’s supposedly an effort to force the British people to confront the legendary sexual repression that fuels the national dark sense of humor. Channel 4’s head of programming said, “The explosion of online pornography is one of the stories of our time and this absolutely intends to be an open, adult, quite deep conversation about sex.” Yes, exactly, going deep in the Sex Box. You wonder if the couples practiced their moves beforehand, as if they were preparing for an appearance on Strictly Come Dancing. It’s part of a programming block on Channel 4 including shows like Porn on the Brain and Date My Porn Star.

Ultimately Sex Box tells us mostly about voyeurism. It seems more like a performance art piece than anything else. Nobody is going to replace their porn with Sex Box, unless they are turned on by frustration. The couples may or may not actually have sex during the broadcast, and even the overheard noises could easily be production value. It’s Schrödinger’s Sex Box. Whether they really do have sex barely matters, since the audience fills in the gaps with their imaginations. If the curtain were to be lifted, there’s a good chance the intimate real-life sex might look a little bit mundane compared to the stylized camera angles and complex poses of even amateur porn. But unless there’s a camera in the box, what’s the point?

Filed Under: Reality TV

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

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