A few weeks ago, WE tv ordered a baffling nine-episode series of a show titled Sex Box. The title isn’t exactly self-explanatory — no one has sex with an actual box — but the premise is simple: couples have sex inside a large, opaque, and soundproof box and then discuss the experience with a panel of experts. The idea is for the couples to work through any issues they have by being emotionally honest with each other (and strangers) about sex and intimacy. It’s easy to say this is just another example of how desperate American reality TV has gotten, but it’s actually an adaptation of a British series.
Channel 4’s Sex Box premiered in October of 2013 to much hype, but the oddest thing about the show is that it turned out to be pretty boring. The pilot episode featured three couples — two straight, one gay — that were all varying levels of nervous. It’s a strange format. There are some man-on-the-street interviews; for the gay couple, they asked unsuspecting strangers what they think gay men do in bed. (A large portion of this act is about how people are totally clueless as to what gay sex entails.) Sex Box also aims to both educate people and destroy myths surrounding sex by providing colorful facts throughout the episodes that loosely tie to the couple that is currently sexboxing. None of them are particularly shocking or interesting, but I guess they’re helpful to a few totally clueless viewers.
The bulk of each episode is taken up by the panel discussions. The Channel 4 version was hosted by Mariella Frostrup and the panel included writer Dan Savage, sex and relationships expert Tracey Cox, and marital and sexual therapist Philip Godson. The WE tv version will be hosted by Danielle Stewart, and the experts are Fran Walfish (relationship pyschotherapist), Dr. Chris Donaghue (sex therapist), and Dr. Yvonne Capehart (a pastor and gospel singer…?). The experts certainly have the best of intentions, but they don’t provide much counseling. Mostly they reiterate the importance of an emotional connection when couples have sex or offer shrugging, ambivalent advice — to a couple who enjoys watching porn featuring threesomes, the panel suggest they try having a threesome but also maybe not because it could damage the relationship. For experts, they are not always ready to commit to their expertise.
Sex Box is going to get a lot of attention when it premieres on WE tv (which is perhaps the most unlikely channel for this show), and will surely be cited as proof of the decline of Western Civilization or an act of reality show desperation that’s relying on mundane titillation to get viewers, similar to Vh1’s Dating Naked. But if it’s anything like the original, Sex Box won’t be about titillation. The show obviously doesn’t show the actual sex — for all we know, the couple could just be hanging out in the box playing the Kim Kardashian game on their iPhones — and the only time we see the couples, they are fully clothed (so it’s already more tamer many reality shows!) and maybe just a bit red-faced, with tousled hair.
There is no denying the shameless title and logline but it seems like Sex Box is actually less interested in gaining attention for being “racy” and more interested in having an honest conversation about sex, because it’s a show that believes this is still a taboo topic on TV. Then again, the version we see will be Americanized, so who knows what stunts WE tv will pull to make it a little more scintillating for public consumption? It wouldn’t be surprising for the network to switch things up, and honestly, it might not be a bad thing — for all the hype already surrounding it, the original version is fairly boring.