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Generation Sex

May 6th, 2008

Dr Petra

Channel Five have recently relaunched their digital channel Five Life as Fiver, which is targeting the younger women’s market.

Clearly to hit that audience what you need is something sexy so the channel commissioned a showcase new series called ‘Generation Sex’ which promised to cover “everything from modern sexual etiquette to virtual sex, sex toys and cyber sex. It will also feature contributions from a range of people including those who take part in posh orgies or make a living from selling upmarket sex toys. Plus, it reveals a new dictionary of sexual terms, explaining all the baffling terminology from pegging to snowballing”

I heard about it a few weeks back when a researcher from the show called me to see if I’d like to contribute. I had a few misgivings when they sold it to me as something light, funny and a bit like ‘grumpy old women’ – basically a talking heads show where celebrities and members of the public would talk about sexy things.

They wanted me to contribute to a programme about sex addiction and cybersex, although apparently around six shows were also being made on various sexy topics. What they wanted me to say was how there’s an epidemic of internet porn addiction and text sex going on, how men were more visual and therefore liked looking at rude things online, how we were now all having relationships online, and how everyone was up to no good over in second life. All delivered in an edgy way.

Unfortunately my comments that the concept of addiction is hotly disputed, that we’re not all addicted to text sex, that the evidence men are ‘more visual’ doesn’t really hold water, and the majority of UK residents aren’t having regular cybersex was far too worthy and promptly dumped me out of the edgy category.

It was made clear that they didn’t really want any accurate facts or figures, they wanted shock value, a few statistics, and just enough expert comment to make it seem there was something vaguely scientific tucked away somewhere in the programme. The experts weren’t really the main focus of the show, I was told, it was the celebrities who’d be telling the story about what’s really going on in our 21st sexual lives.

Along the way I also enjoyed being lectured by the researcher how I was wrong about the men-are-more-visual idea because they’d done a google search just that morning that told them this was the case. Which told me.

It was left with them saying that I was probably very good at my job (hey thanks for that) but that they needed someone who could ‘compliment our celebrity interviewees’. Apparently to qualify you needed to say what the producers wanted you to say, reinvent common sexual activities with new terminologies, and make out that posh orgies were all the rage.

Having had an insight into what the show was trying to cover (and how it intended to do that) I didn’t have much hope for anything telling us much about sex, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The series has begun, and like most television sex programmes it has to lead with a 21st-century-sex-is-like-nothing-we’ve-ever-seen-before approach. The viewer was presented with a mind boggling array of sexual activities constructed as completely novel by using a few colloquial terms to refer to activities that are as old as the hills. Daisy chaining and pegging were just a couple of examples (swapping partners and strap on sex if you’re after a translation).

Unfortunately the way most production companies view sex is that you can only talk about it in a limited number of ways. You can be judgemental, you can cover sexual problems, you can talk about brain scans or hormones, and you can list as many rude things as you can – with the implication that they are all completely new and we all ought to be trying them.

This means you don’t get to talk about desire, adventure, creativity, the opportunity to say yes or no, and how people understand and act out sex. You definitely don’t get to show anything rude either – so although you can talk about someone who did a guy up the bum with a strap on, produce said strap on (or a bum) and you’ll soon find yourself kicked off the show. So much for edgy.

That’s why Generation Sex isn’t really about sex, or certainly the sex most of us are having. It’s an excuse for cheap tv, a bit of celebrity content and just enough promise of sauce to attract the viewers – but no real content and nothing that really tells us about 21st century sex.

I’m often convinced that perhaps the public really like these shows and are oblivious to how bad they are, but I was reassured that at least one person noticed.

Sam Wollaston, reviewing the show for The Guardian said “I’m a bit depressed about my sex life after watching Generation Sex (Fiver). I don’t do any daisy-chaining or snowballing, pegging or spidermanning. There’s all this exciting stuff going on, that absolutely everyone is doing, apparently. Except me. I don’t even have a “fuck buddy”, for God’s sake. Who, in 2008, doesn’t have a fuck buddy? ….Actually I’m less depressed, now that I’ve Googled some of these people who are telling me they’re doing all this stuff, all these so-called “journalists”, “comedians”, “reality TV stars”, “actors” and “socialites”. You’re all just horrible, desperate people who’ll say anything to get on TV. I bet some of you don’t even do half of it. Makey-uppy people, makey-uppy TV”.

This sums it up completely for me. Sex shows on most TV at the moment are completely makey uppy. Whether all viewers notice this is debatable, but the saddest part of this trend is that behind every one of these makey uppy TV shows are experts offering something cutting edge, catchy and entertaining. But we’re never included because we might want to tell you something useful about sex.

And on that note, over to The Divine Comedy who can play us out with a song…

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