February 9th, 2007
As you’ll know one of my pet hates is when television companies oversimplify sex coverage. Often it’s only once a show is aired that you get the chance to critique it, which is always a bit hopeless. But sometimes you get an insight into a forthcoming programme and can see how they plan on representing sex.
Like this week, when I got sent an email saying “Expert in sex and relationships sought to provide authoritative advice and demonstration on fellatio techniques for a debate/discussion entertainment show about sex in the 21st century for [TV Channel]”.
This is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly the programme makers have decided that ‘sex in the 21st century’ is a. about fellatio and b. is about techniques.
There are loads of things that could be covered about sex in the 21st century. It might be our changing attitudes to sex, different sexual preferences, changing reactions to sexual behaviours (for example Western cultures talking more publicly about oral or anal sex) or how some things like infidelity are still viewed negatively. It could address the idea that although we’re living in a more sexualised culture we still have a lot of questions and worries about sex, and that there are problems in the way some areas of our sex lives are studied, reported and medicalised. A 21st century sex could take a look around the world (or just the UK) and see how differently issues like sex, relationships, contraception or abortion are viewed; or it could look back in history to see what’s changed or what’s the same or even predict what might be coming up in the future.
Maybe the programme is going to cover these things, but my guess is not.
It’s also interesting to look at how the ‘expert’ is being involved here. In theory an expert in a programme like this might explain what fellatio is and invite people to share their oral sex experiences (both good and bad). They might discuss how oral sex has been reacted to differently across history and culture – so in some places and times it’s been viewed positively, in others it’s seen as sinful or dirty. The expert could explain why people often don’t want to give fellatio (fear of gagging, worries over someone ejaculating in your mouth, a lack of personal hygiene) and how to overcome this problem. They could highlight fellatio is a matter of personal choice – not a mandatory part of sex, and highlight the importance and pleasure of oral sex for women and for men. They might also answer why a lot of men enjoy being given oral sex but often don’t manage to orgasm through this practice and answer people’s commonly asked questions about whether condoms should be used when giving a guy a blow job.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case from this invitation. The ‘expert’ is expected to be both authoritative and give a demonstration of techniques. Rather than inviting the audience (or others) to show and tell what they enjoy or showing a range of preferences from not enjoying oral to really getting off on it the expert is going to be brought on to show us all the ‘correct’ way to do things.
This presents us with a challenge since if the programme were about any other topic we would expect the resident expert to be both authoritative and also to probably demonstrate what they were talking about. From programmes showing us how to cook a meal, to giving our homes a makeover, to discussing how a type of surgery is performed we expect to be shown, not just told, what to do. However, with recipes, a DIY or surgical procedure there usually is a fairly limited and standard way to do a task ‘right’. When it comes to sex there is a huge range of variety. In terms of fellatio there are guys who don’t like it at all to guys who only want light sucking or kissing. Some prefer to be licked, others to have their balls stroked whilst being deep-throated. Some guys get off on the idea of coming in a partner’s mouth or face, other’s wouldn’t dream of asking a partner to do this. Some guys enjoy watching being given a b.j., others simply enjoy the feeling. And you can add to this the partners of men also have their own views on what they like and dislike about fellatio.
So if a programme enabled us to show all these range of responses and allowed people to talk around choices – rather than an ‘expert technique’ approach I’d be happier. The problem with sex programming is producers assume there is one ‘correct’ way to do things that you (as an expert) will come on and show. Although because it’s about sex and because sex still isn’t valued within the media the minute you do come on and start showing off your amazing b.j. skills you’ll not be taken so seriously as an ‘expert’ either by journalists – or by your professional colleagues. That obviously says more about the way we see sex than anything else, but it does affect who’ll go on such programmes – and how the wider public will see such programmes.
Someone who is an expert in sex/relationships would be asking all these questions before signing up – and probably would be put off contributing because of the programme angle. Unfortunately because programme makers don’t want people who ask a lot of difficult questions but do want someone who’ll come on and say what they want to hear you’ll have people attracted to being on this show, but they may not necessarily be the best person for the job.
My main problem is where your role as an expert is not about empowerment of others or encouraging them to find their own pleasurable path. Instead your role is to decide on the ‘correct’ way to have sex and ensure others copy you. It doesn’t allow for fun, variety or adventure, it simply taps into a one-size-fits-all approach to sex.
Unfortunately this approach is rapidly becoming what the public and media expect so if you offer people the chance to show or tell what they like this is seen as inferior to you as the ‘expert’ telling them what they should like. People want to be told the ‘best’ technique to guarantee they look good in bed – and who can blame them for that? The problem is with information about sex people can make choices, experiment and discover what they really like. If you just tell them what to do it may exclude large numbers of folk who’ll just feel they failed if they don’t enjoy sex – rather than understanding it wasn’t the right information for them.
Colleagues have suggested that rather than complain about sex programmes on TV that people like myself should just use the opportunity to get a sex positive message out. I’ve already highlighted here how many different topics could be discussed in relation to fellatio, but when a programme’s agenda has already been fixed it’s very unlikely you’ll talk them out of that format. Instead you’ll waste a lot of time trying to make a change and ultimately if an ‘expert’ will come along who’ll show the techniques they want they’ll pick them over you any day. Of course if it’s a live show you’ve a better chance of getting in there and talking about wider issues – but that’s a rare opportunity. Most sex programmes currently are filmed in advance or treated as live, so if you do discuss something they don’t like you’ll either be told what they want you to say, or if you don’t say what they want you’ll just get canned.
Typically this call for contributors is fitted into a sex-as-entertainment format, which I’d have nothing against if sex was ever presented in any other kinds of ways. It’s always within the entertainment slot and TV researchers endlessly tell me their sex coverage is ‘just a bit of fun’, ‘lighthearted’ or ‘not too serious’. So even if you’re brought on as an expert who’ll be telling everyone what to do you’ll still be doing this in a climate where sex isn’t taken seriously – and as a sex expert you’re not really valued either.
Of course by now I’m certain an ‘expert’ will have been found and no doubt they’ll be ready with a range of dildos they’ll be going down on to show us exactly how we should all be licking dicks. As this becomes our standard for sex programming it’s not really surprising most of them suck.Tweet