Plenty of entertaining, far-too-intimate sexual details are revealed during the premiere episode of WEtv’s Sex Box. One mother, bless her heart, recalls the fond memory of giving a post-epidural blowjob during the birth of her firstborn son. But far funnier and outrageous than anything these three reckless couples overshare is the program’s attempt to prove that a show about having sex in a large iridescent box to the background music of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is steeped in scientific, clinical merit.
You’ll tune into Sex Box the first time because, you know, you’re curious about a show centers on people doing the deed in a flashing box on a stage in front of a live studio audience. Seriously, the premise of couples having sex maybe a dozen feet away from a three-judge panel ready to grill them in a post-coital interrogation session is almost unfathomably ridiculous. It’s like a Saturday Night Live sketch that was scrapped out of sheer absurdity (it’s actually an American remake of a U.K. version that debuted on Channel 4 in 2013).
But after the sexual novelty subsides, you’ll probably watch it again—at least when you’re a few glasses in and it’s too cold to go outside—because the show tries so damn hard to make this whole charade seem like a legitimate form of couples therapy. Therein lies the entertainment. Sex Box is impossible not to mock with relish. The show bills itself as the “most radical therapy ever seen on television.” Um, that’s one way of putting it. But it’s hard to find the therapeutic merits in a show that so actively begs its viewers to troll it. Trust me: TLC’s Sex Sent Me to the ER has nothing on this bad boy.
Sex Box is dripping with self-import and trips over itself to remind audiences that these couples are having sex in a box to achieve the best clinical advice. “Post-coitus” is “a scientifically proven time when people are more trusting and open due to the body’s natural release of oxytocin (‘cuddle hormone’),” the press release intones. Therefore, the couples simply must be having sex in a box not for our perverse enjoyment, but because it is the way to “have a shockingly raw discussion with the experts about their experiences and relationships.” Sure.
Look, maybe sex brings out the candor—or at least a gush of emotions—in some of us. I've had multiple male friends say they accidentally told women they barely knew they loved them in the middle of sex just because they got lost in the heat of the moment. But any post-coital flash of emotional honesty is probably going to be dashed to pieces in the three seconds it takes to be accosted by production assistants attaching microphones to you or your partner’s ridiculously unattractive undergarments in front of a studio audience. This is a good place to note that for a show presumably about getting people to have better sex, the assigned lingerie pieces for the women are at best boring and for the men, the pastel-colored satin pajamas are full-on boner-killers.
Despite these questionable choices, the therapists on Sex Box are determined to pretend this show has value other than making we, the viewers, question the depths of our depravity. Multiple times during the show’s premiere episode, Chris Donaghue, a licensed sex therapist (for what it’s worth), keeps trying to give a clinical justification for the couples choice to bang in a box. “We’d love to come home with you, but we can’t,” he says. Really? It’s pre-filmed, highly-edited television. What exactly is stopping you from letting them have sex other than a box on a stage? (Side note: it would be a lot easier to take Donaghue’s advice if he wasn’t introduced via a montage of him pumping iron at a playground.)
Donaghue is flanked by two other “sexperts” (their words, not mine). One is Dr. Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist who is “the keeper of Hollywood’s bedroom secrets,” whatever the hell that means. The other is Dr. Yvonne Capeheart, a pastor. Her presence makes total sense because adding a dose of religion always clarifies and enhances sexual relations. I question all of their clinical knowledge by dint of the fact that they agreed to be on Sex Box, but hey, the British version snagged Dan Savage. Even the more legit ones can’t seem to resist the opportunity (translation: money) to critique people’s sex lives.
Critique is actually putting it really nicely. The death knell in Sex Box’s attempt at legitimacy is how much the therapists berate the couples, and at least from this episode, mostly the men. Not that some of these dudes aren’t ripe for ripping—especially in the first couple, Elle and Brandon. Their big problem, as Elle so succinctly puts it: “He has an orgasm, and I don’t.” Cue the massively judgmental, jaw-dropping “wow” from Dr. Walfish. That’s exactly the kind of dramatic, naive response you want when you share the intimacies of your sex life with a so-called professional.
Brandon really only digs himself into a hole. When the therapists ask him if it bothers him that Elle doesn’t finish, he rolls his eyes and says, “Now, it does.” Nice move, Brandon. Now, you will have to beg Elle to let her stay with you because every other woman who watches this thinks you’re an insensitive douchebag who is bad in bed. Elle looks eerily serene during this exchange, as if she’s relishing his comeuppance.
Still, it’s hard not to feel a tiny bit of sympathy for Brandon post-Sex Box. By the way, one’s time in the Sex Box is timed and publicly announced so everyone can know how long it takes you to do the deed and the therapists can judge you. And judge poor Brandon they did. They make Elle and Brandon rate his sexual performance on a scale of 1 to 10. I’m not sure how putting a hard number on a person’s sexual performance in front of a studio audience breeds honesty and openness, but perhaps the humiliation will help?
The next couple up is Rebecca and Dyson. “We’ve done threesomes, foursomes, moresomes,” says Rebecca proudly. To this, Ms. Pastor rolls her eyes in a very judgmental way (again, adding a traditional religious figure to a sex show = great idea!). Rebecca and Dyson are down for group sex, but now Dyson wants more than nookie. He wants to be a “thruple,” which is not actually the name of the latest monster puppet on Sesame Street but a name for a three-way relationship. The female therapists keep insisting there’s no way Rebecca is okay with the “thruple” when even she is adamant that she’s fine with it. Call me a northeastern liberal, but seeing Rebecca badgered to admit she is not okay with a non-monogamous relationship seemed to make a lot of sexist assumptions about female desire and, more importantly, was simply not entertaining.
The therapists are pretty judgmental of group sex for a panel that purports to want to talk openly about human sexuality, but then again, Dyson seems like a pretty sexually insensitive dude. He admits pretty much without prompting that when he’s in bed, “I lay there like a starfish,” and let’s Rebecca take care of the rest. This is where I begin to wonder if Dyson and Brandon are so unfathomably certain their wives will stay with them that they’ve intentionally pissed all over their sexual reputations. It really does take a certain swagger to drag your sexual prowess through the mud in front of the world.
Christopher is the only husband on Sex Box who seems like a pretty decent guy from the get-go. He and Alexia have the most generic story: a young couple used to have a “sizzling” sex life and the wife lost interest after she had their first baby. Or, it would be the most generic, even wholesome, if they didn’t reveal Alexia had the sexual stamina to initiate oral sex on Christopher in the middle of labor. “She gets the epidural and she’s hopped up on all these other things,” Christopher says. It’s a commendable attempt to make this scenario sound pretty ordinary and not like he’s the absolute luckiest first-time father in the world. No wonder Christopher perceives a drop in their sex life post-baby. It can only go downhill from a post-epidural, hospital room blowjob.
Christopher seems to actually appreciate his good sexual fortune and wants Alexia to be sexually satisfied and for them to communicate more, which may be the most mature sentiment conveyed in the entire episode. Alexia reveals she feels very uncomfortable being sexual now that she’s a mom. She cries a little, and Christopher hugs and her kisses her. It was completely sappy and emotionally manipulative, but it hit the spot after watching two sexually impaired men.
In fact, the irony of Sex Box, a show that promises to “take therapy to a whole new level,” is that the advice is pretty wholesome and cheesy at best and boring and antiquated at worst. But, in case you hadn’t heard, it’s about people banging in a box on a stage, so you’ll still probably watch it at least once… or twice.