“I have one question for you: Are you ready to go into the Sex Box?”
That is a very good question, and it is asked in each episode of the new series Sex Box. And, before the show even aired, at least one group has made their answer very clear: hell no.
After it was announced that WEtv would be bringing to the States a version of the UK series Sex Box—in which couples with relationship troubles literally have sex in a box, and then have a post-coital therapy session with three sex and relationship experts—the pearl-clutching outrage was swift. The Parents Television Council wasted no time getting hot and bothered (as is their wont) over the series, launching a national petition demanding that Sex Box be removed from WEtv’s lineup.
Well, the PTC’s petition was met with a limp response, apparently, as Sex Box, amid a din of controversy and more than a few raised eyebrows of interest, premieres Friday night.
Truthfully, the finished product is far less scandalizing than we might have initially assumed.
It begins with a couple explaining their sexual issues to a panel of three experts, after which they enter a private, enclosed box on stage where they, yep, actually do it. They’re not seen again, however, until the deed is done. That’s when the “cuddle hormone”—oxytocin—kicks in, which the experts say makes post-coital therapy the most powerful and effective kind. The couple then returns to the stage where they discuss the details of their tryst and thrust deeper into their latent issues with the panel.
All in front of a live studio audience.
Ahead of the series’ buzzy premiere, we had the opportunity to talk to one of the Sex Box experts—sex therapist Dr. Chris Donaghue—and a couple who actually filmed an episode. When we got ahold of Taylor and Jarric, who insist that appearing on Sex Box saved their relationship, our most burning question nearly prematurely ejaculated out of our mouths: Are you out of your damned minds?
“I was a little nervous,” Taylor giggles. “I was a little bit nervous only because there would be an audience!”
Taylor and Jarric are married with a toddler. When their relationship began, they say, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. But having a child changed everything. Taylor had trouble losing her baby weight, which, in addition to a C-section scar, left her feeling unconfident about her appearance. Quickly, the frequency of their sexual encounters decreased, and their communication channels shut down completely, only exacerbating the problems in their relationship.
“Our sex life is like 90-year-olds,” Taylor tells the experts before they enter the Sex Box. “90-year-olds don’t have sex,” Jarric replies. Then Taylor: “We don’t either.”
Taylor found out about the show while browsing online, finding an ad seeking couples who wanted to repair their sex lives with the help of licensed experts.
“When she told me about it I was very skeptical, because I didn’t know what kind of freak show this was,” Jarric says. “But she kind of conned me into it. And then I read up on it. The problems that our relationship were going through, it sounded like it would be good [to do the show] at that point in time.”
And so they were on their way to L.A. To have sex in a box. To talk about the most intimate details of their sex lives. And to have a live studio audience and TV cameras witness the whole thing.
Jarric, it turns out, wasn’t the only one who wondered whether this was a good idea. Dr. Donaghue himself admits his initial instinct to use protection, worried that the series would be reduced to a titillating hook. But his professional instincts quickly recognized the value of the Sex Box.
“What ended up coming out is that the box isn’t just a gimmick,” he says. “[The experts and I] kept laughing, saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had something like this in our offices?’ I see a lot of couples, and I always say that I can’t be in their living room or in their bedroom to help them. This is literally as close as we can get.”
You must have a million questions. We have some answers.
First, not every couple has sex in the box. Some couples, on the other hand, have a lot of sex in the box. (Dr. Donaghue remembers one couple that spent two hours in the nookie nest.) Some couples are there to work on very specific sexual issues—he doesn’t attend to her needs, for example. Some are there to work on very kinky issues—he wants a polyamorous relationship and she isn’t sure. Some are there because they have stopped having sex completely, like Taylor and Jarric.
In fact, Taylor and Jarric had to go into the box twice before they could actually seal the deal. “It was nerves,” Taylor says. “It was the fact that someone was telling us to go do it. Having sex wasn’t a normal day-to-day thing for us anymore. It was kind of like, ‘OK, how do we start this?’” The initial Sex Box failure, however, brought up issues that Taylor and Jarric hadn’t discussed with each other before.
Renewed, they returned to the box, where they retired for 22 full minutes.
That brings us to more crucial points on the show. The biggest one: You don’t see the sex. The time couples spend in the box is time-lapsed, and the majority of the episode is focused on their therapy sessions. (There is plenty of freshly-boinked description, however.) As for what’s in the box? As soon as I ask the question, a WEtv publicist hurriedly interrupts: “The contents of the box are only privy to the people who are inside the box. We can’t reveal any more details.”
The sensitivity is understandable, given the alternately baffled and outraged reactions the show’s mere existence gets from people. Mere minutes after the initial Sex Box trailer aired, Taylor and Jarric were fielding obtrusive, incredulous messages and calls from friends and family. Overwhelmingly, they all wanted to know one thing: “Did you really have sex in a box?”
“I just ignore it,” Taylor says, admitting that though the inquisition is frustrating, she still views filming the show as a positive experience. “Everybody just doesn’t understand what we gained from it because they’re only looking at the fact that we had sex in a box. They’re not looking at, like, the bigger picture—out of the box, I guess you’d say.”
Are they prepared for the curiosity and response to spike more after their episode airs? “You make your bed, you gotta lie in it,” Jarric says.
In fact, the morality police ringing their sirens over the show might actually be good for us as a culture, Dr. Donaghue ventures: “It’s forcing people to really encounter sex.”
“It’s everything that we talk about,” he says. “It’s in every song we sing. It’s in every movie. We’re relational beings, so we have to learn to encounter sex and this is forcing people to do that. So even if they’re not going to watch it because they think it’s not acceptable, they’re still forced to encounter it and talk about it.”
It’s actually watching Sex Box, though, that he thinks will change people’s minds. “They’re going to see that it’s really done in a way that’s entertaining but also therapeutic. Every single thing you see on this show is something that people are going to encounter at some point in their lives and be able to relate to.”
When we point out that, perhaps, not many people are going to be able to relate to banging in a box while a live audience watches in the studio and Mom watches at home, Dr. Donaghue chuckles. “That’s the unrelatable component of it,” he admits. “People are always surprised that anyone was willing to come on and do that. But these are people who are willing to be vulnerable and really wanted the help, clearly, because they’re going on TV and going to have sex in the box.”
“I think it initially might be the sexual content that will lure people in,” he says. “Then they’ll stick around for the heartwarming learning component. Because even if you’re only for the sex, it’s woven in with some really powerful, loving, transformative, lifesaving moments that I just think can’t get eclipsed by the sex. It’s real.”
That, actually, is going to be either the most welcome surprise of the show or its biggest disappointment to most people: Sex Box isn’t porn. It’s a show about couples working on their issues—it just happens that these issues are rooted in sex.
“To that extent, I didn’t think it was any different from Maury or Oprah,” says Taylor. What a perfect way to finish.