Brighton, like the rest of the UK, is in the grip of a lockdown. To get through January, my housemates and I are keeping busy. We’ve enhanced our professional offerings, dressed up and conducted photoshoots for our new websites and found ourselves absorbed in great TV (because there is only so much time you can dedicate to working on your portfolio, fannying around with make-up and rearranging the kitchen furniture before you go insane)! Yet, even as a happy threesome, this house of vivacious women feels a bit man-starved.
So Thank God for on-demand TV in this cold, wet month. First, there was Bridgerton; The Duke, The Dutchess and so much sex! The jury’s still out whether The Duke’s assertion that he can’t possibly marry Daphne because he holds her in *such* high esteem is as insulting as it is charming. But as far as our household is concerned, we reckon a 19th Century Fuckboy seems more alluring than what’s on offer in the 21st Century…
My housemates watched it twice, I once and we raced through the series.
To fill the gaping hole in our lives after Bridgerton, we began devouring the recent series of Naked Attraction. I remember when this show first came out and yet, despite assertions it’s going downhill, I’m hardly surprised the show is in its seventh series; we’re a nation of surreptitious pervs and everyone wants to see how other people look with their kit off – from the privacy of their own homes, naturally.
And despite the programme’s almost 100% success rate of not creating a couple, I’ve always loved the host, Anna Richardson, and can think of no one better to present this mad show. What’s more, is the opening voiceover boasts of the supposed ‘power of naked attraction’. A statement that used to be convincing but now seems like a mockery of itself; surely the producers know how ineffective the premise is for finding lasting love?! Still, with six series in its wake, I applaud anyone who has the balls (ahem) to go on the show. The contestants in the booths have little control over whether they return home with a bolstered confidence or having been brought down a peg or two. It all depends ‘on the person doing the choosing,’ as Anna often reminds us. Even someone with a body to die for can find themselves at the receiving end of an insult disguised as a compliment; ‘she’s just a bit too petite for me’…
Let’s be frank – at some point, everyone who has seen the show has made a comparison between their own body and the ones they see on Naked Attraction. This happens when we see people in real life, clothed or otherwise, so it will undoubtedly happen when sitting on the sofa, drinking wine and popping in another Malteser.
Of course, much like the contestants who’ve chosen to go on the show, the audience chooses to watch it, but I can’t help but feel Naked Attraction is dangerous, as well as great, TV. After an hour absorbed in vulvas, penises and more bad tattoos than you can shake a stick at, viewers may well find themselves switching off feeling rubbish about their own bodies.
Why? Partly self-comparison and low confidence but also partly due to the language on the show.
It’s one thing for men (oh, sweet, idiotic men) to
comment on judge a woman’s vulva for being ‘neat and tucked in’, but quite another for the delightful Anna to say this.
It’s 2021 and we’re all clued up on the harm surrounding the rhetoric of ‘bigger penises are better’, but there’s still common discourse that the ‘nicest’ vulvas are those that look pre-pubescent (no pubic hair and the labia minora concealed inside). And I’m concerned that the producers of Naked Attraction aren’t doing more to combat this negative talk about bodies.
As with many issues surrounding idealised body types, mainstream media is an issue, but in the case of genitals, porn is clearly a big problem. Let me make something clear; something I say regularly on this blog that is worth new readers knowing:
I AM NOT ANTI-PORN.
I am an avid consumer (and also part of the problem?) but I used to be a teacher and am passionate about reducing the stigma around sex so younger people can grow up to have healthy and fulfilling sex lives that aren’t steeped in shame. We all know that porn is a huge player in nearly all sex-related problems – and I doubt this will change. (It’s estimated that, in 2018, the porn industry was worth around $97 billion; a figure that is likely to have since increased). And I don’t believe that removing porn (however unfeasible that task would be) is the answer.
The answer is improving sex ed.
And improving sex education isn’t synonymous with removing porn. In fact, removing porn without investing in sex education training and implementation would actually do more harm than good. It’s not ideal that young people resort to porn to learn about sex but they’ve been driven there because of poor sex ed provisions. In the absence of porn, we’re limiting teenagers’ options; parents and teachers won’t magically be able to educate them about sex.
Of course, porn was never meant to be sex education – it’s adult entertainment that has become sex ed because our sex ed curricula are lacking. But Naked Attraction isn’t porn, is it? It’s a show to evaluate bodies and Channel 4 has employed a fun, big-sister-cum-aunt presenter to guide us through the sexualised human body (as far as I’m aware, most mainstream porn doesn’t have a voiceover). And there’re the quirky 2D characters who jump around and wiggle their eyebrows as Anna guides us through the ‘science bits’. We find out how many nerve endings a woman has in her clitoris (around 8,000), the average age people in various countries around the world lose their virginity and about the HIV outbreak in the 80s. So Naked Attraction isn’t like porn, is it?
And although Naked Attraction isn’t a government-endorsed curriculum, it’s somewhere in between the two. Channel 4 needs to be realistic about its audience. Teenagers, twenty- and thirty-somethings are surely the core viewers of this programme and the programme has a strong platform to inform its viewers about the positive discourse surrounding body image and body confidence. We can’t change what people find attractive but we can use our language to change how people perceive bodies.
As a result of poor sex education, it’s quite possible that the Naked Attraction guests aren’t clued up on the importance of positive talk about sex and bodies. Or perhaps they are but are unsure of the language to use. Anna does a great job of helping the guest know the names of different parts of the body; ‘vulva’ vs. ‘vagina’, ‘areola’, ‘perineum’, etc. But perhaps the show could also combat negative body talk and this really isn’t too much to ask.
When Anna asked a straight, male ‘chooser’ which female body they’d like to look at first, the chooser pointed to one booth and Anna made a comment about the vulva in that booth being ‘neat and tucked in’. I’m concerned that after watching almost any episode of Naked Attraction, I find myself a little heavy-hearted because this concept of ‘neat and tucked in’ is rife in the rhetoric around bodies. It’s concerning because even as a confident 29-year-old who writes about sex not only as a hobby but also for a living, I find myself affected by ‘neat and tucked in’ because it contrasts so sharply with our language about men’s penises. You won’t hear Anna Richardson comment on how a larger penis is more desirable than a smaller penis, but somehow, her comment about a ‘neat and tucked in’ vulva seemed like an evaluation of the appeal of female bodies.
Maybe I’m being too harsh.
Some may worry that the show would become too schooly if Anna Richardson corrects negative talk around bodies. But Channel 4 has already adopted educational animations, it would still showcase naked bodies of all shapes and sizes and it still broadcasts past the watershed with the watershed-appropriate audience.
So we need to ask ourselves why we’re perpetuating these dangerous attitudes towards bodies and sex. Or at the very least: why aren’t we doing more to stop these dangerous attitudes? I’m not one to believe that silence equates to complicity, but if we have a platform to address these issues, as Anna Richardson does with Channel 4 (and I suppose I do on a much smaller scale) why would we want young women to grow up with more complexes surrounding their bodies – complexes we could limit? We won’t be able to stop porn, an overhaul of the media of what constitutes a desirable body won’t happen overnight, so let’s all make small differences in our own ways.
Maybe a boycott of Naked Attraction is what’s needed. But the tunnel of lockdown is a long one. Rather than succumbing to ‘Cancel Culture’ let’s strive to do better in 2021. Let’s try and emerge from lockdown more wholesome with healthier attitudes to bodies and relationships. Or – as my housemate quipped – ‘imagine explaining “neat and tucked in” to Daphne; I bet she never had to deal with these issues.’ Although, I imagine she was more concerned about the physical act of sex than with how much her labia minora stuck out…