Sex Inspectors printed on, Fall 2005

If you had to decide between eating Fear Factor maggots or having sex on television for little or no pay, which would you choose? At some point while watching The Sex Inspectors, a six-episode British sex makeover show on HBO, you will ask yourself this question as you sit there in your sweats, drinking leftover beer, observing couples humping away in bed, their bodies delicately blurred or under puffy white comforters.

Sex Inspectors found at least 6 couples who gladly signed over the all rights to their images so the entire world can watch them screw in perpetuity without any ancillary rights. This still shocks me, even in our gross late-term Reality Show age, since by now everyone in the world knows that you make zero money as a subject on reality TV, and achieve only a minor, barely-bankable level of fame. I mean at least on home or style makeover shows people get new kitchens or shoes. After such limitless penetration into their screwy lives, all these people get are a couple of dildoes, some lube and hand cream.

This British import employs Tracey Cox, a UK sex expert and American “gay sex columnist” Michael Avlear to spy on couples and determine their coital problems. Then they visit with them and give them “tips, tasks and techniques” to spice up their sex life. The first week’s couple (who are of course the hottest in the series) are blond Sophie Dahl doppleganger Charlotte and her hunky contractor boyfriend Jamie. He is bad at foreplay and wants to screw her in the morning. She admits to him that she can’t orgasm through penetration and wants sex at night. Soon the pressure becomes too much for her. “I can’t do it! I cant even fucking shag anymore!” Charlotte says, exhausted with herself while topless and on top of the more silent Jamie, who has lots of blond highlights. (One side-thrill of the show is listening to British people talk about sex in their tarty accents that make everything sound naughty.)

The Sex Inspector team soaks them in surveillance. “To help them, we need to look at how it’s affecting their lives, so we put CCTV cameras around their bedroom and gave them cameras for their own video diaries.” Along with their confessions and footage of the couples in action, there are shots of the cameras turning and focusing like watchful black crows, and angles taken from the yard of the couple in their bedroom with the lights on -- just to hammer home the fact we citizens of Western culture have become a bunch of totally perverted peeping-toms.

Cox and Avlear watch from a well-lit remote location, with prim looks on their faces pausing the footage to point out how little foreplay is involved or how someone masturbates. Although both are thankfully wrinkled, pushing 40 and seem knowledgeable, both suffer from a plucked media-trained demeanor that cripple many TV hosts. You can tell they are trying really hard to have chemistry but can’t seem to click, and you assume there is some uptight exec producer on the other side of the PD-150 totally tense that they are going to say something too racy. You end up wishing Cox had a trashier mouth like Stella McCartney on tons of pills, and you keep waiting for Avlear to break out of his encased, carefully controlled gay-man-host inflections to wax effusively about the joys of cock-sucking. Everyone on this show, including the subjects, seems like they had to endure a previous makeover show which put them in muted Paul Smith shirts, Intermix blouses and printed tees in the 70 dollar price point range.

Their subjects do whatever the inspectors tell them to do like willing SM slaves. In the middle of the body shop, Jamie obediently shows how he tickles Charlotte’s clit on Cox’s hand. “Oh! Too hard!” she says. Second episode’s couple Andrew & Nicky make erogenous zone body maps to point to the areas they want their partner to touch and lick more often. “Darling, it’s not that big!” Nicky exclaims when Andrew shows her his erogenous zone map. When Cox asks Charlotte why she covers her face when she orgasms, she articulately recalls a story about being embarrassed being caught masturbating when she was 9, and how she can't let anyone see her because of it. Charlotte and Jamie are given different positions and pressure points to try out, and Andrew and Nicky get a box of sex toys and whips.

Buttered between the scenes are interesting factoids (“A man ejaculates at 28 miles per hour”), that appear in front of solarized sex-making, with that now-common female orgasm coo over dance beats as background music.

One more restrained aspect of the show may surprise you: how little they take advantage of the product placement potential. They go to the Body Shop to find good moisturizers for Jamie’s rough hands but never stop to identify labels, and when Alvear offers a series of effervescent bath beads and candles he doesn’t mention any brand name. If they were dead, The Fab 5 would be squirming in their graves.

Overall the compliant couples seem to get off being in front of the cameras, but maybe these couples are experiencing some sort of horror that will repress them even more, and, like all of us trapped within this exploitative reality show prison we call the 21st Century, they just don’t know it yet.

It’s this creepy yet erotic discomfort you feel -- the mix of voyeuristic thrill and moralistic awe -- that makes this show fun to watch. In the end, you aren’t sure if the riding crop or creative penis massage technique is the thing that is helping these people’s sex lives, or if its just the fact they are now officially amateur porn stars. Which worries me, because how will they replicate the hotness of having cameras all over their houses once the Sex Inspectors leave them alone? I suppose they could start websites, or for a real thrill, leave their curtains drawn.

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