I have never had sex during an auction. Or on a yacht, or in a therapist’s office, or while Skyping my best friend, or running late for an abortion. Am I normal? I’m happily married, and I don’t have any complaints about my sex life, but sometimes TV makes me feel as though I’m doing it all wrong. I can’t remember the last time I saw any fictional characters enjoying what Alan Partridge would call ‘classic intercourse’.
At the moment everyone is talking about the hotly anticipated new Netflix series Gypsy, starring Naomi Watts as Jean Holloway, a therapist who has intense affairs with people who are involved with her patients. It’s intense, it’s gripping and it’s unquestionably hot - but it’s also the latest in a long line of programmes which are heavy on sexual psychodrama. Take Sky Atlantic’s Riviera, which is gorgeous, glossy and perfectly implausible (TV for when you want to send your brain straight to a sun lounger), but while I can deal with art heists and exploding yachts, I’m struggling to get my head around the instantaneous, simultaneous orgasms that seem to happen every time someone has sex with someone they shouldn’t be sleeping with. Apple Tree Yard, a programme about a sexually charged, illicit affair with al fresco sex, out of season in courtyards in Whitehall, was a critically acclaimed smash hit. Even last year’s You Me Her, which is about a long-term relationship, suggested that the only way to keep sex exciting was to involve a third party and become a throuple.
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I adored Girls and Fleabag, and both shows were rightly praised for their realistic portrayal of young, sexually active women in their twenties. But most of that sex was sad - bitter, angry, joyless. While I think it’s important to be honest about the fact that sex can be like this, I wish I could watch TV that celebrated it too. Many of us recognise versions of ourselves in Fleabag, or Hannah, but we also have sex that’s simply tender and loving - or sex that’s just OK. On TV, it’s either explosive or awkward, and there’s no middle ground.
There are some excellent exceptions. I think that in Catastrophe, Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney created one of the most relatable relationships on TV - but even then, one of the most famous and funny scenes involved an argument in which Delaney shouted ‘SEXUAL RAINCHECKS ARE ABUSIVE!’ Another favourite, Broad City, showed the characters Ilana and Lincoln having sweet, believable sex - but their relationship ended because Ilana refused to be exclusive, and Lincoln found someone who only wanted to be with him. Of course, TV isn’t real life, and some on-screen sex needs to be especially intense or implausible. It’s what drives the plot forward. But it would be refreshing - and reassuring - to see some on screen sex that reflected real life more closely.
For now, if I want to see sex I can relate to on TV, I watch The Simpsons. Marge and Homer have the most realistic love life I’ve seen on screen. They wear pyjamas, they bicker and they take turns to initiate sex - but it’s clear that they adore each other, and they’re in it for the long haul.