There is an awful lot of sex on television these days. Whether it’s haunted affairs on the BBC or a spot of Regency bonking on Netflix, TV executives have decided we’re all in for a steamy summer.
And you can’t exactly blame them. Given the effusive reaction when the sex travaganza that was Normal People appeared on our screens during the initial lockdown, it’s only natural that they’ve come to the conclusion that sex still sells.
As a result, we are getting ready for a long, hot summer.
“What I’ve discovered is that Love Island isn’t really a show about sex, bikinis and pumped-up bodies. It’s about people, human nature, attraction and interaction and yes, even love. And as such it is fascinating, enjoyable – and romantic’
The BBC’s second Sally Rooney adaptation, Conversations With Friends, which features an affair between a college student and a married man, is currently on our screens, as is the TV adaptation of Dolly Alderton’s novel, Everything I Know About Love, which follows the lives of four Tinder-savvy twenty-somethings.
Netflix has treated us to a second season of Bridgerton, and in August the second series of Industry, the BBC drama that follows the sordid lives of young investment bankers, will hit the list.
But is this tsunami of excitement hitting the spot? I’m not so sure.
Frankly, I’ve been left quite drained by the lack of romance, tenderness, and connection between the characters.
So, where should a middle-aged woman look for a show that’s really sexy, with good-looking people she likes as individuals, consensual sexual relationships in an attractive environment, a pleasant amount of ‘won’t-they-don’t-they’? ‘ sexual tension and where the action is more implied than shown?
In my case, the answer is clear: Love Island. I know a lot of people are shocked by the show – which forces scantily clad young people to share a bed with someone they barely know – and see it as shallow, misogynistic and even dangerous.
Still, I generally find that people with these opinions — like my own husband — have never seen a single episode. I was one of them, until a friend who is a lawyer, so no empty talk, urged me to give it a try. I was instantly hooked and am now magnified into my fourth season.
‘Love Island’s Majorcan stone villa – with pool, fire pit and, every middle-aged woman’s dream, an outdoor kitchen – is the perfect backdrop for a summer full of romance’
Because what I’ve found is that Love Island isn’t really a show about sex, bikinis, and pumped-up bodies. It’s about people, human nature, attraction and interaction and yes, even love. And as such it is fascinating, enjoyable and romantic.
Yes, I admit, there are moments that make me cringe – when they play risky games or talk too candidly about their own sexual histories.
But with the sex-on-the-duvet antics the early seasons became famous for being thoroughly, and thankfully, omitted by producers, now the actual sexual contact element of the show is rather tame and sweet in a way that’s really captivating to middle aged viewers like me.
Take Paige and Jacques: she’s a glamorous but cute paramedic, he’s a jack-the-lad rugby player. Since they became a couple two weeks ago, their relationship has progressed at a pace that seems positively glacial in today’s dating world.
It wasn’t until after a full week of living together 24/7 (which in real life equates to about two months of contact time) that they shared their first kiss, which came after Jacques said to the other boys, “I’m waiting for the right moment.” Afterwards, a giggling, giddy Paige declared, “Oh my god, why do I grin so much at a kiss?”
Me too, Paige!
Although the couple spent a night in the ‘hideaway’ (a private bedroom away from the group’s dorm), it was not shown on screen if anything out of the ordinary happened. Jacques and Paige don’t tell either, in a refreshing antidote to today’s show-off culture.
When they had to “repair” on Friday night’s episode — meaning they no longer slept in the same bed — viewers were treated to scenes where they reach from their respective beds to fall asleep holding hands. It was so romantic.
Love Island’s Gemma Owen with Luca Bish, who she is currently linked with on the hit ITV dating show
In fact the opposite of Conversations With Friends, whose incredibly unappealing plot revolves around a deeply misguided young woman having an affair with the husband of an older woman she has befriended. Spoiled love.
And while the sex scenes in Sally Rooney’s sequel are somewhat of a relief, given that this is the only time the characters are remotely animated, you’d be wrong to think I enjoyed them. If you don’t like the characters in a TV drama – and I was disgusted by these self-indulgent drops – you really can’t be touched by the love act.
And while I found the characters in Everything I Know About Love endearing, I can’t say I found the sex scenes exciting.
The thing is, they lead such a dingy life. The large damp spot in their shared home is almost a character unto itself, and the extensive binge drinking, drug use, and fawning inappropriate hookups didn’t get me in the mood for love.
By contrast, Love Island’s Majorcan stone villa – with pool, fire pit and, every middle-aged woman’s dream, an outdoor kitchen – is the perfect backdrop for a summer full of romance.
And unlike the fast and sloppy snogathons often seen in supposedly elite dramas, which like to portray our one-night-stand culture, on Love Island, a couple’s first kiss is a huge deal. Those insular 24-hour cameras with nowhere to hide force them into some sort of lengthy dating, before getting a ‘fixed’ pairing which is kind of odd.
It’s a big step when one of the guys after a long period of “getting to know each other” (a common Love Island phrase) asks a girl “to be his girlfriend,” asking the question as some sort of proposal, often during a special meal, assisted by fellow participants.
And because you’ve seen the whole process of “getting to know each other” you, as a viewer, find it meaningful and quite cute.
Take Paige and Jacques (pictured): she’s a glamorous but cute paramedic, he’s a jack-the-lad rugby player. Since they became a couple two weeks ago, their relationship has progressed at a pace that seems positively glacial in today’s dating world.”
Because unlike Industry’s wham-bam events, there’s real tenderness between these lovely young people. And other than some kisses, all you ever see is a little rumble under the sheets.
That’s because Love Island’s producers shot the best on-screen sex scenes and left most of it up to the viewers’ imaginations.
So my advice to TV executives who are flooding our screens with more and more graphic erotica in search of a big hit? Take a page from the Love Island playbook.
After all, millions of viewers are happily glued to it six evenings a week for eight weeks. That’s real love right there.