Naked Attraction: The harmful ethics of Channel 4’s latest dating programme

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We’ve all seen a fair few dating shows in our time, from Dating in the Dark to Paddy McGuiness’ ‘no likey, no lighty’ show Take Me Out. But the newest contribution to this genre seems a lot more worrying: a dating show where you choose your date based on nothing but their naked body. We’re left asking some worrying questions: should dating be seen in this way? How does this blur the lines between dating and sex? Can we really have a Naked Attraction?

Presenter Anna Richardson with two sample 'contestants' [Channel 4]

Presenter Anna Richardson with two sample ‘contestants’ [Channel 4]

The idea of Channel 4’s new reality dating show Naked Attraction is quite simple. One woman, or guy, will have six potential dates revealed to them slowly as they voyeuristically explore and assess each part of their body, starting with the bottom half and then moving to their genitals, their chest, voice and so on. The catch is that they are all naked and the date is chosen purely on physical appearance alone. The effect of this is that dating is promoted solely as a sexual activity. Why does it matter (and these are quotes taken from the show) if she has a ‘tiny vulva’ with ‘no mess’ or if he has ‘quite a lot of excess foreskin?’ Admittedly, these may be considerations later in the relationship in terms of how you engage sexually, but how do they impact your ability to date and love someone else? There really seems to be no link between a man’s 6 or 7 inch penis and his suitability as a future boyfriend. It just seems downright odd and backwards when the question becomes ‘will they like each other when the clothes come on’?

But what really is so wrong with this new television format apart from this odd and backwards feeling? Why is it really so damaging to society? On the broadest level, its removing personality from dating or, at least, making it second-rate to physical appearance. This just fuels the judgemental society and reinforces body problems whereby men feel they have to be thin, with well-jelled hair and at least a six-inch dick, and woman feel they need the perfect hour glass figure and to be perfectly shaven for the purpose of male entertainment. None of this encourages body confidence but rather forces us all to aspire to the same goal and experience anxiety in the process. In fact, The Guardian’s sex survey found that 77% of men and woman have body anxiety (of which 29% have it in a form that is negative to their health), and 38% of us would happily reduce our life to gain the perceived required physique. Dating should combine appearance with personality. Naturally you are not going to date someone you aren’t attracted to, but someone you want to spend your time with should appeal to you on personal levels: their charm, their humour, their likes and interests. This is exactly what Dating in the Dark – a show I think should be watched a lot more – promotes: finding ‘the one’ by personality first and appearances second. Naked Attraction is promoting and representing a misinformed and worrying dating culture.

What is dating by the look of our genitals and chests going to do to our body confidence? [smash.com]

What is dating by the look of our genitals and chests going to do to our body confidence? [smash.com]

This isn’t the only social problem that the show raises. It also seems to raise worrying concerns over media censorship and press privacy. The show’s format works by asking the contestant to pick some pre-determined features they like in a partner (i.e. tattoos, big dick, muscly chest) so they can find six naked potential dates. But then when asking why they have chosen such features they give reasons like ‘I want a man with better foreskin than my past boyfriend’ or ‘this feature signifies to me I’ll get a better sexual experience than my previous partner’. Worryingly, this blurs the public-private divide. If we maintain that the phone-hacking scandal was socially wrong, then why can people reveal the sexual habits and physical physiques of their partners? Especially when modern day social networking makes it relatively easy to reveal that partner’s identity. Furthermore, the show then has observations like ‘I’d prefer a cleaner vagina’ or ‘I want a man with a good snail line’ backed up by some kind of quasi-scientific evidence that seems to purposefully mislead the viewer into believing this form of dating is promoted by science. There seems something fundamentally wrong about this type of media leading and lack of censorship.

It also seems that this basically amounts to some kind of pornography. Do we not, when venturing on to porn sites, put phrases like “eight-inch dick” or “twink” or “tattoo” into the search? Certainly, statistics revealed by PornHub in their 2015 report suggest we do with such searches making up some of the top-10 on their site. The show thus seems to become some form of socially constructed pornography where you can date the pornstar. Except now porn isn’t a hidden habit but rather a pro-active methodology of your dating experience encapsulating its own objectification. The television standards board is essentially allowing our porn habits to construct reality television, and then be fed back to children and parents. While I have previously defended pornography, and stand by this argument, it certainly has a time and a place, and television standards should surely regulate to keep it within its online – or ‘sex channel’ domain. Essentially we should not be promoting ‘tele-visualised pornography’. Otherwise what will we get next: a ‘naked special’ of Eastenders?

But the worries go even further than social considerations. Over-focus on appearance is one thing, but Naked Attraction also blurs (and seemingly conflates the line) between dating and sex. Dating, essentially, seems to become a sexual activity. ‘Right now sex’ is morally allowed in various forms, including prostitution and modern-day casual sexuality (sleeping around). But Naked Attraction does not promote ‘right now sex’. It promotes ‘right now body dating’. This is hugely problematic as it corrupts the boundary between sex and dating and makes it appear, especially to young teenagers who might watch this show, that to date someone you must engage sexually with them. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with right-now sex when it’s clear only sex is on the table. But Naked Attraction appeals to this idea and dating at the same time and ends up making the former wrong by allowing it to link too, and corrupt, the latter.

So it seems that Naked Attraction is one television show that certainly never should have been commissioned. While it may reveal some of our tendencies to be sexually judgemental, this is not something we should be promoting, due to its issues with body anxiety and televisualised pornography. Meanwhile it’s also wrong on ethical and moral grounds as it combines our allowed desires for ‘right now sex’ and for dating into a problematic middle ground that raises ethical and cultural problems. Naked Attraction is thus certainly doing a lot more harm than good; we can only hope this is one show that doesn’t get a second series.

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Philosopher and Historian and major pop-fan. You can find me listening to most pop in the charts (Beyoncé and Sia are most certainly goddesses), as well as some modern jazz and classical and enjoing the occasional trip to the theatre. I'm also interested in the repurcussions of the representation of sex in modern-day media! And I might be a fan of the X Factor. Sorry, I can't help it...

2 Comments

  1. avatar
    Harley James Mitford on

    Excellent points Bruno. It’s something that has concerned me on less extreme shows like ‘Take Me Out’, where the male subject seems to be choosing his date from the many women with little opportunity to consider their personality (supposedly there is, but it’s scant to say the least) and vice versa, although less so. The uncomfortable tone of objectification that lurks beneath all the corny jokes and light-hearted fun seems to have darker implications, which ‘Naked Attraction’ seems to have brought to fruition. Also on a privacy level it feels to me voyeuristic to watch their Fernando’s date afterwards (which is inevitably stilted and awkward as the daters nearly always realise they have nothing to talk about, not helped by having a camera shoved in their faces).

    It seems we’re reaching the Huxley/Orwell point of no return, with our Brave New World freely experimenting in a very public sphere, that will surely only harm our impressionable youth culture as they learn their behaviours from television. It’s clearly already happening; my sister has often been asked for ‘pics’ (naked pictures of herself) from guys that she’s been taking too and might fancy, only to find that he is justified socially in asking her to degrade herself for him in such an irreversible manner. And so shows like this can only help further ingrain this kind of sick mentality into the public consciousness, further blurring the line between porn and dating that you raise in this article. I also agree that porn has a place in society, but that it should be more tightly regulated and less scarily available at the press of a button. And that it is the blurring of the line that divides it from everyday life that is harmful, as we end up with the horrifying situation that my 15 year-old sister all too often finds herself in. Bravo on the article, solid work. 🙂

    • avatar

      Hi Harley

      Thanks for your comments, and I’m really glad you liked the article. I certainly agree with you on Take Me Out and you raise an interesting point about just how socially constructed these programmes are: how can their date be authentic with a camera shoved in their face throughout the entire thing? It’s entirley constructing us to believe a scneario. At least with this show there is a focus on hobbies/interests/etc. Though the initial judgement is appearance based this is fair (we all would rule dating people out if we did not find them attractive). It is dating soly based on appearance – and then judgement of their sexual ability from this – that I find unethical. Take Me Out exposes these to a lesser extent but, I feel, just manages to avoid it. But you are right: Naked Attraction brings the issue to a fruition in a very worrying way.

      I think your right – the harm is clear to be seen, and I feel this is a harm these kind of shows create quite seperate from pornography. This culturally accepted ‘forced’ sexualisation is a result of this kind of television and it has loads of knock on effects, for example feeds in to the rise of ‘revenge porn’ according to lots of recent statistics. Everything is fine, I think, when the lines are clearly drawn: this programme blurs the lines and that is when these serious both practical and ethical problems arise. If we keep on blurring the line, then there may be no way to re-define it in the future.

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