Open House: The Great Sex Experiment review – a horribly compelling peek at threesomes | Television & radio

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About halfway through the first episode of Open House: The Great Sex Experiment (Channel 4), three words confirmed a growing suspicion that I was out of my comfort zone: “erotic group game”. It’s not you, Channel 4, it’s me. You either love watching strangers lick cream off each other’s lips on national television in the name of a social experiment – or in the words of Boy George, you would rather have a nice cup of tea.

Open House explores what it claims is “one of society’s greatest taboos”, non-monogamy, by sending curious couples into a sort of sex retreat in a country house, where they may have their pick of a buffet of sexually liberated single people who all want to have sex with them. The sex retreat is hosted by Jess and Thom, who have been in a long-term open relationship for many years. The idea is that Jess and Thom will guide the newcomers through social gatherings and get the couples used to the idea of kissing other people, and maybe more.

There is a therapeutic element, too, by way of Dr Lori Beth Bisbey, a therapist who specialises in helping couples with their emotions around whether they want to open up their relationship or not. While she seems to have a vested interest in non-monogamy, she does talk a lot of sense about trust, communication and emotional resilience. Threesomes are a popular choice for newcomers, apparently, but harder than you might think to navigate.

Two couples open up their relationships tonight: a young couple, Maddy and Nathan, from Swansea, who want to have a threesome, uh oh, and a slightly older couple, Danielle and John, who have four kids and have been together for 16 years, and who would like to have their first orgy. Dreams really can come true. Before they dip their toes into orgiastic waters, they have a session with Dr Lori, which is gripping – like Couples Therapy on BBC Two or the podcast Where Do We Begin? – except that at the end of it, you know you’re going to get some noisy, slurpy, night-vision footage of the curious people and the sexually liberated people going at it on some soft furnishings.

Is it educational? I have zero psychological training and I could have sketched out exactly what unfolds in this episode on the back of a napkin before watching it. There is jealousy. Historical resentments rear up, communication is poor and fantasies unfulfilled. Then there is better communication – thanks, Dr Lori – and the fantasy develops in a more mature and considered way. If there is a message to be taken from Open House, it’s that emotional literacy is rare, and vital, and that without good communication, couples can get themselves into all sorts of bother.

It wasn’t the sex or the erotic group games or the intimacy exercises which made this hard to watch, though. It was the sheer, unbearable awkwardness of it all. I cringed and cringed again, when feelings were hurt, when a “spare part” ceased to function in the heat of the moment, when a man at one of the mixers walked around with an acoustic guitar strapped to his back, and nobody commented on it, and he didn’t play it, and all that was left was a lingering disappointment that he had not Ed Sheeran-ed this whole fiasco.

What remains enjoyable about this – and it is horribly compelling, cringe and all – is how people respond to matters of love and lust. But does it need to be presented as some taboo-busting social experiment? Don’t be daft. This is pure entertainment. There’s no point being coy about it.



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