You know what you don’t see enough of on TV? Genitals. Unless you’re watching Channel 4 on a Thursday, of course, where lately you’ve been spoilt for choice when it comes to strangers’ bedroom bits. We’ve had midlife cherry-popping in 40 Year Old Virgins and woodland bonking in Dogging Tales; now, The Sex Clinic pants into C4’s stable of all things saucy.
The series promises a behind-the-seeping look at Britain’s busiest sexual health centres; “warts and all”, the narrator intones as the first show begins. She’s not joking. There’s full-frontal swabbing, ‘needle play’ and someone having what appears to be a large foghorn popped up his dark and stormy in the opening credits alone. It’s a conveyor belt of putrid privates; by the time the title appears, I’m googling the nearest convent.
The show follows a handful of itchy visitors at NHS centres in London and Birmingham, supposedly to ‘gauge the temperature of the nation’. It’s an interesting, if uncomfortable premise – discharge over dinner, anyone? – but one that falls victim to its own over-excitement.
Clinic staff come across as unfailingly warm, sturdy types with unflappable blow-dries and reassuring knitwear, but they’re reduced to bit players; it’s those naughty shaggers we’re after. True, we get a broad range of stories across age, race and inclination, but as the program hones in on nipple-piercing dominatrix Mistress Jezebel and transgender (that’s putting it simply) best buds Tomisha and Damien, it all feels rather desperate.
That’s The Sex Clinic’s central pickle; once the shock of all the bare bum bombardment wears off, it’s hard to maintain an interest. By the time we crash-land (bafflingly) into Mistress Jezebel’s ‘dungeon’, not even her box of anal play accoutrements can shake a distinct sense of ennui.
It’s a shame, because stories like that of Wayne, who’s lived with HIV for 20 years and speaks movingly of his “survivor guilt” are genuinely fascinating. But any emotional response evaporates as we jump to Damien whopping his fake knob out in the street whilst Tomisha vogues in a doorway. She’s an escort, doesn’t always use protection and rarely asks if her clients are HIV positive. They cackle in the drizzle; I feel vaguely ashamed of my generation.