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“What lovely breasts”: Why Naked Attraction Needs to Stop. Now.

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Naked Attraction has made its return on Channel 4 and has, once again, been met with the same questioning and curious glare that it received last September.

Nothing has changed. The format is the same; a guest has six suitable partners revealed to them slowly and each round they have to knock one out.

The catch is that all the suitable partners are naked, meaning that the decisions are not based on personality, or even facial attractiveness from the offset, but rather reasons like “his ass looks nice” or, in one case, “I’m not sure if that’s the foreskin I’m really looking for in a potential boyfriend.”

I have written before on the worrying way Naked Attraction conflates dating and sex. As I then pointed out, “it combines our allowed desires for ‘right now sex’ and for dating into a problematic middle ground that raises ethical and cultural problems”. There are also other social issues, such as how the show links closely to televised pornography and previously raised concerns over body anxiety. 

It is worth clearing up the potential issue of what the programme is doing as an entertainment platform too. What is this show doing differently to, say, Love Island? There the aim is to get a date and the antics include kissing other couple’s partners, potentially going on dates with them and pursuing challenges where contestants strip to their boxers. In Naked Attraction, any romantic connotation is overshadowed by the show's obsession with nudity. Is there something wrong with this on primetime television? Well, on that point, I’m more sympathetic. Though it is reality television at its very worst, it’s just as much drivel as Take Me Out is, and so is acceptable after the watershed.

The real issue surrounds how the show responds to the body. Love Island, or any reality dating programme, will feature attractive people and their looks will certainly play a part in choosing the date. But with Naked Attraction, it’s all about brute facts regarding one’s appearance. The reality is that this show is allowing questions like  ‘do you have a 7 inch-penis?’ or ‘what cup size are your breasts?’ to be equated with ‘should I go on a date with you?’ and ‘what are you like as a person?.

Perhaps we do this anyway in modern society. On Tinder, you'd be forgiven for assuming that we all judge the people we're swiping right on purely on looks, but I disagree. We will read their bios; chat to them about their hobbies and interests. Of course Tinder, and Grindr, can both be used for hook-ups, but then the purpose of these is clearly not dating.

The question becomes: is it wrong to pick a date based on someone’s naked body? The answer, I believe, is yes. It plays on the very basic vulgar part of our sexuality where all that matters is physical appearance. This, however, should be reserved for explicit hook-ups. What gay man using Grindr, who sends a dick pic two minutes into talking to someone, really has a relationship on his mind? If you think the answer to that is “many”, you are quite frankly deluded. Hook-ups and dates are two very different things.

But, ignoring the questionable ethical and social values, does the show even work itself? No. The contestants are often so dull, with simple ‘I like that’ or ‘I’m not sure’ type responses to other naked bodies, that half-way through an episode, you're itching for an injection of energy and excitement. Anna Richardson doesn’t help either - her presentation style is quite monotone and doesn't aid in bringing the show to life at all.

The show does deserve some praise though, specifically with its opening episode for the second series. The first episode featured Izzy, a contestant who identified as pangender and got the opportunity to pick between men, women, and those identifying as transgender. This openness towards gender identity is a huge step in the right direction. The fact that Take Me Out has been running for years and has never had a gay special, or that Strictly Come Dancing has never had a gay couple speaks volumes. Naked Attraction is at least doing something positive in breaking down the barriers in gender politics - even if it’s done in a questionable way.

Meanwhile, 21-year old Dom was less encouraging, testing women’s breath to make sure they did not have gum disease - because that's really what you want to know when you first meet someone. To be fair to him, Dom was put forward by his mum and seemed uncomfortable the whole time. When six vaginas were initially revealed to him all he could say was “they are really bare”. As a viewer, I felt as awkward watching him as he clearly felt being there. ...Dom was really hot though, if that’s worth anything.

At certain points in each episode, we also get these little scientific asides, for example on how male attitudes to breasts have changed or the history of tongue piercings. They are completely insane, but, at best, are a nice rest break from constantly having genitalia pushed in your face.

There isn't much attractive about Naked Attraction. If you are scraping the barrel of television dating formats, this is what you would produce. It is doing something good for public openness towards different gender and sexual identities, but in a way, that only raises more ethical and social concerns. And at the end of the day, it is actually quite boring and awkward to watch.

I think I’ll stick with television shows where everyone keeps their pants on, thanks.

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