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'Sex Box' reality show sparks controversy

WE tv's 'Sex Box' provokes controversy

The new reality show "Sex Box" is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Each episode features three different couples who have sex in a camera-free, soundproof cube on a stage in front of a live audience. Afterward, they discuss the experience with a panel of three "sexperts" -- or what you and I know as "therapists" or "counselors."

The show, which originated on Britain's Channel 4 and premieres tonight on WE tv, has provoked outrage from cultural conservative groups.

The Parents Television Council, a media watchdog group, has gathered 38,000 signatures on a petition urging WE tv to reconsider airing "Sex Box," which they characterize as a "live sex show."

Though WE tv President and General Manager Marc Juris has insisted that "Sex Box" is "very relatable" and "very respectable," a letter submitted with the petition is skeptical of this claim.

"Asking couples to have sex inside a box on a stage in front of a live studio audience is not, at the end of the day, about helping those relationships," it reads. "It’s about pandering to the lowest common denominator, it’s about pushing the envelope to see what you can get away with."

The letter also implicitly makes the case for a la carte cable pricing, arguing that because WE tv comes automatically with most basic cable packages, cable subscribers are essentially underwriting the program no matter how objectionable they might find it, and should be entitled to a refund of this portion of their bill. (Of course, the same argument could be made by liberals paying for Fox News, conservatives paying for MSNBC or even non-sports fans paying for ESPN.)

An opinion piece for Fox News echoes these talking points.

"'Sex Box' should never see the light of day, or the night for that matter, on basic cable," write Penny Young Nance, chief executive of the Christian activist group Concerned Women for America, and Melissa Henson, director of grass-roots advocacy and education at the Parents Television Council. "This seems like a simple request on behalf of millions of parents who do not want to pay for this kind of content in order to get access to stations like the Disney Channel."

Nance and Henson likewise suggest that WE tv is being disingenuous by claiming that the show is therapeutic: "WE tv is no more interested in helping troubled relationships than MTV is with helping teens refrain from sex. To them, it’s all about shock, titillation and pushing the boundaries."

Early reviews are divided on the therapeutic merits of the show. Noting that the show is less explicit than "'Big Brother,' countless dating shows or any random hour of MTV,"  The Times' Robert Lloyd argues that "it's not impossible that a couple's life could be improved by going onto a television show to talk a little, have sex in a box and talk a little more." Meanwhile Variety critic Brian Lowry calls "Sex Box" "a blatant gimmick, and a silly one at that."

Follow @MeredithBlake on Twitter.

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