Let's Talk About Sex... And Love Island

Love Island 2019

I’ll admit it.

Before the heat of last summer, I believed that I was above watching a programme like Love Island. I would think to myself: I am an intelligent, empowered, feminist womxn of colour who doesn’t need to witness a handful of white C-list celebrities have sex under the covers and ignore anyone who doesn’t conform to this extremely strange ideal of huge muscles, massive tits, tiny waists, botox lips and perma-tans. NOPE NOT FOR ME, I thought defiantly.

Yet there I was, 7 weeks later, obsessively checking Instagram to see what’s been posted, listening week on week to Harriet Minter’s Undercover Lover podcast and talking incessantly to anyone who would listen about how Love Island is a not-so-subtle microcosm of our social media age.

But let’s have a bit of a debrief around how we really feel about it.

We know it will never be intellectually stimulating. We know it will never represent diversity or inclusivity. We know that sex plays a huge role in the success of this show. Ah hell (sneaky Dr Alex ref), it’s a show entirely based on sex, and sex alone. Even the not having it (the will they, won’t they saga between Jack + Dani) became a focal point of last season.

So why is this problematic?

We could talk about the hyper-sexualisation of womxn, the antiquated gender binaries at play, the lack of homosexual representation, the effect this has on younger generations and how they view casual sex. Yet, what would it do to censor it?

Shows like Love Island - where contestants are cut off from the rest of the world and are forced to cohabitate - ultimately reveals sex to be a messy, blurred boundary of physical, primal intuitive energy, intimacy, validation and intensity.

What we see on the surface is a bunch of people horny for sex. What lies beneath (and perhaps what we like least) is the unsettling realisation that anyone of us can all fall prey to using sex as a tool to receive intimacy, validation and love (see: Megan, class of 2018).

Real talk: we’re never going to get a show like Love Island booted off the airwaves.

It’s far too successful and lucrative for that to happen. And, to be fair, it is entertaining, if you have the ability to see past its shiny, plastic casing, and think of it more as an amusing anthropological survey of the current state of affairs. If you have the self-awareness to realise that to be ‘sexy’ you do not need to look like these men or womxn and if you have the understanding that the world is a lot bigger than just these types of people - then you might just be able to get along with it.

What Love Island should be doing is …

… making sure that it is being transparent about the inevitable mental health implications and to be promoting safe, consensual sex between adults. The work that WE need to do as an audience is to keep checking in with our own values; to be constantly educating ourselves on how we view sex, how we feel about it, and what it really means to us; and try not to get swept up in the glamour and the surface of these kinds of shows.

There’s no shame in enjoying a summer of Love Island - we just need to remember that reality TV is not real life.