Lately I have been watching TLC’s show “Strange Sex” (it’s on instant watch on Netflix and only 2 seasons long) and its given me a lot of food for thought. The wikipedia for the show sums it up, although it’s pretty vague. In each episode the show interviews and documents an individual who has a fetish or sexual preference that is outside of the mainstream or they highlight an individual that has a sexual/reproductive condition that is out of the ordinary. I want to write this post as a beginning to a series of posts that I am going to write, reviewing all the cases in each episode- analyzing the episodes through an intersectional feminist lens, a storytelling/good tv (relative to my taste) lens, a human biology lens, and through a LGBTQAP lens -which I am not able to speak from a place of authority but will research and cite as much as possible or refer to other people as authorities. Most of the time I will probably just note that I think that TLC’s handling of it seems suspect and heteronormative and leave the hard hitting stuff to someone who has more knowledge than me.
I am inspired by the book (that I have not read but love the concept of) Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV written by Jennifer L. Pozner. (here’s a link to her article about ABC’s Shows The Bachelor and The Bachelorette) I am always watching reality TV like this (I have written about Bridezillas and Hoarding in other posts on this blog) and Strange Sex seems like the perfect intersection of all of my interests- Science, Feminism, reproductive health, sex positivity, LGBTQAP+ issues, and media messages in reality tv. I don’t know how cohesive the whole thing will be, but I’ll try to make it work! It will be a thought experiment, that’s for sure. (and always, criticism and feedback are super super helpful)
For one thing, what TLC classifies as strange in this case is actually more appropriately called “uncommon”, “rare” (in the case of medical conditions) or “not mainstream” or “taboo to pop culture” ( in the case of fetishes/preferences). None of it is strange. Strange tends to give a negative connotation and a lot of the fetishes or conditions highlighted in the show should not be stigmatized in that manner. The people who suffer from any of these conditions may or may not get a happy ending at the end of the episode but either way, their journey to find sexual fulfillment shouldn’t be given stigma. But what was I expecting from TLC I guess? They could have named it something like “Sexual Journeys” or “Sexual Health Biographies” or something. Those aren’t exactly pithy but they’re a start. Secondly, in the way all TLC shows handle any kind of personal difference among people, they oversimplify. They don’t talk about the condition from all sides. I appreciate that they let their subjects do most of the talking, and that most of the time there is a positive spin on things. But in some cases they can be very reductive and come to conclusions like “Well this person is a freak and for now things will have a disappointing ending for them” instead of saying that there are a number of factors influencing this person’s circumstances and perhaps we should look at how society has brought them to this point or how biology plays a large role in this outcome or maybe how communication and sex positivity could fix this. This reductive narrative wouldn’t be so obnoxious if it weren’t for the fact that they bring scientists, psychologists and medical people in to comment! So clearly they have the resources to give other perspectives, but not nearly enough of them? I just. yeah. So that’s what I’ll be talking about in these coming posts. Here’s a link to the show’s website. You can watch these episodes on Netflix instant watch (that’s where I’m watching them) and TLC’s website. I’ll label my further posts with the name of the episode and its number as part of the title.