If the lame pun in the title of Sex: A Bonkers History didn’t inspire much confidence then the sight of Amanda Holden as the lead presenter of this six-part history was a complete turn off. Holden is not known as either a budding AJP Taylor nor an eminent sexologist. She is known as someone who would host a pathogen if the money was right, and so her presence on a Sky History show about nookie was a clear red flag.
Yet we shouldn’t judge, because given Britain’s history of sensible telly about sex (summary: there is none. It’s all embarrassed giggling and pixelated penises) A Bonkers History was some way above excruciating.
Holden was paired with Dan Jones, a fine writer who TV tends to use as a sexy historian, even if he’s not a historian of sexy. Together, standing uncomfortably in what they called an Interactive Sex History Studio (it was a white room), they began by looking at the proclivities of the Ancients.
Amid the usual mixed grill of gratuitous nudey re-enactments and Lucy Worsley style dress-up (eg Holden naked in a bath in a Cleopatra headdress, or throwing a javelin in a Spartan miniskirt, apropos of nothing in particular), Holden and Jones did at least attempt to follow a thesis. Moving through the Greeks, the Egyptians, India in 300AD and onto the “sex-mad” Romans, they showed how it has always been as much about the battle to control sex as it is about the act itself. They mapped out a history split between the promiscuous (most of the Ancients, by their telling) set against those who want to regulate what is and isn’t acceptable (and yes, that is Christian theology looming disapprovingly on the horizon).
We moderns, they concluded, are less comfortable about sex and erotic imagery than our forebears thousands of years ago, which is a convincing theory until you remember that thing called the Internet. Still, A Bonkers History was a reminder that even talking about sex in the wrong way, with Holden in her pants, is better than not talking about it at all. Repression, history shows, never works.