TLC’s All About Sex: Sex Positive TV For Everywoman

As a pre-teen, so many of my nights were spent transfixed by Loveline. Keeping the volume low so as not to wake my parents, I surreptitiously explored the unknown continent of sexuality that Dr. Drew led me through. While Adam Carolla’s jokes and the show’s serious-slash-irreverent approach went down easy, I still wanted sex to be presented like a game I could play, and not some trick that was supposed to be played on me. I longed for a slutty feminist Loveline led by a perverse lady Howard Stern, but alas, none appeared, so I made due. Fifteen some years later, when I found out that TLC was to air the first ever all-female sex talk show on TV, I felt as if my girlhood yearnings had been fulfilled.

All About Sex seemed well-designed from the start. With the combination of comedian/alternative sex guru Margaret Cho, sex and relationship therapist Dr. Tiffanie Davis Henry, comedian and author Heather McDonald, and actress Marissa Jaret Winokur, I expected a raunch fest. I imagined a radical redefining of the way women were represented talking about sex in a pubic ahem, public forum. After the first episode, however, I was a bit disappointed by how tame it was. Shaking off the bummed out feeling, I reminded myself that network TV can’t get that crazy, and the more extreme taboos that Cho might explore in her standup (or her personal life), are not necessarily appropriate for this setting. I reminded myself that the problem with filling such a huge hole in the market is that it’s never going to live up to what you expect. The show cannot possibly be all things to all people.

“All About Sex” is not designed for the queer sex geeks or the hedonists or the kink community, but it doesn’t leave them out either. In the no-woman’s-land of female sex talk on TV, this is a show for everywoman — and therein lies its brilliance. With this attitude in mind, the second episode sold me. I began to see just how subtly groundbreaking “All About Sex” is, even with its Jennifer Aniston impressions and quizzes about the percentage of women who use sexual bribery to get chores done around the house. Where else does a diverse group of women over 40 who represent so many lived experiences and perspectives get together to talk frankly about female sexuality and desire?

The secret allure of the show is its easy transition between celebrity sex gossip, serious medical discussions, and more out-there stuff like paraphilias, BDSM how-to’s and the sexual mores that stifle female sexuality. Beyond the topics themselves, the ways the hosts interact and the confidence they exude onstage is refreshing. They are lounging, drinking, laughing and the exact opposite of clinical and uptight. Their openness in discussion is mirrored by their unrestricted body language: legs are splayed, heels kicked out or curled underneath them with youthful carelessness. Each episode could just as easily be a night out with friends, the way they jump from one subject to the next conversationally and without staged interruptions.

Although it is a show about sex, the four women don’t feel pressured to be unorganically sexual, either. There is no forced, fakey sexpot routine. They don’t carry themselves in self-conscious ways, but with the gravitas of strong women who have fucked around in their time. This is a genuine group of people who are serious about de-mystifying female sexuality for the public. For that reason alone, “All About Sex” is an inclusive, crucial step for sex positive TV.