Amid a deluge of passion on our screens, MAGGIE ALDERSON hails Love Island the sexiest program

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There’s an awful lot of sex on telly these days. Whether it’s anguished affairs on the BBC or a spot of Regency bonking on Netflix, TV executives have decided we’re all in for a steamy summer.

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And you can’t exactly blame them. Given the rapturous response when the sex-travaganza that was Normal People hit our screens during the first lockdown, it’s only natural that they’ve come to the conclusion that sex still sells.

As a result, we’re shaping up for a long, hot summer.

'What I've discovered is Love Island is not really a show about sex, bikinis and pumped-up bodies.  It's about people, human nature, attraction and interaction and, yes, even about love.  And, as such, it's fascinating, enjoyable - and romantic '

‘What I’ve discovered is Love Island is not really a show about sex, bikinis and pumped-up bodies. It’s about people, human nature, attraction and interaction and, yes, even about love. And, as such, it’s fascinating, enjoyable – and romantic ‘

The BBC’s second Sally Rooney adaptation, Conversations With Friends, which features an affair between a student and married man, is currently on our screens as is the TV adaptation of Dolly Alderton’s novel, Everything I Know About Love, following the lives of four Tinder- savvy 20-somethings.

Netflix has treated us to a second season of Bridgerton, and in August, the second series of Industry, the BBC drama following the sordid lives of young investment bankers, will join the list.

But is this tsunami of titillation hitting the spot? I’m not so sure.

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Frankly, I’m left rather empty by the lack of romance, tenderness and connection between the characters.

So, where’s a middle-aged woman to look for a show that’s genuinely sexy, featuring good-looking people she likes as individuals, consensual sexual relations in attractive surroundings, a pleasing amount of ‘will-they-won’t-they?’ sexual tension and where the action is more implied than shown?

In my case the answer is clear: Love Island. I know lots of people are appalled by the show – which sees scantily clad young people forced to share a bed with someone they barely know – seeing it as shallow, misogynistic, even dangerous.

Yet I generally find people with these opinions – like my own husband – have never seen a single episode. I used to be one of them, until a friend who is a solicitor, so no vacuous airhead, urged me to give it a go. I was instantly hooked, and am now engrossed in my fourth season.

'Love Island's Majorcan stone villa - with swimming pool, fire-pit and, every middle-aged female dream, an outdoor kitchen - is the perfect backdrop to a summer of romance'

‘Love Island’s Majorcan stone villa – with swimming pool, fire-pit and, every middle-aged female dream, an outdoor kitchen – is the perfect backdrop to a summer of romance’

Because what I’ve discovered is Love Island is not really a show about sex, bikinis and pumped-up bodies. It’s about people, human nature, attraction and interaction and, yes, even about love. And, as such, it’s fascinating, enjoyable – and romantic.

Yes, I’ll admit, there are moments that make me flinch – where they play risque games or talk too frankly about their own sexual histories.

But with the sex-on-top-of-the-duvet antics that the early seasons became known for having been thoroughly, and thankfully, dropped by producers, now the actual sexual-contact element of the show is rather tame and sweet in a way that is actually engaging for middle-aged viewers like me.

Take Paige and Jacques: she is a glamorous but adorable paramedic, he is a jack-the-lad rugby player. Since they coupled up two weeks ago, their relationship has progressed at a pace that would seem positively glacial in today’s dating world.

Only after a full week of living together 24/7 (which equates to about two months ‘worth of contact time in real life) did they share their first kiss, which came after Jacques told the other boys:’ I’m waiting for the right moment. ‘ Afterwards, a giggly, giddy Paige declared: ‘Oh my God, why am I grinning so much over a kiss?’

Me, too, Paige!

Though the pair spent a night in the ‘hideaway’ (a private bedroom away from the group dormitory), if anything untoward happened then it wasn’t shown on screen. Jacques and Paige aren’t telling either, in a refreshing antidote to today’s show-off culture.

When they had to ‘re-couple’ on Friday night’s episode – meaning they were no longer sleeping in the same bed – viewers were treated to scenes of them reaching over from their respective beds in order to fall asleep holding hands. It was so romantic.

Love Island's Gemma Owen with Luca Bish, who she is currently coupled up with on the popular ITV dating show

Love Island’s Gemma Owen with Luca Bish, who she is currently coupled up with on the popular ITV dating show

The complete opposite, in fact, of Conversations With Friends, the incredibly unappealing plot of which centers on a deeply misguided young woman having an affair with the husband of an older woman with whom she has become friends. Tainted love.

And while the sex scenes in Sally Rooney’s sequel are something of a relief, as they are the only time the characters are remotely animated, you’d be wrong to think I enjoyed them. If you don’t like the characters in a TV drama – and I heartily loathed these self-indulgent drips – you really can’t be moved by the love action.

And while I found the characters in Everything I Know About Love endearing, I can’t say I found the sex scenes arousing.

The thing is, they lead such grubby lives. The large patch of damp in their shared house is almost a character in its own right, and the extensive binge-drinking, drug-taking and cringingly inappropriate hook-ups didn’t get me in the mood for love.

By contrast, Love Island’s Majorcan stone villa – with swimming pool, fire-pit and, every middle-aged female dream, an outdoor kitchen – is the perfect backdrop to a summer of romance.

And unlike the quick, and sloppy, snogathons often seen in supposedly highbrow dramas, which relish portraying our one-night-stand culture, on Love Island a first kiss between a couple is a massive deal. Those insular 24-hour nowhere-to-hide cameras force them into a kind of extended dating, before a ‘going steady’ pairing off that’s rather quaint.

It’s a big step when, after ‘getting to know each other’ (a much-used Love Island phrase) for an extended period, one of the boys asks a girl to ‘be his girlfriend’, with the question posed like a kind of proposal, often over a special meal, aided by fellow contestants.

And because you’ve observed the entire ‘getting to know each other’ process, as a viewer you find it meaningful and rather adorable.

'Take Paige and Jacques (pictured): she is a glamorous but adorable paramedic, he is a jack-the-lad rugby player.  Since they coupled up two weeks ago, their relationship has progressed at a pace that would seem positively glacial in today's dating world '

‘Take Paige and Jacques (pictured): she is a glamorous but adorable paramedic, he is a jack-the-lad rugby player. Since they coupled up two weeks ago, their relationship has progressed at a pace that would seem positively glacial in today’s dating world ‘

Because unlike the wham-bam events of Industry, there is real tenderness between these dear young people. And bar some kissing, all you ever see is a bit of fumbling under the sheets.

That’s because Love Island’s producers have realized the best sex scenes on screen leave most of it to the viewers’ imagination.

So my advice to TV executives flooding our screens with increasingly graphic erotica in pursuit of a smash hit? Take a page from the Love Island playbook.

After all, millions of viewers are happily glued to it six nights a week for eight weeks straight. That’s real love right there.

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