The Opposite of Porn

Lifetime’s 7 Days of Sex warns of adult subject matter—maybe a little too adult.

(L to R) Chantal and Derek James, from Burbank, CA, seek advice on the all-new Lifetime series 7 Days of Sex
Chantal and Derek seek advice on the Lifetime series 7 Days of Sex

Courtesy A&E Television Networks.

Every time that 7 Days of Sex (Lifetime, Thursdays at 10 p.m.) returns from commercial, it politely offers a familiar warning: “This program contains adult subject matter.” There’s some frisky talk, here, yes, and a few night-vision shots of lingerie-draped middle-aged bodies, but you should not interpret the notice as an enticement. This is a goofy docu-reality show about the sex lives of settled married couples. Real real housewives, it turns out, perform midlife mumblecore on taupe acrylic carpeting. At times, the show suggests a couples’ therapy session turned into a parlor game. At others, it proposes that all a marriage is a role-playing game. Though exhibitionistic—the empty tripods stationed around the subjects’ homes are steel ornaments of budget sleaze—7 Days of Sex offers something like the opposite of pornography.

The program challenges husbands and wives to shake and spice things up, benignly neglect their children for a spell, and have sex every night for a week. We’re taking the couples’ word that they are, in fact, shagging like teenagers. As I say, no one will be confusing 7 Days of Sex with 120 Days of Sodom. At the first sign of foreplay, the editor removes us to a shot of the exterior of the master bedroom. But we do witness the couples talking about sex, not talking about sex, arguing about sex as a way of arguing about other stuff, and a lot of other everyday stuff, brushing the teeth and all that, so OK, viewer discretion advised. The subject matter is totally adult, like balancing a checkbook or cleaning the garage.

Early on, the announcer tells us that these couples are obligated to have sexual intercourse with each other at least once a day for seven days: “And on the seventh day, they’ll …” They’ll do what? Rest? Assess chafing? “… they’ll discover if the sex pays off.” Will a week of bumping uglies smooth over their relationships’ bumpy patches? Each of the twosomes in the first episode celebrate the end of their week with a vow renewal.

First we meet Derek and Chantal, an IT guy and alleged “ex-model” who have “three adorable but demanding children.” Not sure why that phrase requires a but. Wrong conjunction. (Adorable children are of course the most demanding. You use up a lot time adoring them, obviously, and because they are cute they can get away with more—creating bigger messes and crafting more harrowing tantrums than their homelier peers.) At the start of the week, chatting with a girlfriend at the playground, Chantal confesses that she’s hoping to finally get a ring out of this deal: “I don’t like going places and toting my three kids around and people thinking I’m not an honest woman.” Meanwhile, Derek, over a beer with his boys, muses ironically on a condensed kind of Kama Sutra index. “We’ll do it doggie style, monkey style …”

Then there’s Galen and Marilyn, who run a blended family. Galen is getting psyched for his week by playing Sega or something. Marilyn is getting loaded on white wine at a staged lunch in an empty restaurant. She confides, “You know Galen, he always has a stick up his butt.” This “stick” represents a fundamental difference in life philosophy that threatens to tear her life apart. Or maybe I’m reading too much into that, and it’s just a rudimentary marital aid.

In a gently cheeky pregame report, we see a steak on a plate in Derek’s toy-strewn kitchen as we hear, “Derek’s taking in plenty of protein to keep his energy levels up for tonight.” In postcoital debriefs, we see our subjects woozy and mussed and reflective and, mostly, sleepy. There is one wifely trip to a lap-dance tutor. And there is one husbandly trip to a strip-mall lingerie shop where he purchases a flammable peignoir and they try to upsell him a red satin banana hammock.

Derek miraculously survives a minor argument with his wife in which one of his counterrebuttals is, “Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.” He lives to appreciate his wife anew and to discover a deeper part of himself: “You know what? Please don’t pinch my nipples no more. I don’t like that.” The most erotic part of the show involves the couples getting a babysitter and sitting down somewhere with a tablecloth to eat a meal that does not involve colorful plastic utensils. Now there’s an idea for show that could actually be pretty hot: 7 Days of Going Out to Dinner.