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HomeWorldBritain’s full-frontal nude dating show sparks U.S. debate as it tops Max

Britain’s full-frontal nude dating show sparks U.S. debate as it tops Max

LONDON — The premise of “Naked Attraction” is simple: Contestants on the dating show should start relationships “where a good date often ends. … Naked.”

But the debate over the series is growing increasingly heated as it becomes a surprising transatlantic export from the more traditionally buttoned-up Brits.

All six seasons of the show — which first aired on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2016 and is dominated by close-ups of full-frontal nudity under bright stage lighting — made their way on to the streaming service Max, formerly known as HBO Max, last week.

As it surged to become the top-streamed show this week, it has generated discussion on American morning shows (one host called it “fascinating”) and among viewers. Some said the close-up look at contestants in all shapes and sizes encourages body positivity and is breaking down barriers around squeamish topics. (“We all have a naked body at the end of the day..!” one viewer posted on X, formally known as Twitter.)

Others called it objectifying; one family values advocacy group called it “pornographic” and demanded Max strip it from the line-up.

One thing is clear: Americans are not looking away.

The distribution company responsible for the show — which Channel 4’s official website acknowledges is “provocative”— tweeted that “U.S. audiences are loving” the program. Max’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, cites about 96 million subscribers for the streaming service, HBO and Discovery Plus, with a majority in the United States.

“The U.S. has just discovered Naked Attraction and appears to be going absolutely wild over Brits’ wobbly bits,” one online commentator said.

The U.S. trailer asks viewers: “What do men and women really find physically attractive?” The “chooser” will then winnow down from a pool of six potential dates — whose fully nude body parts are gradually revealed. Standing in colorfully lit glass booths, some are eliminated based on their genitals, or chests, and then eventually, faces. For parity, the chooser also strips down with their own naked body critiqued by the final candidates. The winning pair then go out on a date — fully clothed.

Sunny Hostin, a host on ABC’s “The View” said Monday she was “very embarrassed to admit” being “obsessed with this show,” after having “binged it.” “I learned things I have never heard of in my life,” Hostin said. “It was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen. … It’s eye-opening!”

Fellow host Ana Navarro, however, said she preferred Channel 4’s more genteel offering: “The Great British Baking Show.”

“This seems even worse to me than “Naked and Afraid,” Navarro said, referring to the survivalist show that also takes place nude. “This is like, naked and well lit.”

Others online, however, said they found the show to be “grotesque.” The Parents Television and Media Council, established by conservative Christian activist L. Brent Bozell III, called on HBO to “immediately remove” the program, terming it a “new low” in a public statement.

Naked Attraction fully exploits the contestants and markets their sexual exploitation to the audience, calling it appropriate and empowering,” Melissa Henson, vice president of the council, told The Washington Post by email. “Let’s be clear: this program is the epitome of explicit, pornographic content.” Henson called for the streaming service to put in place “the strongest parental controls” to ensure children cannot easily access the show.

In Britain, “Naked Attraction” has received a steady trickle of complaints over the years to the national communications regulator, Ofcom, for “nudity” and going against “generally accepted standards.” The watchdog in 2017 deemed the “material was justified by the context,” and “aimed at an adult audience and attempts to explore the nature of physical attraction,” with a clear warning given to viewers ahead of broadcast.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission, a government agency that also regulates communications, has limited impact on streaming and cable services. “Over-the-air broadcasts by local TV and radio stations are subject to certain speech restraints, but speech transmitted by cable or satellite TV systems generally is not. The FCC does not regulate online content,” it says.

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“You need an entire mix of programming,” Casey Bloys, chairman of HBO and Max content, said this week when asked about the acquisition of the show at a media conference, Reuters reported. “I will remind you that HBO is the home of ‘Real Sex’ and ‘Cathouse,’” he said, referring to other explicit programs.

The show is widely known in Britain. A YouGov poll found that 83 percent of Britons had heard of it — although just 23 percent would admit to liking it. Notably, it’s in its seventh season in the U.K. and has historically enjoyed strong viewership. It was most popular with millennials (those born around 1981-1996) and least popular with boomers (born around 1946-1964), the survey found.

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Some reasons Brits like it? One blogger has written about how it breaks down taboos and is ultimately educational. It puts on display relatable bodies that are not “toned and tanned” as more often seen in the public sphere or other dating shows.

“The bodies on Naked Attraction are a variety of shapes and sizes. Whether it’s something as simple as height or as complex as the shape of our labia [it’s just a word guys] — Naked Attraction is guaranteed to have a body type just like our own,” Lily Smith wrote for the Everyday magazine.

The show has also broken social boundaries, Smith argues, by featuring transgender, nonbinary and disabled contestants.

“It makes my entire body want to turn inside out every single second I watch of it. It makes me want to scream so hard I die,” wrote another British opinion columnist in the Guardian about the show in 2019. “But on the whole, Naked Attraction — and the nudity within it — is a force for good.”

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