HBO recently announced that the network will reboot Real Sex, its human sexuality documentary series, in January. The new show will be called SEX // NOW—so catchy, especially if you can pronounce double backslashes—and will stick to the Real Sex format: short segments about unusual preferences and practices separated by on-the-street interviews with people who actually bone. The pilot will air on January 2, at 11 p.m., and if it performs well, we'll get more of those backslashes. What follows here is a recollection/approximation of watching Real Sex when it originally aired.
It's the year 2000, you're going to a sleepover, and everything is weird all of the time because you're 13. Hormones. Your body is a monster, and other people are monsters, too. Adults, kids your own age, younger siblings—nope, no thanks. Basically you trust dogs, some cats, and the cafeteria aid who doesn't notice shit and loaned you a quarter for a soft pretzel that one time.
Every sleepover needs entertainment, and a sleepover doubling as a birthday party for a friend you've had since the third grade, even more so. Enter: the kid from the single-parent home with HBO, a VCR, and an iron will. Onto a blank video cassette tape this kid has dubbed an episode of HBO's Real Sex. Real Sex: 24, to be exact. It's in the bag. Literally in a backpack. The night just got...weirder?
The early 2000s are difficult to distinguish from the '90s, so things are going to get '90s strange. Like, you grew up with a view of sex filtered through Monica Lewinsky, the movie Showgirls, and v. early Internet porn (traveling via dial-up to, actually, sex.com and logging off after becoming too nervous about getting caught after a few minutes of staring at naked people rendered in chunky harsh JPEGs).
After video games and drinking soda you'll always remember as being Surge, because, why not, the tape comes out. You're huddled in a group around the basement TV. The volume is low. The shag carpeting over the concrete is thick and smells vaguely of mildew. Without warning—dipshit dubbed Real Sex poorly and didn't record the title intro—you're in a regular type kitchen with two women opening a dishwasher filled with wobbling and dripping penises. They're khaki-colored, the dildos, like what you picture when you think of the word "Dockers." They've just been cleaned in the dishwasher, and the women pull them out of the nubby roll-out rack in this regular type kitchen. You've been in kitchens like this many times in your life, with a sink positioned before a window that looks out into a yard, and with a counter where someone's parent makes the dinner. So it's a bit of a mindfuck, all these dildos coming out steaming from this familiar dishwasher.
Turns out the dildos are for a class. A blow job class for women the approximate age of your mother. That everyone at the sleepover realizes this at about the same time sends the group diving for the remote. And then the pile of sweaty hands on the same remote feels gay—remember middle school homophobia?—and so the hands retreat until someone realizes that this segment needs the mercy of fast-forward. The blow job class speeds by. No lessons are learned and the damage is irreversible. This is not the Real Sex anyone bargained for. This is so much weirder than what Health class prepared you for, which is of course what makes it real. There are lots of things two people can do to each other when they're naked, and you realize you only knew about, like, three of them.
The fast-forwarding continues, stopping so that everyone can groan with horror at the regular-looking people rubbing their feet together in a big circle of fetish. Aren't they worried about toe jam? Is this fluid bonding? And then the toe-sucking begins.
Help. This isn't right. Neither is the—holy Christ—erotic slam poetry jam, or the segment on people who like having their bodies smeared with wet food items.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. And yet some of the group will store a stray shot as masturbation material. Well, that one lady, before the baked beans hit her chest, she was pretty hot. Yep. That'll do.
Or maybe one of you realizes that this is your favorite thing, and so you'll forever have trouble keeping it together when you take a date to a soup-and-salad bar. Thank you, Real Sex, for unlocking this part of me that lots of people won't understand!
These things will out themselves eventually. And when you're a 13-year-old virgin, before you've been with another human, you have no real way of knowing what you're into in the first place. It won't be until first lovers imprint themselves and their bodies and those early experiences on you that you'll gain any sense of what you like beyond what you can find on late-night cable. Right now, late-night is telling you about writhing in a baby pool slick with a liquid that might be runny pudding, but looks purple under the weird orgy lighting.
After the episode ends, and the lucky few that called dibs on couches get comfortable and the rest of you squirm into sleeping bags on the floor, in the dark you all wonder about each other and who maybe liked some of what you all saw. Greater unease about all these people and things you don't understand, more hormones. You don't know yourself, you don't know each other. You could always ask someone if—nah, that would be too strange.
Next year, HBO is going to do this all over again to a new generation of teens. Great idea, everybody. Really great.