VICE Does 'Love Island'

The Unbearable Horniness of Maura Higgins

Like Megan Barton-Hanson before her, the Love Island contestant has been met with widespread criticism – some justified, some not – once again raising questions about how we view female sexuality.
June 21, 2019, 10:58am
Maura Higgins eating an ice lolly on Love Island
Screenshot: 'Love Island' / ITV2

Sex is all in the eyes. You can have a body like an "after" photo and a face like a glamour model run through a Korean filter app, but if you’ve got nothing going on behind the eyes then "sexiness" will evade you entirely. Someone can be beautiful but have absolutely zero game, just as someone can be conventionally unattractive but clean up because God branded "shagger" in block capitals on their soul. Beauty is an attribute, but sexiness is an energy – and though it’s possible for the two to occur simultaneously (Rihanna), there is a big distinction between their powers.

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This is why Love Island, despite its title and entire premise, is actually a very sexless programme. The appeal is marketed around watching these bastions of traditional attractiveness clamber over each other in a Darwinian race to secure a mate, but essentially what you have is 12 chiselled entrepreneurs doing Year 10 flirting in crap sunglasses. Are the islanders "hot"? Certainly. But are they "horny"? Your honour, they are not.

The Love Island producers seem to recognise the difference, and work with it to create what is known in the biz as "solid gold television". The central characters of the show tend to be beautiful and inoffensive (which is why Tommy and Molly-Mae, like Jack and Dani, will probably win). These are the couples who capture the hearts of the nation and will be described using terminology such as "pure" and "goals". But there is no light without dark, no purity without filth, and in order for these couples to shine the villa must also contain: Maura Higgins.

Maura Higgins Love Island 2019

Screenshot: 'Love Island' / ITV2

Twenty-eight-year-old Maura was shipped into the villa with the express purpose of destabilising its dynamic. Like Megan Barton-Hanson before her, Maura has exuded nothing but sheer sexual chaos since the second she touched down in Mallorca – and as a result has immediately become the antagonist. After going on precisely one date with Tommy, she locked in on him like a heat seeking missile and spent the next 48 hours trying to ruin his life. "Does she turn you on like I do?" she purred, as he got a stiffy under a blanket purely from eye contact. Maura is the Julie Cooper of the villa. She is a Bond villain who got lost on her way to the lair. She is horny without a cause. I don’t think I’ve heard a single thing come out of her mouth so far that hasn’t been either iconic or disgusting.

But unlike Megan, whose horniness was combined with a kind of aloofness, Maura has been all over the fucking shop. She is medically incapable of passing up the opportunity to dish out a double entendre or suggestive remark, like an Irish Samantha Jones. During her second chat with Tommy she told him to "be a man, I love that"; ten minutes into meeting Tom she asked "Do you want to share a bed with me?"; upon having doubts about Tom’s ability to lay it on her with adequate dominance she lamented: "What the fuck am I gonna say to him? 'Intimidate me'?" Some of it is almost certainly performative, but the fact remains that the girl bloody loves to crack on – a bit too much, some would say.

In one particular instance of taking things too far, Maura crawled on top of Tommy and tried to kiss him as he repeatedly turned his head away. The move sparked 486 complaints to Ofcom as viewers called for her to be removed for "sexual harassment", while Piers Morgan suggested she should be dragged out of the villa and arrested for the "appalling attack" on "poor unsuspecting Tommy".

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Some fair points have been raised about how her actions would have been perceived if the situation was gender swapped, and to viewers it definitely seemed to read as a clear act of boundary crossing. Even by Maura's standards it was more aggressive than assertive – Tommy may have said "I want to kiss you when the time’s right" and "I couldn’t keep myself together, and that’s just through looking at her" previously in the episode, but that doesn’t give her a pass to slither up on him in the night. We do have to be careful when applying a broad moral framework to specific interactions, regardless of the gender of those involved. The wider climate of sexual politics tends to struggle with "grey area", and an observer’s emotional response to an interaction like that won’t necessarily align with those of the people actually involved. Tommy doesn’t seem arsed based on what we've seen since, and they both seem to be getting along just as well as anyone else, even though he coupled up with Molly-Mae. As a rule of thumb, though, I think it’s fair to say: read the room before you straddle someone.

Maura’s behaviour in general – not just regarding Tommy – has seen her slammed by viewers who have called her embarrassing, desperate, predatory, possessive and a breaker of "girl code". As the most sexually open woman in the villa this year, her Instagram history has been dragged through the tabloids because she’s posted about her nipples and being choked during sex, as well as prompting a segment on Loose Women asking: is a woman who's sexually forward empowering or embarrassing?

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Within the villa, Maura's sexuality has basically become an in-joke at this point. Tommy asked her this week: "Maura, on a scale of one to ten how much do you love sex?", and when it was revealed that she’d "only" slept with six people, Molly-Mae congratulated her with a gobsmacked "proud of you, hun!" After being rejected by Tommy, Maura joked in a piece-to-camera that she would reinvent her tactics by trying "not to talk about sex too much, because maybe guys don’t like that".

Tom Walker and Maura Higgins Love Island 2019

Screenshot: 'Love Island' / ITV2

As usual, the women on Love Island are in a lose/lose situation in which they’re required to be sexually available without making the first move; condemned if they don't flirt enough and condemned if they flirt too much. It's odd (but unsurprising) that while Maura and Megan have both been criticised for being sexually forward, Anton and Dr Alex have enjoyed the unwavering support of the villa for being passed over. While Maura and Megan going after what they want is considered "desperate", Anton and Dr Alex are considered "unlucky in love". They get advice, support and every so-called operation indulged as they plot their union with each new girl who walks in. As an extension of the Maura Discourse, people are also obsessed with how 19-year-old Molly-Mae’s "body count" is 11, as though it’s a bad thing, while the same question is never even asked of men.

There has been some support for Maura – Dani Dyer correctly tweeted that she’s the "funniest one in there", and Megan Barton-Hanson stood up for her when the other girls jeered over the dates when she first entered the villa. Public sentiment does also tend to come around once we learn more about the person attached to the raging libido, and Maura does seem to have settled into the villa as she’s revealed a bit about herself. Let’s not forget that Megan – whose trajectory Maura's has so far been very similar to – went from being the villain of the villa to being in one of the final couples.

It’s not surprising that a show like Love Island isn’t leading progressive discussions about women’s sexual agency. It’s also not surprising that there’s more outrage around assertive women at a time when men are discouraged from being assertive themselves. But even the early days of Geordie Shore were more liberal than this. Imagine Charlotte Crosby or Holly Hagan or even Scotty T knocking about in the villa; they’d cause a fucking riot. But I’d rather watch that than Curtis giving another motivational speech about "progressing in life" to a cast of models who seem like the sort of people who give it large in your Tinder DMs but respond to a message about meeting up three days late with "omg sorry I'm only just seeing this!!"

Sexual politics aside, a cast of Amys and Molly-Maes would simply make for boring TV. As much as we have to remember that the contestants are real people, we also have to remember that they’re edited to be characters. And we need the Mauras and Megans – in the villa, as in life – to be the mouthpiece of everyone who takes one look at Tommy Fury's upper body and thinks: crush me to death. I don't know what world people are living in where a woman intentionally deep-throating an orange lolly on national television is anything other than top banter, but if there's one thing Love Island could stand to have more of it's contestants who conflate sex and fun. The same goes for the world at large, to be honest.

@emmaggarland