When Anthony woke up in the Big Brother house with the taste of lager still lining his gums, he couldn't stop thinking about his nan. Was she hurt by what she'd seen? Would she ever roast him a chicken again?
It was the summer of 2005, and the previous night he'd snogged fellow housemate Makosi in the hot tub while her turquoise thong was draped over his nose, then he'd sucked Orlaith's nipple, before reconvening with Makosi for some gentle underwater gyrating. He might have had beer fear, but Anthony didn't know the half of it. The next day Makosi went into the diary room and asked for a pregnancy test, because, according to her, they had shagged. "Babe, you could be the first person ever to get pregnant in the Big Brother house!" yelled one of the other housemates.
Makosi and Anthony never had sex – or at least, that's how it looks on camera. Makosi did tell the housemates that Anthony’s dick was 13 inches long, which you'd have thought would be enough to make most men change their story. Anthony might have felt betrayed by the lie, but he did end up telling OK! Magazine the truth of what happened, and ended up winning the show. Meanwhile, Makosi morphed into a hate figure. When she faced deportation to Zimbabwe, newspapers joked about her "eviction" from the UK, and upon leaving the house she endured the most guttural boos of any contestant bar Jade Goody.
The level of excitement surrounding Makosi and Anthony is difficult to imagine now – but back then, sex on TV was enough to titillate the viewing public. During 2000s-era Big Brother, Michelle and Stu's makeshift sex den became a hairdresser small-talk favourite, and when Geordie Shore came along in 2011 teenagers around the country screamed at their mum to get out the room before Gaz displayed his parsnip for another Newcastle University fresher mauled by St Moritz and Miss Pap.
Now, lesbian period dramas have more sex in them than reality TV, and the shows that do feature it aren't even really popular anymore. I mean, did Geordie Shore’s Nathan really insert a hair curling tong up his arse if only 630,000 people watched it?
Why are we less bothered about watching sex these days? Are we so oversaturated by pornographic images that we just don't care anymore? And are we accepting of all sex, or is it only a certain type of person who gets to enjoy doggy style minus the fallout?
"Makosi was very good at getting all eyes on her," Anthony explained when I asked him about the "Jacuzzi Baby" incident. Meanwhile, Anthony had been so careful not to get caught doing anything explicit that he'd refrained from masturbating the whole 12 weeks: "I didn't want me parents seeing that." This was a time when the Big Brother house had so many cameras, you weren't even on your own when you went for a shit.
After Makosi set the ball rolling, there wasn’t much sex on Big Brother for many years. It was only with Geordie Shore that graphic sex became a mainstay of reality TV. Taking inspiration from its American equivalent Jersey Shore – which at one point showed Vinny having sex with a girl as Mike "The Situation" watched while eating an egg sandwich – Geordie Shore was full of sex. So much so that, by the fifth season, I was well acquainted with housemate's styles: Gary deployed a quick pounding, while Scotty T seemed to focus on slow-mo hip rotation.
After the success of Geordie Shore, MTV commissioned The Valleys – another reality show, which this time followed hairdressers and nail technicians from Caerphilly and Pontypridd trying to "make it" in Cardiff. Believing that the pornographic content of Geordie Shore contributed to its success, The Valleys operated under a guiding principle of "the more outrageous, the better".
The girls got tattoos of a sheep on their "foof" (vagina) and Natalee skived a glamour modelling shoot because she had a sore fanny after too much sex, but the boss dragged her out of bed anyway, dressed her in nothing but a tutu, and smeared ice-cream all over her nipples: "It’s like last night," Natalee smirked. They filmed lap dances from inside strip clubs, the girls got on a party bus and mooned construction workers laying cement on the side of the road, and Aron told the camera: "I just wanna shag, shag, shag. I'd even shove a dead donkey up my arse." The Welsh tourist board must have been absolutely losing it.
Never to be outdone, Geordie Shore cast members quickly became defensive over which show was more shocking. When asked about The Valleys’ Carley, who often flashed the camera, Holly Hagan told the Huffington Post: "There's a difference between getting your tits out for a laugh and saying, 'Do you want me to get my tits out?' I was drunk... she walked in and hadn't even had a drink, and her tits were shit." Co-star Charlotte Crosby added: "The difference is Holly's flashing got on every front page of the newspaper – yes it did – so Valleys, suck on that," adding: "I bet they haven't spat in each other's faces, because we did that. I haven't seen them have a threesome yet. Gary Beadle's done that every single series." Jealous? Surely not.
For The Valleys cast member Natalee, filming the show was a wild experience. When she was having sex with her then-boyfriend Anthony (who had an identical twin on the show called Jason), producers were often watching and would talk to them through hidden microphones. "They’d make animal noises while we were shagging, monkey noises and that," she tells me over the phone. After Natalee worked out that MTV couldn’t show sex unless couples were covered with a duvet, the pair began to fully expose themselves. "If anyone else was watching we didn’t give a shit. The producers would be telling us down the microphone, 'Come on Nat, put the duvet on.'" The no sheet idea didn’t work out quite so well when Terry and Emma tried it on Love Island three years later – after ITV aired the incident Ofcom received seven complaints.
Even with all the arse rubbing on WKD-soaked nightclub walls, Natalee says The Valleys was never as dirty as the final edit made it appear. According to her, sex was often constructed in order to fuel drama. While filming the last episode of season two, producers were eager to capture an outrageous final scene.
"They suggested I have a threesome with the twins, and I was like, 'No way.' I was smitten with Anthony at the time; I didn't want to jeopardise that by having sex with his brother," she explains. "So they asked if I could just go under the sheets and imply it. I was like, 'No, then I’d look like a fucking slag.' In the end, because they wouldn't let us go to bed until they had their final scene, me, Jenna, Anthony and Jason went under the sheets and chucked the covers over us to imply that something was going to happen, and then the series ended on that image. So much of the time I was so fucking tired I would do just about anything to shut them up."
When asked about Natalee’s comments, True North – the production company behind The Valleys – responded: "The Valleys was governed by very strict protocols for filming. These covered every area of the production and were devised to protect the privacy of the contributors and to comply with Ofcom guidelines around on-screen nudity."
The Valleys never reached Geordie Shore’s ratings, but it certainly pushed those in the Toon to become even more vulgar. On newer seasons, there's anal sex; at one point the housemates have a naked mud fight using the soil from a house plant; and, though it's not necessarily sexual, during season 18 Chloe pissed on the floor, shit herself and then slipped over on her own urine. The camera actually zooms into the faeces.
My conversation with Natalee took place in 2017, after the cancellation of The Valleys. Before we said goodbye, she told me: "I don't think I would have sex on TV again because of how my family reacted. They didn't disown me or anything, but they weren't exactly impressed with my behaviour. My aunties and uncles kept saying: 'I can't believe you would do that.'"
I rang Natalee again after she appeared on the latest season of Ex On The Beach, having sex with an Ibiza promoter called Matty. Natalee cackled down the phone; according to her, the producers didn’t air even 10 percent of the sex that was actually happening.
"Aaron and Dominika built a tent using coat hangers and bed sheets that were suspended from the wardrobe so people couldn’t see the sheets moving while they had sex – although, obviously, you could see what they were doing," she said. "Soon as we had any free time, those two were at it. Same as me and Matty, to be fair, and George and Bayley." Things felt even more intimate given how small the villa was. "There were three bedrooms and at one point there were 17 people," Natalee explained. "So you can imagine there was so much bed sharing and swapping. Sometimes you’d be laid next to someone and they'd be doing bits."
"This time, the show was more about people’s feelings towards each other rather than the sexual side of it," Natalee explains. "People are more concerned with that anyway – no one really wants to watch someone have sex." For Natalee, it was precisely the lack of love between cast members that caused the failure of The Valleys. For all their three-way kisses, the cast couldn’t compete with the addictive romantic story arcs of Geordie Shore, where Gaz span Charlotte around in his arms and promised they would be together one day, or Chloe flirted with Marty via putting a whole pack of frozen chicken nuggets in her bikini top before drawing their initials in a heart in the sand. Couples guarantee drama; without that, sex isn’t as interesting.
Natalee might be right. In 2015, Love Island announced it would cut sex scenes from the show, with Caroline Flack arguing that sex on screen is boring. This ban never fully took effect – every episode still ends with the vomit-inducing sound of lip gloss, spit and silicone slapping together against a microphone – but there’s significantly less sex, and yet ratings have continued to rise.
While it used to seem like, to win these shows, one had to be the first to get balls deep – think Kem and Amber sneaking into a cupboard, or season one winner Jon turning to the bed next to him and, while still inside of Hannah, confessing: "I can't stop now guys, you’ll just have to deal with it" – now you can carry yourself like a Calvinist monk and still go home with the prize money. All last year's winners, Jack and Dani, did was closed-mouth kissing for approximately three seconds before she pulled away and said: "I love you, I do"
Perhaps viewers are just bored of sex? Channel 4 has convinced us that a couple watching themselves fuck before discussing the quality of said fuck with a bunch of strangers is a form of therapy. BDSM is so mainstream I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Kurt Geiger shop assistants talking about their favourite spanking technique while selling a mum of two some ballet flats. Girls who were on the school netball team link their OnlyFans to their Instagram, where you can purchase full frontal nudes. Sex is so normalised we don’t even have it anymore. No wonder we’re not that bothered about watching it.
But even if we are over sex, not everyone enjoys the same treatment. Before Megan Barton-Hanson entered the villa she was adamant she wouldn’t sleep with anyone during her time on Love Island. "I thought, 'I don’t need to do that, it’s only a few weeks, I’m not a nymphomaniac,'" she tells me over the phone. "But when you're in that moment, every day is like a week and there are no distractions, so when you're laying in bed it can feel impossible not to do something. I thought: 'Why am I punishing myself?'"
The only thing Megan regrets is what happened between her and Eyal due to the way he acted when she broke things off. "He said to me: 'You just used me, you're such a sexual predator, and I was like 'What? You're pathetic. Don’t make it out like I’ve used you for sex.' That was interesting – I've never been accused of that before. I thought, 'Oh shit, I hope it doesn't come across like that.'"
While Megan pointed out that people are less shocked about sex post-Geordie Shore, for her, women are still attacked in ways that men would never be. "I was criticised a lot for sleeping with two different people, but Adam did the same. He did stuff with Rosie and then Zara. Wes did the same – he got with Laura and me. Just because I’m a female everyone is in shock."
Even after Megan left the villa she continued to be questioned about her actions: "In every interview, it would get brought up: 'Do you regret it? Are you embarrassed? I think everyone has still got a long way to go in terms of judgment.” Perhaps the most shocking example of this bias came in 2016, when Zara Holland was stripped of her Miss England title for having sex on Love Island.
Megan is twice as likely to be judged due to her status as an ex-stripper. When some lube was in the background of a selfie of her and Wes, six different newspapers covered the story. "Because I’ve done that job," Megan explains, "everything written about me is highly sexualised. It's bad, really."
We may not be interested in sex anymore, but the subtleties and aggressions of monogamous relationships, the closeness and betrayals of human connection, continue to enthral us. Maybe watching hot people naked in a jacuzzi doesn’t quell the aching loneliness in our social media-ravaged souls. Perhaps we will get to the point at which it's not even on TV anymore. Until then, no reality star should be made to feel ashamed if they want to have sex.
Anthony is 37 now. He’s married and owns a barber shop in Darlington, run by men who will sculpt your quiff better than the angel of the north. Fortunately, Anthony’s nan was never annoyed about the hot tub action, although she did walk upstairs when everyone started stripping. Somewhere in the midst of the £50,000 prize money, interviews on This Morning and the 1970s dance workout CD, everyone forgot about it. She was just proud that her grandson was so likeable. It would be nice if one day everyone was as nice about sex on TV as Anthony’s nan.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.