TV experiment that proves women and men think so differently about sex and fidelity… Which is why Jasmine walked out on new Channel 4 show after husband Alan had high jinks in a hot tub with four attractive girls
- Jasmine, 28, who works in corporate sales explains the anguish she faced knowing her husband was with 20 beautiful single women
- Channel 4’s Open House: The Great Sex Experiment tests how ready couples are to try being in an open relationship
- Jasmine’s husband Alan, who runs his own car business had a very different experience to his wife, and embraced every challenge
Alone in her bedroom in a beautiful country house, Jasmine, an attractive 28- year-old who works in corporate sales, couldn’t stop nervously pacing the floor.
She had been left with no phone and with nothing to do, she says, ‘but there was an encyclopaedia, which I started to read’. She reckons she was there for ‘three or four hours’, maybe more, ‘going mad’.
She makes it sound a little like a hostage situation. And what made it far, far worse was that all the time, she knew her husband Alan was somewhere downstairs, drinking cocktails with around 20 beautiful, single, available women.
Jasmine and Alan (pictured) put their marriage to test on new Channel 4 show Open House: The Great Sex Experiment, which tests how ready couples are to try being in an open relationship
What was her husband doing now, she asked herself, repeatedly. Perhaps the question should have been: ‘What wasn’t he doing?’ She found out, eventually.
‘He was in a hot tub with four women, then he took three of them back to a yurt and he ended up stripped down to underwear, covered in whipped cream,’ she says, looking straight at Alan, 37 — who looks distinctly pleased with himself.
It sounds like every married woman’s nightmare. And yet Jasmine isn’t righteously furious with her erring spouse. Because under the terms of an eyebrow-raising agreement, Alan’s evening entertainment had been sanctioned — to a degree, anyway — by Jasmine herself.
The couple, who have been married for just three years, were taking part in a Channel 4 television programme; an astonishing sexual experiment that aims to introduce ordinary couples to the world of non-monogamous relationships in a controlled environment.
The series, called Open House: The Great Sex Experiment, which starts on Channel 4 tomorrow, is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Under the guidance of a psychologist, the couples are assessed to establish how ‘ready’ they are to try an open relationship. Participants are then given a series of escalating tasks, each pushing them slightly further than the last towards actually having sex with someone other than their partner.
TV viewers get to see the whole thing, and, yes, it is graphic. It makes Love Island look like Songs Of Praise.
According to the programmemakers, the show is a responsible examination of an ‘increasingly popular lifestyle choice’. It’s true that non-monogamy is somewhat of a trend among celebrities including Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. As Will Smith said in an interview last year: ‘We have given each other trust and freedom… marriage for us can’t be a prison.’
But can a normal couple really make it work? As Jasmine recounts her experience, sitting at her kitchen table, you do rather want to sink your head into your hands. It’s clear that left to her own devices, the thought of an anything-goes marriage would not have occurred to her.
Under the guidance of a psychologist, the couples are assessed to establish how ‘ready’ they are to try an open relationship
‘Women naturally seek out a pair-bond. Men want to have their cake and eat it,’ says Jasmine. Alan nods.
He adds: ‘Most of the time, the driving force is the man. It’s the nature of human beings. We are predators. The primal thing is to get your woman and protect her at home, but you still want to go off…’ He breaks off. ‘I’m not saying that is fair.’
Despite the show’s very modern attitude to polyamory, the couple’s views strike me as markedly traditional.
Alan says: ‘By and large, you are going to have men and women watching this programme thinking different things. You are going to have the men thinking, “I wish I could do that” — and the women looking at them thinking: “I hope he isn’t thinking he wishes he could do that.” ’
In the end it was this chasm that led the couple to bail out of the entire project at the last moment, realising they couldn’t go through with it.
Jasmine finally put her foot down, she says in tones of horror, ‘before we got to the final task in which we thought they would make us watch couples having sex, or something horrendous like that’.
So why on earth did they agree to try it in the first place? Alan and Jasmine met through mutual friends, started dating nine years ago and married in 2019. So far, so conservative.
‘We don’t leap into anything. We are more about the slow burn,’ confirms Alan. Neither, they insist, has strayed outside the marriage. ‘Oh, 100 per cent monogamous, definitely,’ says Jasmine.
Alan, who runs his own car business, and Jasmine say they have a healthy sex life and didn’t think they were remotely prudish before taking part in the show.
‘We thought it would be fun,’ says Alan, while his wife falls over herself to add: ‘We didn’t do anything. We ran away from doing anything. It was just a bit of a laugh.’
And yet Alan admits that, if anything, before this programme he’d have been ‘quite judgmental’ about polyamory, thinking it was ‘not the done thing. Why would you do it if you were married?’
They were approached by the programme-makers after posting about their anniversary on Instagram. Most people would have run a mile; they sat down and talked about the idea, mostly, it seems , because they liked the thought of being on TV.
Jasmine feels the whole programme was ‘encouraging them’ towards sex with other people, but Alan disagrees
‘Initially, Jasmine thought it would be fun, but I wasn’t keen,’ Alan says. ‘Then she changed her mind, got cold feet, but by that time I’d come round to the idea of it. I think we were intrigued because they were looking for people exactly like us.’
By which he means total novices to non-monogamy.
Both admit they hope their parents will not be tuning in. Jasmine particularly hopes her boss doesn’t see it, ‘because I don’t want to be fired’.
They are certainly an interesting couple. In conversation they bicker and disagree, and are very candid about their relationship, admitting they’ve always talked openly about finding other people attractive. Or, to be specific, about Alan finding other women attractive.
Alan seems proud: ‘Put it this way, I don’t think any of my friends have wives who would not only put up with them lusting over other women on Instagram, but join in and chat about it. It’s why I’d never get divorced. If I did that with another woman, I’d never get away with it. But Jasmine doesn’t mind.’
He manages to turn this into a compliment: ‘I think it’s down to her confidence in herself. I have never met another woman who is as confident as Jasmine is. She puts other women here [he draws a line in the air] and herself here [he draws a line higher].’
‘I do not,’ objects Jasmine. ‘I just have confidence in myself and in my relationship with my husband, enough to think that he won’t run off with another woman because, frankly, he doesn’t have time to. And it would be very expensive.’
She’s joking, but says that at heart she is just ‘happily married’, yet ‘realistic’ about the fact that marriage does not stop a man looking at other women.
Does Jasmine lust after other men, too? Actually, no.
‘I mean she is free to, she just doesn’t as much,’ says Alan. ‘I think it is different for women.’
Perhaps surprisingly, Jasmine agrees. ‘I might find another man attractive, but not regularly. Let’s face it, there are more attractive women in the world than there are attractive men.
‘If you walk down any street, there are a lot of women that you’d look twice at, partly because we have the hair and make-up thing. How many men do you say that about? Not many. For me, maybe only one a year.’
How often does Alan see another woman that he lusts after?
‘One a day? Every time I go out? I don’t even have to go out. I can find them on Instagram.’
The point is that they agree on this: men lusting after women who are not their wives is perfectly normal. ‘Every man does it. Most just do it from behind their shades. I am upfront about it,’ says Alan.
You can see why the programmemakers thought Alan and Jasmine might be ripe for a bit of experimentation.
The programme’s resident expert is Dr Lori Beth Bisbey, a psychologist who has a non-monogamous marriage herself. (It is her third; her first two marriages were, her CV says, ‘traditional and sexless’.) She now helps couples to achieve ‘a deeper level of sexual congruence’.
Alan and Jasmine describe Dr Lori as a ‘headmistress’ figure. It is she who assigns the show’s tasks, ranging from the tame — flirting with another person, playing innocent(ish) party games — right up to having a threesome while the cameras roll. Some viewers might possibly find this erotic, but I’ll wager more will be watching from behind the sofa cushions going: ‘Eww!’
Alan and Jasmine were not A-grade students for Dr Lori.
‘I think we disappointed her,’ says Alan. ‘She was coming at it as someone who is non-monogamous herself, so sees the advantages.’
Jasmine feels the whole programme was ‘encouraging them’ towards sex with other people, but Alan disagrees: ‘I don’t think that’s fair. It’s just that is her world. She kept encouraging us to “push the boundaries”.’
Pictured: Dr Lori with some of the show’s contestants. For Jasmine and Alan the subject of an open marriage is closed for now
Their first task sounds, on paper, relatively tame. They were required to attend separate social events — set up by the production team — and mingle, choosing a stranger to hold hands with and, potentially, kiss.
The other partner would be aware that this was happening but would not be present.
Alan skipped off first, only too keen to get to know the other women — all young, attractive and experienced in polyamory. There was plenty of alcohol on hand and he ended up in the hot tub.
‘They had said pick one, but I picked three. I didn’t actually pick the women that I was most physically attracted to because I knew it would only go so far. I went for ones that seemed fun. And it was fun.’
Was there someone from the production team with a clipboard, monitoring? ‘No, and I don’t know whether they would have intervened if it had gone too far, everyone being consenting adults.’
He was then allowed to return to a yurt with the three women, where a good time was had with whipped cream.
What was Jasmine doing?
‘Oh my god, I was in the bedroom, going mad,’ she admits. ‘It was hours before they came and got me.’
Then it was Jasmine’s turn, but her description of having an army of attractive potential partners to choose from is the polar opposite of her husband’s. Her face contorts in disgust.
‘It was really hot on that day, like a furnace. There must have been 20 guys lined up and I walked into this wall of man smell. Ugh!’
It wasn’t a good, masculine smell then? ‘No, it was quite a stench,’ she says, wrinkling her nose.
She mingled and drank, and then picked ‘someone who seemed nice’ to spend more time with. She makes it sound like she was trying to find the least offensive option.
‘It was exactly that,’ she nods.
They duly went for a meal together. No whipped cream was involved; they didn’t even hold hands. Actually, Jasmine can’t fully remember what they did, but she was told afterwards that nothing intimate happened.
‘The thing is I react quite badly to alcohol, even after one glass, so I woke up next morning not even sure that I had completed the task. I didn’t even have that much to drink, but it doesn’t take much.’
Jasmine admits the first task left a nasty taste. She sounds bruised when she talks about strangers being tasked ‘with trying to have sex with us’.
The parts of the series we have been allowed to see in advance are troubling, because people do get hurt. In one episode there is a threesome involving a different couple that backfires spectacularly and ends up in tears all round.
For Jasmine and Alan, the second task involved spending an evening together with another woman, playing games (involving chocolate spread) which were a bit risqué, but ‘not too much’. ‘They were the sort of games you could imagine playing with friends on a Friday night,’ says Jasmine. ‘Not that I have done but …’
Alan looks at her. ‘There was a bit more to it than that. There was a bit of pushing the boundaries.’
But no chance of a threesome? ‘Oh no,’ says Alan. ‘I think Dr Lori would have been chuffed to bits if that had happened. I think she would have been popping the champagne. But it didn’t happen.’
They were building up to the final task when Jasmine decided she wanted to go home. She admits she was repulsed by the idea of what was to come next. ‘I decided that was enough.’
So home they went.
‘As much as I might have been tempted, you have to have both parties 110 per cent committed,’ Alan says. ‘Even 99 per cent is not enough. My wife’s happiness was, and is, paramount. I think that’s why this area is so fraught. I am much less judgmental about people who can do this now, but it’s not for everyone.’
So what next for this couple who considered ‘opening’ their marriage but realised in time how deeply uncomfortable that might be? Since they left filming early there has been no more experimentation, and certainly no hot tubs with strangers.
‘It concreted how conservative I am,’ admits Jasmine. ‘We are simple, traditional people. Life is complicated enough. I think these days everyone wants to have their cake and eat it.’
Hold on, though. Alan still has thoughts. ‘This is the hill I have to climb,’ he jokes.
You still think, genuinely, that Jasmine might be persuaded down this route? He pauses for thought.
‘Not all the way, but I think she’s still curious.’
Jasmine gives him another look.
And the subject is closed. For now.
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