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Why Girls is the most realistic portrayal of sex on TV today

Darren Sharp | Fulcrum Staff

HANNAH LIES FACE down on the couch, struggling to reach behind her to pull off her leggings. Adam enters the room, sighs, kneels at the foot of the couch, and rips Hannah’s bottoms off for her. After begrudgingly putting on a condom, he grabs her waist, pulls her ass towards him, and attempts to initiate anal sex. Hannah, shocked, puts an immediate stop to that. Adam switches to classic doggy style. “Thank you, that’s the right…spot,” Hannah bumbles. Overwhelming awkwardness ensues as Hannah spends the next few moments outlining the ground rules for future anal activity before Adam asks her to “play the quiet game” so he can concentrate on simply getting off.

And that’s just 12 minutes into the first episode of HBO’s breakout hit Girls.

It’s scenes like these that help explain why Girls has been such a success. Oft described as “Sex and the City for Brooklyn hipsters,” the show navigates the lives of its four lead heroines as they figure themselves out emotionally, professionally, and sexually. The difference between this and any number of shows that try to examine the same issues is the realistic way creator and lead actress Lena Dunham—who plays the hapless Hannah—presents sex.

Sex in Girls is rarely sexy. Each character, male or female, almost never gets what they want out of their encounters. Hannah perpetually over-thinks every action, from how best to play along with Adam’s rape fantasy to how long she should watch him masturbate. Hannah’s best friend Marnie—who begins the series in a sinking ship of a relationship with long-term boyfriend Charlie—wants to feel spontaneous and sexually liberated, but she describes Charlie’s touch as feeling like that of a creepy uncle. Rarely is anyone shown actually climaxing other than Adam, who’s the only character who knows exactly what he wants in bed and how to get it.

But this isn’t why Girls succeeds. What makes the show the most realistic portrayal on television of 20-something sex is how the characters use sex to navigate their lives emotionally.

In real life, sex is often not an end in and of itself. Whether you bring someone home and fool around after a particularly rowdy Tuesday night at the campus bar or you’re enjoying morning sex with your significant other of six years, chances are you had reasons for having sex beyond the fact that you enjoy orgasms. People have sex for any number of reasons; you may want a self-esteem boost, you may want to exert power over or submit to the power of another person, or you may just want to feel like a grown, independent human being.

Dunham moves these feelings to the forefront of sex instead of burying them under a layer of gloss. Sex in Girls is a lacklustre mix of awkward come-ons and semi hard-ons where characters explore their insecurities and try to make themselves people worth wanting. If that’s not a realistic portrait of sexually active young adults in 2013, I don’t know what is.