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The Good Side of the Bad Sex in "Girls"

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire April 14, 2012 at 11:57AM

It's impossible not to want to talk about the sex scenes in HBO's new "Girls" -- not because they're that frequent, at least not by the permissive scale of cable television, but because they're deglamorized, raw and not always mutually enjoyable, a means by which the characters broadcast their vulnerabilities by pretending they don't have any. They're not like anything else on TV, though they are in the same realm as the ill-advised encounter toward the end of "Tiny Furniture," creator Lena Dunham's most recent film, a fumbling, tough to watch tryst that takes place in the shelter of a drainage pipe.
Girls Jemima

When Hannah is told "Let's play the quiet game" by Adam because he thinks she's talking too much during sex, we're not supposed to feel sorry for her -- she's not a victim, she chosen this, and feels plenty sorry for herself anyway. We're supposed to feel that she's young and inexperienced and doesn't yet know to not put up with that. She gamely plays along with his role-playing and desire for her to dress up because she believes that's what being fun and sexually adventurous and open-minded involves, and because she doesn't know what she wants yet or how to pursue her own pleasure or make requests of her own.

Hannah is comfortable with how uncomfortable she is with her body, just like she's happy to be open about her limited romantic and sexual background -- her abrupt honesty is a way of deflecting from her own inexperience, a means of being up front in order to actually pull attention away from larger insecurities.

In a scene in the third episode that's more difficult to watch than any of the awkward sex, Adam jiggles Hannah's belly until she squirms away, laughing "This is so horrible!" and covering herself up. He suggests indifferently that she lose a few pounds if it bothers her so much, and she whirls on him to affirm that it doesn't, that she has other priorities, just how much she does care openly warring with her need to not be the kind of chick who gets dragged down by body image issues.

Girls Dunham

So much of "Girls" is about the gap between the women these characters think that can be, think they should be, and who they actually are, and the pain that divide can cause until you figure out how to let those expectations go and just live.

And nowhere in the show does that come through more than in the bedroom scenes, in the sight of sex-positive and totally open but actually pretty inexperienced Hannah bravely heading out in black eyeliner, a miniskirt and teased hair in pursuit of some Carrie Bradshaw adventures, and getting her heart and her self-esteem a little trampled by the reality of what she experiences.

That's part of life, too, especially in those uncertain years right after college, and it shouldn't be shot down out of a misguided sense that the young women on screen or those watching it need to be protected. Aspirational fantasies have their place, but so do the failures, blunders and embarrassments that are part of growing up -- how people learn and move on is just as important as how they succeed.

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, Girls, Lena Dunham, HBO

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