HBO, April 22, 10:30 p.m. ET
The scene opens with Hannah (Lena Dunham) in bed with her kind-of-boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver), doing it in the missionary position, Adam thrusting violently and breathing hard. “You like that?” he asks Hannah. “What do you like?”
“I like everything; I like what you’re doing,” she replies, immediately revealing that she doesn’t know—or doesn’t want to say—what she likes. Adam begins narrating a fantasy: He found Hannah on the street, 11 years old, carrying a Cabbage Patch lunchbox. Hannah has clearly never heard this story before, but she gamely plays along, adopting a breathy, theatrical voice in response to Adam’s make-believe.
Suddenly, Adam pulls out, rips off his condom, and asks Hannah where she wants him to ejaculate—“Face? Tummy? Those little tits of yours?” Hannah gives an extraordinary nonresponse to his question: “It seems like you want to come on my tits, so I think you should come on my tits, because I want you to come, and it seems like you’re going to do it.” After gently choking Hannah and telling her never to have an orgasm without calling him first, Adam ejaculates on her arm. “That was really good,” says Hannah. “That was so good. I almost came.” Adam offers her some orange Gatorade. And cut to the title card.
Most TV and film sex scenes still involve two people undulating their bodies against each other as slowly as humanly possible and gazing nonstop into each other’s eyes—except when their lids flutter shut as they climax simultaneously. On the other end of the straight sex-scene spectrum lies, of course, hardcore porn, in which the women are always climaxing, sometimes for hours at a stretch, as men penetrate and manipulate their bodies in all sorts of ferocious ways, until we finally reach the money shot. Rarely do we see anything between these two fantasies—one neutered, one embellished, both purporting to show people having a great time in the sack.
What about when people are in the sack, but not having a great time? Rarely is bad sex shown on TV as it occurs in real life: physically uncomfortable, emotionally complicated, politically imbalanced.
What amazes me about this opening scene from the second episode of Girls, which clocks in at less than two minutes, is how authentically it speaks to the power dynamics often in play when young heterosexual people hook up. Porn’s widespread availability, the growing embrace of Dan Savage’s philosophy of the ideal sex partner (“GGG,” or “good, giving, and game”), and deeply entrenched differences in how we socialize boys and girls combine to create sexual encounters in which both parties are doing what they think they should be doing, and yet neither is fully satisfied. I’d wager that a lot of bad heterosexual sex among twentysomethings looks at least a bit like Hannah and Adam’s: With the man aggressively pursuing his desires, and the woman doing whatever she can to enable those desires.
But Adam and Hannah’s bad sex scene isn’t only a pointed critique of modern gender dynamics; it’s one step in the slow development of a complex, ultimately tender relationship. Later in the season, we hear Hannah and Adam again having sex, this time with mutually enthusiastic dirty talk and an actual—not “almost”—orgasm on Hannah’s part. And if the trailer for Season 2 is to be believed, Hannah will be aggressively pursuing her own sexual desires with the likes of Donald Glover and Patrick Wilson. I hope, for Hannah’s sake, that she has good sex with at least one of her new paramours.
But I also hope, for the show’s sake, that bad sex isn’t completely out of the picture now that Hannah’s a little older and wiser. That’s not how it works in real life, after all: Bad sex doesn’t magically disappear once you sleep with a few people and figure out what you like in bed. Bad sex requires not inexperience or timidity; all it requires is two people with mismatched preferences and less-than-perfect communication skills. Given the facts that preferences vary wildly and virtually everyone has less-than-perfect communication skills, this means that when you are in your 20s and single and dating, the threat of bad sex is everywhere—including now, finally, on television. I hope we see more of it there.