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'Girls' on HBO: Finally a Realistic Show for Women About Sex, STDs, and Body Image

The comparison of HBO’s new series "Girls" to the popular late 90’s sitcom "Sex and the City" weakens the impact of the raw and honest accounts of sex depicted on the new show.  

Though the sexual story lines tackled in Sex and the City covered many uncomfortably comical modern social issues, including sexually transmitted diseases, female masturbation, impotence, and funky smelling semen, the intense, glamorous sex Carrie Bradshaw and her girlfriends regularly encountered does not compare to the sexual experiences of the characters on Girls. The relatable display of sex in Girls normalizes the experience, and the impact of those awkward scenes should resonate with millennial women and give them a more realistic view of the consequences. 

As entertaining as the notoriously loud and orgasmic sex scenes of Sex and the City were to watch, the series often failed to show the bitter details of the encounter. In fact, most sex scenes on film and television are enticed and fail to give reasoning behind the saying, “sex is underrated.” Girls, however, does so by revealing the physical and emotional torment.

I thought the disturbing sex scene in the pilot episode between Hannah, actress Lena Dunham, and Adam, actor Adam Driver, was uncomfortable enough, but the scene in episode two is as real as it gets. Hannah is chubbier than most women on television and she bares all including the skin folds on her belly and her natural small breasts. Adam, who routinely sleeps with Hannah but doesn’t respond to any of her text messages, directs the encounter with his hand around Hannah’s throat, verbalizing his masochistic fantasy of her as a young promiscuous girl who is subject to his orders. 

New York Magazine’s review of the scene was, “But it’s the second episode that really goes raw, and while I want to avoid spoilers, basically a moment of verbal role play flies right off the rails, leaving Hannah to wriggle her way through an epically bad lay, a scene that is filmed close-up, with covers off, and lacking any of the coy cutaway that usually transforms TV sex into a kind of sleek digital candy. The sequence made me laugh out loud, and cringe, and cover my eyes, but it was also remarkably poignant. It was a scene that presented sex as a rough draft, a failed negotiation, at once hilarious and real.” 

It’s a difficult performance to watch, but the honesty of the scene instantly reveals the protagonist’s insecurities, allowing viewers and particularly young women like her, to connect. Hannah has obvious body issues, unlike the slender women of Sex and the City, and seeing her bare figure —flaws and all — in that uncompromising position is something that can resonate with many women. 

In a later scene, while Hannah is on her way out of Adam’s apartment, the two share a revealing conversation discussing Adam’s history of sexual partners whom he has had unprotected sex with.  Worriedly, Hannah takes herself to a gynecologist for an STD test, even though she and Adam always use condoms. Episode three, which airs Sunday night, will disclose the results of her exam. Judging by the preview, it looks like Hannah has, in fact, contracted a disease. (See here for an Episode 3 preview).

 

Similarly, in two separate episodes on Sex and the City, Samantha and Miranda also faced this dilemma. Samantha’s results for HIV were negative, but Miranda tested positive for Chlamydia.  These plots show the importance of testing for diseases, but Sex and the City has an underlying message that the people who contract STDs have unprotected sex with numerous sexual partners like Samantha and Miranda. Hannah, on the other hand, always uses contraception and has stated that her history of sexual encounters were with “two and a half men.” Although she performs safe sex and has only had a couple of mates, she still catches a disease.  

Girls highlights the fact that women are still prone to STDs, in spite of performing safe sexual practices. This is in no way an indication that contraception is useless, but this story sheds light on a topic that many people, especially young women are unaware and can learn from.

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