What HBO’s “Girls” Gets Right About Sex and Intimacy

In HBO’s “Girls,” currently wrapping up its second season, 26 year old writer, director, and actor Lena Dunham offers a refreshing – if sometimes painful to watch – view of female sexuality.  Unlike the glossy, airbrushed twentysomethings who headline most sitcoms, Dunham cuts a disheveled, average-sized figure – and she’s not afraid to bare it.  In the search for intimacy and connection, Dunham’s Hannah Horvath is willing to try almost anything with almost any specimen of man.

Despite the amount of nudity and sex in the sitcom, I believe “Girls” actually provides a more honest view of human sexuality than most shows on tv do. The thoughtful answers Dunham gave in an interview with Playboy this week demonstrate what I mean. Asked about how many times Millennials think you can sleep with someone before the relationship is no longer casual, she replied that it’s wrong to expect all women to be able to have casual, meaningless sex:

Millennial men and women could stand to know that not everyone wants just casual affairs, even though there’s a lot of pressure to have sex and not care—and when you’re a woman it’s supposed to be a triumph when you can do that. I try to never push that methodology on Girls. I believe people want to be connected in an intense human way, but it’s getting lost in the shuffle.

Too often, tv shows and movies try to sell us on the idea that sex with a beautiful person will bring happiness and fulfillment. In “Girls,” Dunham ably exposes that idea for the lie that it is, while admitting that a desire for intimacy is integral to being human.

Frankly, in its desire to encourage purity before marriage, the church is often complicit with mainstream media in this throning of sex, focusing on purity, modesty, and marriage as an ultimate goal far more than Jesus did.  The church is occasionally just as guilty as television is of allowing porn culture to influence expectations in the marriage bed, too (yes, Mark Driscoll and your “Can We_____?” chapter, I’m looking at you.)

While we should continue to acknowledge the human desire for connection, and to argue against the commodification and objectification of women in media, Dunham is poised to effect change in media’s depictions of sex and gender better than any marriage book, doctoral thesis, or documentary could.  She has the ear of a generation who values authenticity, and she’s speaking truth about the ways that hook-up culture fails to satisfy. To be successful, she’s going to need to let her characters grow up a bit, start to make a few mature decisions, and stop the fixated search for sex.  If she can do that, she might succeed in changing a whole generation’s view of sex.  Dunham’s not perfect, but I, for one, am glad to have her as a voice of my generation.

About Amy Lepine Peterson

Amy Lepine Peterson teaches ESL Writing and American Pop Culture at Taylor University, but spends most of her time making a home in the cornfields for her best-friend-husband and two (frankly adorable) children. Look for her with a french press of coffee and a book or a screen, plus a little one on her lap, thinking about education, mothering, theology, tv, movies, music, and sustainable habits of living.

  • https://charityjilldenmark.wordpress.com Charity Erickson

    Agreed. I loved the end of the season finale — as a person who has struggled with codependency, it struck me as devastatingly honest. I was floored by the final image of sweetness and comfort between the two people on the show who are the MOST WORST for each other, rescuing each other from the challenges of adult living (the good, positive challenges that lead to growth and change). Hmm. That’s some intense stuff. Great article, Amy.


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