This week’s episode of Girls began with two characters, Adam and his new girlfriend Natalia, about to have sex for the first time. Natalia tells him she’s ready to have sex, and, as he approaches her, says that, ““I’m on the pill, but will you come outside of me, just in case? I don’t like to be on top that much. Or soft touching, because it tickles me and takes me out of the moment. But everything else is OK.”
Whereupon, a friend of mine rolled their eyes and pointed out that this was incredibly unsexy, because you’re, “Just supposed to figure that stuff out.” And I agreed. It seemed like laying out exactly what you liked and didn’t like beforehand would ruin some of the fun exploration that can accompany having sex with someone for the first time. But then, I also admitted, it’s hard to “Just figure that stuff out.”
The scene ends with Adam saying that “I like how clear you are with me” and Natalia replying “What other way is there?”
Well, turns out there is another way, and it’s awful.
By the end of the episode, Adam drunkenly tells Natalia to crawl across his apartment to the bedroom – something she’s distinctly unenthusiastic about, pointing out that there are probably nails around. He then throws her on the bed and tells her he wants to fuck her from behind. She says numbly that she hasn’t showered that day. When he begins masturbating on her she mutters “not on the dress.” Afterwards, she murmurs “I really didn’t like that.”
It was one of the most uncomfortable sex scenes I’ve ever seen. There are a lot of women pointing out that it was hot and sexy, because they like that kind of sex, but the point of the scene was not, “Is domineering sex fun?” The point of the scene was that things happened in bed that left a girl very unhappy. You can argue that sort of sex is fun, easily, but you can’t argue that it was fun for this girl in this context. There is no doubt in any viewer’s mind about that.
Judging from the number of people wondering if Adam is a rapist, I was not alone in that sense.
However, Natalia doesn’t do a lot of the things we expect someone being raped to do. She doesn’t struggle, she doesn’t try to get away, she even goes along with it, saying “OK” numbly, and pulling down her top. She just looks intensely miserable as she does so. And, Adam doesn’t touch her softly, or come inside of her, or do any of the things she initially said she did not like doing. In spite of that, it turns out that everything else was not OK, or, really, even close to okay.
Natalia is pretty clearly not feeling OK during that scene. But, again, she does not say to stop. She is not completely clear on that. Some of our intense discomfort with that scene – and I don’t think anyone can watch it without finding it uncomfortable – may come down, again, to the fact that in sex you are “just supposed to figure that stuff out.” That is to say, the stuff that your partner is enjoying and the stuff they are not enjoying.
We feel that because we know that someone is supposed to be paying attention to you during the sex act. They may not be paying enough attention to figure out stuff it’s hard to figure out, like the fact that someone is not entirely enthusiastic about being on top. However, they should certainly be paying the bare minimum of attention that allows them to tell whether or not you are hating every minute of that act.. Having a partner who can tell whether or not you are hating something – when that is clear to everyone viewing the scene – seems reasonable. A failure to do that may not make you a rapist, but it certainly makes you a truly terrible sexual partner.
Adam may not be a rapist, but he sure is an asshole.
Picture via Girls/HBO