The Role of Communication in Satisfying Sex: What HBO’s “Girls” Can Teach Us

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*Spoiler Alert, Trigger Warning, and Sexually Explicit Language*

Amidst all of the gushing from my friends and the Internet, I finally gave in this weekend and binged on the full two seasons of Girls. I think I have a love/hate relationship with the show. I want to slap Hannah, Shoshanna, Marnie, and Jessa one minute, and the next, I’m in love. It’s sort of exhausting, and I don’t know if I love the show or hate it, but I digress. The Internet was abuzz a couple of weeks ago about episode nineteen, “On All Fours.” The prevailing question around the episode is: did Adam rape Natalia, or was it just, as one reviewer puts it, “exceedingly uncomfortable sex?”

I watched the scene in question a few times, and I read a smattering of reviews. I’m not going to tell anyone that the scene isn’t rape, because I think doing so dismisses some serious feelings about sexual assault and a person’s perceptions of consent. So if you want an answer to the “was it rape?” question, you will have to go elsewhere. What I did see in the episode is two people who don’t communicate their sexual desires/preferences, and the result is unsatisfying, uncomfortable sex, and that’s an important observation, because we shouldn’t be having sex if we can’t talk about it.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the sexcapades in the episode:

Natalia tells Adam that she is ready to have sex for the first time after about a week of dating. They start to makeout on her bed, she stops him and says, “I’m on the pill, but will you come outside of me, just in case?” and “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.” They proceed and the viewer (at least this viewer) doesn’t grapple with any ethical questions. She expresses desire, lays out some boundaries, he shows her appreciation for the clarity, “I like how clear you are with me,” and they get down.

The second sexual dalliance isn’t so purdy.

After a night of drinking (Adam is in recovery for alcoholism and just drank away a sobriety date that he had since 17), the two go back to Adam’s place. He tells Natalia to get on all fours and crawl to the bedroom. She consents, albeit reluctantly, and asks “Okay, so um, what is it you’re going for exactly?” He picks her up off of the ground, tosses her on the bed and tells her what he is going for, “I want to fuck you from behind, hit the walls with you.” She consents. Adam proceeds to perform oral sex on her, which she does not consent to, and he ignores (which is unequivocally unacceptable). After a moment, he stops performing oral sex and starts having vaginal sex with her, then pulls out and starts masturbating over the top of her. She says, “No, no, no, no, not on my dress!” and pulls the dress down. Adam ejaculates on her chest and clumsily wipes her off with a shirt.

Adam sits down beside her afterward and Natalia says, “I don’t think I like that. I, like, really didn’t like that.” Adam apologizes, saying, “I don’t know what came over me.”

I want to articulate as clearly as I can that the sex in the scene is not what I consider a healthy interaction between two people. One person felt uncomfortable, and the other person didn’t respond to those nonverbal cues with a change in pace. That is shitty. However, I think there are some valuable lessons in the episode, and no, I’m not saying that his actions in the bedroom are somehow Natalia’s fault.  I am saying that–ideally– if the two of them sat down in a non-sexual, non-threatening situation and hashed out some of their personal tendencies, and seriously discussed consent, none of the discomfort would have happened.

Here’s how I imagine the situation unfolding if there was proper communication beforehand and during:

(Earlier in the day over BLTs.) Adam, “Hey, I’m into aggressive sex where my partner plays the submissive role. I like name-calling, a bit of humiliation, and coming on various parts of my partner’s body.”  Natalia, “I’m not really into name-calling, and I’m fine with you ejaculating on my chest, just ask first, and please don’t do it on my clothes. Also, I like nibbling, and if I say ‘stop’ you better do it or I won’t let your dick anywhere near me.” And in a perfect world, Adam would be like, “Okay, cool.”

(That night.) Adam, “Get on all fours.” Now, in this context there is some background knowledge (see above), and that demand isn’t so god damn scary! Ideally, he doesn’t perform oral sex without consent, because he respects her boundaries, and knows where it is cool to ejaculate. They both orgasm because it isn’t uncomfortable.

OR.

“Get on all fours.” Natalia, “Not tonight, Adam. I’m not in the mood.” END SCENE.

Voila! Just the tiniest bit of  conversation can completely transform sexual experiences!

Okay, forget Adam and Natalia for just a second.  Don’t you think that two people who want to have sex with each other should sit down and talk about sex?! And not just once, because sexuality is fluid, and you should be in constant dialogue with your sexual partner about boundaries. You don’t have to bust out a PowerPoint every time your feelings on anal sex shift, but you should lay down some ground rules, build up some trust and some comfort. So when someone says, “I’d like you to wear this latex suit,” you can answer in a way that makes you comfortable.

Whether you think Adam raped Natalia or not, I think we can all agree that Girls shows its audience the valuable role communication has in sex. Sex without proper communication is uncomfortable, and sometimes it is scary. If you can’t look at your partner outside of the bedroom and share your sexual fantasies, boundaries, and fears, then you should stop having sex with them, because let’s face it: It’s only uncomfortable crawling on all fours when it’s for a stranger whom you don’t feel comfortable with.

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