That Sauna Sex Scene From Girls Was Really Uncomfortable

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
While Girls has featured groundbreaking sex, thus far that sex has been pretty heteronormative. That's changing. In last night's episode, Hannah (Lena Dunham), while on a retreat with her mother, has sex with a female yoga instructor. But, as is par for the course with Girls, this is not a blissfully liberating experience for Hannah. Instead, it's emotionally fraught and physically uncomfortable.

Hannah is miserable on the retreat. Outdoor activities aren't really her thing. As she endures terrible food and corny trust exercises, she's grappling with the possibility of her parents divorcing and her own unsatisfying relationship with Fran (Jake Lacy). She's also pissed about the no-phones policy, which she keeps flouting. The spandex-clad instructor (Lena Hall) jumps to Hannah's defense after Hannah gets into a phone-related argument with another employee. Hall's character is flirtatious — she calls Hannah "luscious" — and seems to have an appealingly no-bullshit attitude. She tells Hannah, "This weekend shouldn't be about someone jamming something down your throat. If you're not into it, then fuck it." When Hannah explains her troubles with "nice guy" Fran, the woman declares: "Fuck nice. Nice is a mask angry people wear to hide their inner assholes." It's everything Hannah wants to hear.

So when they go for some one-on-one stretching in a sauna, Hannah takes the initiative and goes in for a kiss. "You know, I've actually never had sex with a woman before. I mean, I've done other stuff," Hannah says. "I went to Oberlin so I'm not, like, a monster. But my dad's gay so there might be a genetic —" The instructor interrupts her: "I've never slept with a student before."

Even from the outset, Hannah seems tentative. But when the show checks back in with them, the mood has turned sour. Being a sauna, it's ridiculously hot; and Hannah's head is between the instructor's legs. Hannah wants to stop, but the woman insists she's close to finishing and tries to force Hannah's head down. So much for the mantra, "If you're not into it, then fuck it." Hannah extricates herself, and the woman begins to masturbate. Immediately after she orgasms, her cries of ecstasy turn into tears. Hannah watches with her face contorted into something resembling confusion and disgust.

It's easy to see why Hannah pursues the encounter. Her relationship back home is going poorly. She's questioning her own identity in light of her father's coming out. She has always considered herself sexually adventurous. But the sex is anything but empowering, and her partner is not a free-spirited, "you do you," green-juice-swiller. She's someone who is clearly going through her own shit.

This isn't the first gay sex scene on the show. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) has sex with a woman (Danielle Brooks) at rehab during the third season, and in last week's episode, there is one between Elijah (Andrew Rannells) and his new boyfriend Dill (Corey Stoll). But, for the most part, the show has portrayed heterosexual relationships and the sex that goes with them. That has meant confronting the gray area of consent in sex between men and women. Now, the series is showing that those blurry lines also exist in same-sex partnerships. The instructor's attempts to physically coerce Hannah into continuing and ignoring her wish to stop turns awkward sex into sex that violates. The scene falls in line with Girls' dedication to showing how messy, bad, and ugly sex can be in all kinds of scenarios. However, it does make me hope that they'll continue to show Hannah exploring the fluidity of her sexuality without such demoralizing results.
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