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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’ cast tells it how it is

The California Aggie and other college campus publications met the show’s four protagonists over Zoom to discuss underrepresented truths of the female experience in college

By ALLIE BAILEY — arts@theaggie.org

Warning: The following contains spoilers about the TV show “The Sex Lives of College Girls.”

Quotes from the interview have been edited for length and clarity.

The final episodes of “The Sex Lives of College Girls” premiered on HBO Max on Dec. 9, concluding a season full of navigating friendships, heartbreak, social stigma and of course, sex. 

From an inexperienced yet sex-positive daughter of conservative parents to a closeted, emotionally unavailable rich girl, the show delves into the personal lives and the sexual desires of four young roommates from various backgrounds. Each is entering freshman year with their own set of ambitions and hardships, making for a captivating, if slightly exaggerated, depiction of what it’s like for young women to start college. 

The title, while perhaps jarring at first, is blunt for a reason: It reminds us that in the media, we don’t see complex, intelligent collegiate women who are also sexual for purposes other than pleasing men. What’s missing, as is the case with most other topics on screen, is a look through the female gaze, where the sex lives of college girls transcend sexed-up sorority sisters and drunken, barely-consensual nights out. 

And the cast agrees. When The Daily Bruin asked about changing the status quo around discussing women having sex, Renee Rapp, who plays Leighton, said “I think it starts the conversation, whether that be a positive conversation or not,” she said. “There are so many different conversations around sex and around identities and how those coincide. I love the fact that there’s so much more room to keep going [on the show].”

Alyah Chanelle Scott, who plays Whitney, shared how a show like this could help young people build healthier relationship with sex: “I think also just demystifying the idea of women having sex and young women having sex and not oversexualizing us just because we’re women having sex — we’re people,” she said. “And just removing the shame around it… I wish I had been able to see something like this growing up to help me deal with that. Take the shame out of it, and let it be sex.”

In answering a question asked byThe Massachusetts Daily Collegian about how expectations differ from reality in sexual situations, Scott said, “There’s so much shame and embarrassment and lack of information surrounding sex at that age that you go into it with false expectations.”

Rapp continued: “For the longest time, when I was having sex, I never felt empowered to [say] ‘this is me in this space, this is what I want and need’… and I always [felt like] I needed to sit back and hope that the other person [was] happy… now that’s changed, just by nature of getting older and understanding a lot of the times what we see about sex is to service a very specific evil.”

The show also doesn’t shy away from some the hardest topics to discuss when it comes to sex. Notably, one of the main characters experiences sexual assault and harassment by someone in a club she’s a part of. The Aggie asked about why it was important to include that in a show about college women’s sex lives, and what the cast hoped people could take away from the depiction of that experience. 

 “I think what’s beautiful in Bela’s journey is that in this situation, what she’s experiencing is gray; it’s in the gray area,” Amrit Kaur, who plays Bela, said. “That can often be challenging because there’s so many triggers and history and traumas related to that… I thought it was sensitive and very brave of the writers to explore the gray area.”

In response to the idea of the assault falling in this gray area, Rapp added: “I like that it’s acknowledged that it is sexual assault on the show,” she said. “To see it called out as what it is is very powerful.” 

Pauline Chalamet, who plays Kimberly, also shared thoughts on the differences in how people can react to an assault. “There are so many nuances in the aftermath of sexual assault,” she said. “We accept it as assault, but then the nuance comes in — what does it mean for this character to be going through this? That’s one of the things I love most about the show, is that predicament.” 

Through their willingness to share personal experiences about sex and how they relate to their characters, the cast proved to be as open as the show was in discussion these topics, contributing to the greater goal of destigmatizaiton of women’s sexuality. Between the storyline, the characters and the actors themselves, “The Sex Lives of College Girls” is paving the way for a shift in how we view women and sex, starting with an authentic perspective, straight from the source. 

“I could hear the female writers in the writing,” Kaur said. “It’s nice to have [them] writing about female sexuality, that’s empowering the female voice.” 

Written by: Allie Bailey — arts@theaggie.org


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