A few years ago, a friend emailed me a link to a video of two men having sex. It wasn’t porn, but rather, a bit of, er, performance art meant to highlight the difference between making love and fucking. In the montage of clips, a gay male couple alternated between kissing tenderly and passionately and fucking furiously.
In the kissing sequences, the focus of each guy was clearly on his partner, with an overall emphasis on the symbiotic relationship between giving and receiving erotic pleasure. In the intercourse sequences, it was all me, me, me. If each guy hadn’t been attached to the other by the genitals, I might have thought each one was completely alone. It was almost like masturbation for two.
For me, the montage was a dead-accurate representation of the two sides of sex: making love and fucking. It’s the merger of the two — the emotional depth of making love and the physical sensation of fucking — that leads to the most mind- (and body-) blowing sex. But that’s so rare. Having watched very little gay porn in my lifetime, I’m no expert, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen two gay porn characters fucking and kissing at the same time, which is perhaps the one dead-accurate reflection of reality there.
Although the theme of the installation was stating the obvious — making love is about emotions, fucking is all actions — the way it depicted both acts, side by side, brought to mind so many of my own hang-ups about sex, how the anticipation and the aftermath (foreplay and afterglow) are often preferable to what comes between them. Just think about the phrase “fucking like rabbits.” How unappealing. Who wants to do anything like rabbits? In the bedroom, I’ll take emotions over actions any day or night.
I kept thinking about those two guys screwing in that video last night while I was watching the latest episode of Girls, first while Marnie and Charlie were getting it on at the office party. I don’t find scenes of people having sex on office tables particularly erotic, but it’s not like I haven’t been seeing them for years on daytime TV dramas like The Young and the Restless. It’s not the way I’d prefer to have sex with an ex, but I know, it happens.
I can say with fair certainty, however, that I’ve never seen a sex scene begin with a man asking a woman to get down on all fours. The sex between Adam and Hannah may have been all kinds of degrading (for Hannah), but we were usually spared most of the grimier visual details. This sequence, featuring Adam and his new girlfriend Natalia, spared us nothing, taking us on the entire journey, from her crawling doggystyle (at his request — no, demand) to the bedroom to Adam’s semen splattered across Natalia’s naked chest.
(Hannah’s scenes with the Q-tip were hard to watch, too, but mostly because I’ve been suffering from a painful ear infection for nearly a week. How can such a small body part cause such a great big pain in the… ear? P.S. The actress who plays Hannah’s mom is BRILLIANT.)
Looking at Adam vs. Natalia (it was definitely more “vs.” than “and”) play out with my jaw hanging on my lap, I almost felt like I was watching a rape scene. There was a hint of the potential for violence, mostly due to Adam’s stern tone and brusque bedside manner. Though the woman wasn’t putting up a fight, she was struggling on the inside. Clearly, Natalia was torn between her affection for Adam and her disgust over the way he was treating her. I’d never been particularly impressed by Shiri Appleby as an actress, but I think she played these scenes perfectly.
The stark contrast to Shoshanna’s description of her comparatively chaste closet tryst with the doorman in the previous episode — “I held the doorman’s hand,” she confessed to Ray — was an interesting touch (how clever to arrange the sequences one after the other), as were the parallels and differences between Adam and Natalia’s second time and their first time, earlier in the episode, when Natalia mechanically instigated it. There was nothing sexy about her instructions, but at least when they kissed it was kind of hot, and they seemed to be genuinely into each other.
Sex is so complicated, and with so many sexual styles/hang-ups, it’s a wonder that any two people ever come together and enjoy each other’s sexual company. That’s where emotions and feelings come in and change everything. They lift sex to a higher level, where techniques and styles and hang-ups matter less. On the ground floor, where the bed is, I still prefer Natalia’s approach, unsexy as it may have been. It was laced with insecurity, but I’d rather go to bed with that than all of Adam’s hostility.
By the time Adam was hovering over Natalia, his deed done, I thought that maybe I’d blinked and was now watching gay porn. In a sense, he was only doing what she said she wanted him to do before their first time — being clear with her, coming outside of her, just in case — but he did it with a complete lack of tenderness and affection.
Something about the entire exchange felt so familiar — the way Adam relieved himself on her bare breasts, in particular — though I’d never seen a straight man do anything like that on TV. It was something you’d expect to see in boy-on-boy videos with titles like Thrill Ride — which I don’t regularly watch. Even raging sex-addict Brandon (Michael Fassbender) in Shame — the 2011 film whose title can refer to the disgrace one feels just after ejaculation, or how we’re supposed to feel about anonymous sex — didn’t do it with so little regard for whom he was doing.
It all seemed so familiar, too familiar, because Adam has sex the way gay men talk about it on Grindr, when it’s all about the act, not the feeling, when they’re not afraid to make it clear that you’re just a body, not a person, even before they actually meet you. The way some guys approach casual, anonymous sex on Grindr or anywhere on the Internet (and, by extension, in real life these days), it almost seems like a dare — think Rihanna turning the tables in “Rude Boy” — with a hint of anger and danger. That kind of casual sex isn’t about fun, a word that, ironically, recently has become a new gay euphemism for no-strings sex. It’s all about technique, size and getting off as expediently as possible. It has nothing to do with human connection. Though Adam referred to Natalia as his girlfriend earlier in the episode, he was treating her like a one-night stand he’d never have to see again, a few notches up from a whore. That’s no “fun.”
Girls has tried to shock me many times in the six months since I watched if for the first time. Last night was the first time it actually succeeded. It took one of my favorite characters (one who represents the id of gay men every bit as much as Samantha Jones did on Sex and the City) and in the space of a few minutes, turned him into the show’s primary emotional villain. I’m not sure if I’ll even be able to look at him next week. Which is how I imagine Natalia will feel in the morning.