By Debbie Shamir
We don’t tend to tune into television shows based on how much sexual content they involve, although sometimes it can be an interesting addition. Normal People has 41 minutes dedicated entirely to sex with different partners, various settings and multiple positions. These portrayals, however, feel a little different to most I have seen before. They are wonderfully choreographed by an intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien, who manages to provide us with what feels like one of the first real and honest representations of young people attempting to navigate their way around the bedroom.
Paul Mescal (Connell) and Daisy Edgar-Jones (Marianne) create a sexual dynamic which manages to defy the norms we see so often on our screens. Female nudity is not at the front of every camera shot, nor is male pleasure the dominant aspect of each scene in this TV adaptation. Marianne does not shy away from expressing what she wants, nor does the camera neglect moments of her enjoying herself.
The beauty of these scenes come from their imperfection. The awkward fumbles and the sudden pauses all add to their authenticity. They feel so intimate precisely because we feel we can relate so strongly to each sexual encounter between Marianne and Connell.
Such simple acts, such as asking for a condom or checking if one another are feeling comfortable seem like basic additions, but are often omitted from popular portrayals of sex. It might seem like a harmless oversight, but its impact is profound. It creates false ideas for real life. It suggests that these things are not necessary, that creating the perfect moment and situation is more important than feeling comfortable or safe during sex.
The space that sex occupies within the show feels intentional. It does not seem like sex for the sake of sex. These scenes are skilfully placed to illustrate moments of incredible intimacy, but also challenged our pre-existing ideas about the sex we see on screens. Its importance is also symbolic. Sex is an enormous part of young relationships and its prominence in the show reflects that.
The scenes are also an extremely powerful tool, used to shed light on the female experience. Daisy Edgar-Jones beautifully depicts a woman struggling with her belittled self-worth, of which I feel most women can identify with in some form. These manifest in her relationships, first with the show’s villain Jamie, and then Swedish photographer, Lukas. Her sexual submission against these characters speak volumes about the way in which sex can act as manifestations of our own perceptions of ourselves. Likewise, it can work the opposite way, our perception of ourselves can be heavily shaped by our sexual practices. Every sexual choice we make, which partners, how many of them, the frequency at which we have it, has a consequence or a connotation. Marianne manages to tap into countless uniquely female insecurities about sex that are so profound precisely because they are so subtle.
We might not be watching Normal People solely for the sex, but it’s certainly a considerable factor.