• Tue, 5, May, 2020 - 5:00:AM

Why the sex in Normal People is so damn hot

Normal People Trailer (Official) • A Hulu Original / YouTube

You probably don’t want to watch Normal People with your mum.

If possible, Normal People, which is streaming in full on TVNZ OnDemand, is best viewed by yourself. Or with a partner. Normal People isn’t casual viewing.

Which isn’t to say the material is heavy. If anything, the material is soft. The characters are soft. The plot is soft. Normal People, both the book and the miniseries, speaks to the beauty of a simple thing, done well.

When I read Sally Rooney’s bestseller last year, I recommended it to everyone. When people asked me what it was about, I told them I couldn't remember. Which was true. As I watched the BBC/Hulu production recently (in one sitting, just like everybody else) I couldn’t remember how it ended. 

Instead, I marvelled at how closely the bougie lunch in Italy matched the image I'd created in my head. Ditto the cold brutality of Sweden. In my reading of it, Normal People, the book, was about moments more than plot. Images more than action.

The television series, however, is clearly about sex.

Despite being a show about two people who suck at communicating, Marianne and Connell give fantastic sex talk. The show’s first sex scene, which takes place in episode 2, and lasts for over 5 minutes, includes the words, ‘is that okay’, ‘do you like that’ and (be still my beating heart) ‘if it hurts we can stop, it won’t be awkward’.  

As the show goes on, and the on-again, off-again pair have sex with other people, we begin to see how rare this level of sexual communication really is. Marianne, in particular, endures a lot of shit. The sex she shares with Jamie, and then Philip in Sweden, is the kind of sex a lot of us have experienced. It’s not assault, exactly, but neither is it particularly enjoyable. It’s uncommunicative sex. The kind of sex where you're not sure they'd stop if you asked. So you don't say anything.

It makes it all the sweeter when Marianne and Connell jump back in the sack.

The sex the couple shares is sweaty, intimate, awkward, and gorgeous. And the show, directed by Hettie MacDonald and Lenny Abrahamson, nails (ahem) its portrayal.

Much of the credit, it seems, is owed to Ita O’Brien, the production’s Intimacy Coordinator.

That’s right, in the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s fall, Intimacy Coordinators have become all the more commonplace on film sets. Intimacy Coordinators are there to safely choreograph sex scenes. They’re there to gauge an actor’s comfort. They’re there, well, to coordinate intimacy. I’m thrilled to hear that such a job exists, and it only saddens me to think of the decades worth of sex scenes filmed without their guidance. In particular, I recall Salma Hayek, forced by Harvey Weinstein to shoot a gratuitous and unnecessary lesbian sex scene, on the set of the film Frida.  

It’s a small but merciful justice that his downfall is encouraging their presence.

Normal People is exquisite. It will sweep next year’s awards season, and almost certainly make stars of its leads.

I also hope it sets a new sexual benchmark. Both onscreen and off. 


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