Interview: The stars of HBO Max’s “The Sex Lives of College Girls” talk patriarchy, sex and stigma

The series’ actresses share their personal experiences and how the show tackles the awkwardness of youth

Official+poster+for+The+Sex+Lives+of+College+Girls

Official poster for “The Sex Lives of College Girls”

By James Rosales, Assistant Arts Editor

In December, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian was invited by HBO Max to a roundtable interview with the cast of “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” alongside other student journalists. During the roundtable, each journalist was allotted time for one question, and I was able to delve deeper into the disconnect between fantasy and reality regarding sex .

HBO Max’s “The Sex Lives of College Girls” is a new teen dramedy under producer Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project,” “Never Have I Ever”) that follows a diverse group of young women as they navigate new life at prestigious New England college, while social pressures and hormones fuel new mistakes. Members of the cast who participated in this interview are Pauline Chalamet (“Kimberly,”) Amrit Kaur (“Bela,”) Reneé Rapp (“Leighton,”) and Alyah Chanelle Scott (“Whitney.”)

Massachusetts Daily Collegian: “In the show there’s this trope of the girls naively romanticizing sex and later realizing their experiences weren’t at all what they expected. Why do you think it’s important to show young people this disconnect between expectation and reality when it comes to sexual experiences? It is almost as if this can be validating and reaffirming for these young viewers.”

Amrit Kaur: “Going for [my character] Bella, she’s only had sex once so she has a slight idea of what sex is. I remember being 18 and having fantasies of what sex was. And for Bella specifically, she wasn’t getting as much attraction [from others] earlier on [in life] because she had a different body type. She was everything she was insecure about, but now she has this new body. She’s very excited and as a result, is getting a lot of attention and because she has had so many insecurities, she’s hopping on every opportunity. I think that’s a true experience that I relate to in many ways as well.”

Alyah Chanelle Scott: “Sadly, I grew up with little to no explanation of what sex was. The only information I had was from my friends who were having sex. And I think we were so young that those people were spinning their stories of sex and trying to make them into something else because they were embarrassed. And you have all these ideas that are fed to you, either from porn or from your friends who are maybe not being honest and truthful about sex. In your mind, you tell yourself sex will be like this one thing, or it will feel like this other thing. And most of the time it doesn’t happen like that or feel like any of those things, but you are so young, you don’t know what’s happening.

I think there’s so much shame and embarrassment and lack of information surrounding sex at that specific age, and you go into it with false expectations. I like seeing this play out on the show, seeing how it all sort of falls apart for each character while getting into these messy relationships.

For my character, Whitney, she’s in this relationship with this older guy who may know about sex. This is so affirming for her, even though she knows this relationship is not the right place for her to be. I think this is a great question. I think it’s something our show does explore and can explore even more, hopefully in upcoming seasons.”

Reneé Rapp: “So much of sex in media or at least media from when I was a young kid exists to service the male gaze. It’s always very one-sided and very heteronormative. By nature of getting older, we begin to understand that a lot of the times what we see [in media] about sex is to serve very specific evils. I think what you brought up in your question that’s really, really important is the idea of expectations in the society in which we live in.

Pauline Chalamet: “You know, we do live in a patriarchal society. And that means there are specific expectations that both sides [in a heterosexual relationship] have, and then there’s learned expectations too. It’s a two-person game. I’m hoping that in season two, we’re also able to explore the male side of things. And then on the female side, I hope we can continue to explore what the expectations are of them and how these expectations are communicated. James, I think your idea of “expectations” is a very interesting one that I hope we get to explore on the show.”

New episodes of the first season of “The Sex Lives of College Girls” are streaming now on HBO Max. A second season aims to premiere in 2022.

James Rosales can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @imjamesrosa.