Is Our Hookup Culture Really That Awkward?

Girls, the new HBO series by indie favorite Lena Dunham, is coming out soon — and comedy emperor Judd Apatow is a producer, which means the show is going to be either a mega hit of gargantuan proportions or a cult favorite everybody suddenly loves and knows all about seven years after it gets canceled. And while it might turn out to be a good show, I’m really worried that Dunham is subversively destroying young females’ self-esteem by portraying characters that are designed to relate to young women, but in reality, only tear down their egos and replace them with bundles of undeserved neuroses that make them think that sex sucks.

Think I’m exaggerating? Well, if you’ve seen Tiny Furniture, you’ve seen how horrible sex can be for a smart and quirky rich girl. And if you’ve read any of the interviews Dunham has given about her upcoming series, you know you’re in store for lots and lots of awwwwkard sex.

In one interview, Dunham said that she hopes Girls will be an accurate depiction of the sex lives of women her age, adding “I can always promise awkward sex — not sex in a pipe, but I won’t disappoint you. It’s still cringe-worthy.”

In a NY Times interview, Dunham said: “It was so important to me that there could be a girl who was confident but sex made her incredibly anxious, or a girl who respected herself but was using sex to push boundaries to understand herself better.”

Dunham’s co-star, Allison Williams, added: “By the way, as an actor, it’s a lot easier to film awkward sex scenes than really sexy ones.”

Jenni Konnor, an executive producer of Girls, said, “We have a lot of sex on the show and most of it is bad. We are trying to make truthful sex scenes about women who are young and inexperienced, with men who are young and inexperienced, and what that looks like.”

And on January 12, Dunham tweeted: “Hey @DonaldGlover! @campsucks and I are coming for you. Hope you like awkward sex (scenes)!”

I have no clue what that tweet was in reference to, but it indicates to me that Dunham has a thing about awkward sex.

So what’s with all this awkward sex that “real” women in their 20s seem to be having? I realize that sex can be a funny thing in general, especially when you’re young. It can be loving, meaningless, dirty, beautiful — sometimes all at the same time. But awkward? Twenty-somethings having sex can be a lot of things, but awkward should be far down the list. We’re too horny. When all you want to do is screw, there’s no time for awkwardness.

However, I’m a 20-something straight man, so my natural ignorance might make me unaware of a serious epidemic of awkward banging going on. For all I know, there are thousands of hipsters trying to get their groove on, but they keep tripping over their American Apparel hoodies and getting tangled up in their own self-introspection. Maybe when it comes time to engage in penetration, the 20-something would-be lovers get an irresistible urge to reflect on what they are doing and, as a result, end up not doing it. Maybe the sexual awkwardness is so prevalent in our culture, it can only be explained by a de-evolution of the human race, since the most natural act we can do — at a time of our sexual peak — is becoming too hard (no pun intended) to do.

While bad sex in your 20s happens, I have my doubts it is as common as the makers of Girls seem to believe. And yes, I know that somewhere, a girl I had sex with is reading this and thinking, “Uhhh… sex with you was totally awkward, Ray. Don’t you remember all the crying and revelations about what you do with mango peels?”

But that is neither here nor there, Carol.

I am concerned that Hollywood’s depiction of sex is going from unrealistic romance and passion to exaggerated awkwardness. And this can have a similar, if not more damaging effect on the image of sex. While the over-romanticized sex of Hollywood’s past probably gave many young people unreasonable expectations of what to expect, this new “sex is awkward” theme that they’re projecting seems just as disingenuous. Just because sex might have been awkward for a few people who have been lucky enough to pen their own TV series, does that mean we should be marked as a sexually awkward generation?

Look, I have a lot of problems with my generation: we’re selfish, pretentious, and superficial. But one thing I like about us is that we’re the coolest sexual generation there has ever been in quite a while.

Think about it: interracial sex is totally cool, homosexual sex hasn’t been as publicly accepted since probably Greek times, and premarital sex is pretty much obligatory. All the boundaries that were set in stone merely a few decades ago are gone and we’re a lot freer than we were. And it’s my belief that we’re better at sex — not more awkward. How do I know we’re better at it? Because there are cool sex toy stores like Babeland that have helped make it acceptable and even praiseworthy to make sex better for you and your partner with the help of fun-colored inanimate objects. That’s progress!

In short, we’re a kinky generation — and we should be applauded for it. If there’s one positive thing I can say about us, it’s that we’re good at sex because we do it so much, in all kinds of ways, with all kinds of people. So why is sex among 20-somethings suddenly being depicted as “bad” and “cringe-worthy?”

A single episode of Girls hasn’t come out yet, so I’m obviously not criticizing the show itself. It might be smart, funny, and mostly true. But I do criticize the concept of sexual 20-somethings being awkward, which has been hyped by the show’s creators and the HBO machine. And while the show might end up being good, weird sexual depictions aside, I have this weird, nagging suspicion that because somebody has had an awkward sex experience in her life, Judd Apatow has decided it’s a good way to appease women who think he’s sexist, but will only end up demonizing sex for young women and encourage them to believe that they are weird and sexually misunderstood — just like Lena Dunham’s character…

And then nobody will get laid. Thanks a lot, Judd Apatow. TC mark

image – Girls


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  • Aliinwonderland

    It’s not the act itself it’s what happens after i.e douchebags that put their foot in their mouth like you. So don’t worry you’ll still be getting laid  sir since that’s the real underlining worry rampant throughout this piece.

    • NR

      Whoa. You read a different piece to the one I did, clearly…

    • taylor alexis genella

      FOR RAY: And so what if a television show finally stands above the rest with real morality and pride? What’s wrong to be unlike idiotic television that portrays all women to be sluts (Jersey Shore)? Perhaps it’s best if the younger generation strays from sexual encounters. Read your own facts, sex before marriage is nearly obligatory. We’re straying from the traditional and respectable standards that our elders taught. I’m glad to see a show come up that doesn’t fit into this lacking social norm of constant meaningless sex. And watch your mouth, complaining about getting laid! Get a wife, at least a girlfriend, then worrying about your slut count wont matter! Shame on you, and to everyone that is falling into this unforgiveable hell of a society!

  • Andy Johnson

    damn son have you had dumb blackout sex? shit can be pretty cringe-worthy, ray

    • Ray Downs

       What’s dumb blackout sex?

    • Asdf

      Jebediah Springfield and your post instill a caustic juxtaposition in my brain.

  • Elise

    I completely agree with your (pre) assessment of
    this issue. I am really (REALLY) looking forward to this series, and actually
    quite looking forward to seeing some awkward sexual encounters, because I am
    sure Dunham will make them hilarious and endearing, but in no way do I think
    that all the sex depicted in this series should have to be depicted as awkward — because that would just not be
    accurate. But it is DEFINITELY safe to say that most 20-somethings have had at
    leasttttt one awkward sexual encounter.

  • Ohai

    I now really want to watch this. What can I watch instead NAO?

  • Carol

    Sorry to say this but only white people have awkward sex. For us people of color, its always amazing & mind blowing no matter how inexperienced we are! 

    • Alex Moschina

      Disagree. See Tommy Davidson in Booty Call.

    • Steph

      I’m sure we’re all individuals capable of interactions that are not defined by being of a certain race…

  • Aladin Sane

    Just what we need, another TV show / pretend indie movie about awkward white geeks and their love problems. NEEDS MORE SPACE LAZERS.

  • this

    The trailer makes me think this will be far more cringe-inducing and sad than real life needs to be…

  • Anonymous

    Good call on this actually. I really agreed with a lot of it. That’s part of why I enjoy Leslie Knope so much more than Liz Lemon (even though they both have said some weird stuff about having awkward sex lives). Awkward sex isn’t par for the course for young women and it’s weird to pretend it is.

    Edit: Maybe the thing to do is to encourage women to speak up when they’re not getting what they want or to stop sleeping with people who make it awkward?

  • Anonymous

    Really enjoyed reading this, Ray! “For
    all I know, there are thousands of hipsters trying to get their groove
    on, but they keep tripping over their American Apparel hoodies and
    getting tangled up in their own self-introspection.” Ha.

  • Marissa

     It’s a comedy show. Not like people take it that seriously.

  • June

    As a twenty something woman I find Dunham’s experiences and reactions to the expectations of sex to be pretty darn accurate. Don’t know about you, but I think her perspective might be a bit different from a dude.  There are pretty of women who are perfectly comfortable with sex and have great sex all the time, but you know, for some of us, it’s… awkward. 

  • Christina Carroll

    I would say that hookup culture is indeed awkward for those that want something more substantial than a hookup. 

  • Gabriela Anaid

    Let’s be real. Lena Dunham isn’t very cute. Her sex is probably awkward. I’m not saying ugly people can’t have great sex. I’m sure they can. I’m a twenty-something and haven’t had very awkward sexual moments.   If it’s going to be so awkward, why do it in the first place? 

    • Rose

      why do it in the first place? are you serious?

  • bee

    “In a NY Times interview, Dunham said: “It was so important to me that there could be a girl who was confident but sex made her incredibly anxious, or a girl who respected herself but was using sex to push boundaries to understand herself better.” ”

    This.  Though the sex may be great physically, the thoughts/emotions/internal-conflict is what can make it awkward.  A lot of us young women are told we are finally free to be sexually liberated, but what does that really mean?  Sometimes it feels like the message is “if you’re hot enough to take a guy to bed, ride him like a cowgirl, and make him come on your face, you’re liberated!” but what about those of us who have pushed our boundaries (I’m certainly the latter in the quote above), and discovered we don’t like certain things?  Does that mean we’re regressing?  Or that we are truly empowered?

    It’s just… awkward.

    • Rose

      oh thank god you’re hot enough. if you hadn’t had the looks to snag a man and have him come all over your pretty face I’d be concerned about the legitimacy of your statement. 

      when you don’t like something in bed you do this silly thing i like to call talking.  it’s kind of a new concept. the person who’s trying to get you off is usually pretty receptive to a little direction.  if they aren’t then you don’t fuck them anymore.  that’s why you’re liberated.  

      • nervous lady

        the talking can be awkward! and after the talking there comes the sex during which you (hopefully) implement the things you talked about, which can make you nervous. or at least, can make me nervous.

      • Meg

        She was referring to the first quote “a girl who respects herself but uses sex to push boundaries to understand herself better” not the second quote about being hot enough to take a guy to bed. 

  • Jenny Williamson

    Speaking from my own experience and the experiences of people I know, I think this is way more true for women than men.

  • Comrade Gringo

    Eh, I think it’s a goddamn legitimate question to ask, people: Is sex really systematically awkward?! I think not, even though everyone probably has had at least one or two drunken sloppy sessions they would prefer to be erased from the mind.

  • Elphie22

    Lena Dunham is a brilliant, emerging new writer and artist. If you knew her, you’d understand. It seems like you’re looking for issues in something that has no flaws. 

    • Ray Downs

      I’m not criticizing her or her work. I even kinda liked Tiny Furniture (and I tend to hate movies like that), which is why I was reading her interviews about her new show in the first place – I’m just questioning the concept of sex being “generally” awkward while in your 20’s.

  • 26yearoldawkwardgirl

    This does NOT apply to all women, but from my experience…

    Sex can be more awkward for women  than men. That’s why it doesn’t surprise me that a man wrote this. For men, as long as you’re following the basic movements of sex, it seems pretty great. For women, I think more goes into it as to whether it’s an enjoyable experience. Hence the 10+ magazines whose every cover is “Sex Tips Now! Enjoy Sex! The Ever-Elusive Vaginal Orgasm!” I know I’m generalizing, but it’s easier for men to enjoy sex than women. So yes, I’m sure most men can’t understand why drunk sloppy sex isn’t the only kind of awkward sex, but women might understand more. There are times when it just doesn’t feel min-shattering orgasmic, you know you aren’t going to climax from straight banging, and you’re thinking about other shit while it’s happening.

    I admit I’ve had sex like this. It’s not great, I could do things to improve it, I know, I know. I’m just pointing out that yes, awkward sex happens for people in their 20’s. Probably a lot more than men know.

    • 26yearoldawkwardgirl

      “Min-shattering” is my combination of mind-blowing and earth-shattering and typo. Awkward.

  • guest

    Though I tend to agree with you
    that it’s potentially damaging to depict sex as this uncomfortable act , I
    think you might have to consider the fact that our “hookup culture”
    is super awkward for girls.


    First off, I’d like to say that
    I’m speaking as a member of the university campus community, so my perspective
    is a little skewed. Yeah, we are a sexually cool age. But one night stands are
    rarely as rewarding for girls, they don’t usually provide a partner who is
    interested in fulfilling the girl. You say we’re a selfish, superficial
    generation? Bingo, you nailed it, and a lot of selfish sex going on. 


    There’s a fear of being labeled
    as needy and also a general disinterest in commitment. We seem to have
    come to a collective conclusion that the thing to do is fuck a lot of people we
    don’t care about and probably avoid being the first one to ever speak to them
    again. Girls are trained to want to be cool enough to be
    emotionally detached from sex, but for a lot of girls, good sex necessitates
    a level of comfort. Not saying a boyfriend, just someone who you feel safe enough
    with to be like, “hey, want to pull my hair?”..  


    It’s awkward that we’re told
    that we should be able to have meaningless sex, but then are slutshamed by
    other girls (most of whom do the same thing).  It’s awkward that we’re
    encouraged to be sexually liberated, and then hear our guy friends discussing
    the girls they fuck as if they are literally sex objects who they could never date,
    but will continue to put it in. It’s awkward that we’re told to enjoy our
    bodies while they’re young, but no one will want to marry a girl who’s been
    around the block.


    Really, guys don’t have bad
    sex, you get to finish pretty much every time. I think for guys, the hookup
    culture is not awkward.. but I also think it’s stacked in your favour. Honestly
    talk to some of your female friends about how they feel about random casual
    sex, you’ll find that while they may enjoy it, in general you’ll find they’re
    apathetic about the whole thing and would prefer someone who can push their buttons,
    not someone who’s too drunk to even find it.

    • Guest

      There are TWO people in a sexual encounter. Don’t like what’s going on in a one night stand? Take control. If you don’t know what you like, then how is that the guy’s fault? Most guys are more than happy to take direction, even turned on by it. If you just lay there and let the guy do what he wants, then ya, that sounds awful and awkward, but is also at least half your fault. 

      Oh, ya, and (although it’s annoying that I have to say this) I am a girl.  

      • Rebecca

        Not necessarily true. I regularly give verbal suggestions in casual hook-up situations if what’s going on isn’t working for me. Most guys listen and follow gladly, but some of them try what I say for two seconds, and then go back to the incorrect (for me) method of doing things, as if they somehow know my vagina better than me. This relates back to her comment about a generation that is selfish in sex. In that case, am I supposed to speak up again (while trying to keep their fragile ego intact), or weirder yet, halt all activity? How awkward is that?

    • Bryn


  • Hbo

    This article sponsered by HBO. Watch Girls on 3/20 10:30pm EST, only on HBO.

  • what

    dunham went to oberlin. the only way we know how to do anything is awkwardly.

  • katie

    ironically, your article is the thing which has made me feel unnecessarily insecure as a young woman– because it makes me feel like a freak based on the awkward sexual experiences i’ve had.

    i think it’s kind of ridiculous to try to generalize peoples’ sexual experiences. i’m happy for you that all your sex hasn’t been awkward, but chances are you are hooking up with people who like hooking up, and for those people (women) it’s probably not awkward.

    but then there are those of us (women, and yes, some men too!) who are too shy to say outright to a relative stranger what we need them to do for us in bed, or we’re insecure about some part of our body, or we’re just simply thinking about too many things to be in the moment– which is really all you have to do to have great sex, but being in the moment is not something that often comes naturally to people when engaging in an activity for the first few times. most men have more of an autopilot function when it comes to sex, whereas it can be a lot harder for women to access that, especially if they are actually hoping to get off.

    also, some people (such as myself) are just awkward. it therefore follows that they (i) have awkward sex. this is because i am not ashamed, am in fact proud, of my awkwardness, and frequently make other people feel awkward, and think we should be more comfortable with awkwardness. awkwardness is honesty, and it’s funny, and it tends to just point to the general weirdness of life, which sex is a part of.

    in my case, it’s not that i don’t want to have sex. for a girl, i believe myself to be abnormally visually stimulated by men i think are hot, and when sex follows, the first part is extremely easy. it becomes awkward at the pont where i actually try to get off, because i want it to be an organic process, but the men i’ve been with (which isn’t that many) have had certain “moves” and linear ideas of how it goes, lacked creativity, etc and my attempts to correct it have failed. this is not on them, this is on me, and i need to find the person(s) with whom it just comes naturally.

    so let me have my awkward sex, and realize, that in showing these scenes, i believe lena will be showing people like me that i’m NOT a freak, and it’s okay for sex to be awkward, and honestly, i don’t usually think the awkwardness reflects on me, or gives me low self-esteem, it just means, sex is complicated, for me. and i’m okay with that. you have to accept that there are plenty of people who DO feel weird about sex. and we want to see stories of people like us. there is room for us on television, dammit.

  • Guest

    The show is called “Girls,” not “Women.” It’s not about the part of womanhood that includes full self-realization and sexual maturity (or whatever personal accomplishments women can claim). Ray Downs, you’ve never been a girl and you have no clue what it’s like to be one. And yes, awkward hookup culture is a part of being a girl (whether the show exaggerates this for comedic purposes isn’t really that relevant, since exaggeration is pretty much comedy’s trademark). 

    Please, please, please don’t hate on Judd Apatow for putting a show out there that young women exploring the lows and highs of sex can relate to. If you recall, he made a show about teenage awkwardness that didn’t really scare anyone off from being a Freak or a Geek, so who’s to say Girls is going to stop us from getting laid? Maybe it will encourage girls to get laid in better circumstances, to have sex with men that treat them well instead of poorly (hence the awkward sex), but my guess is that it’ll just make girls feel less crappy about the unavoidable and misguided choices we sometimes make in our 20s. Everyone wants characters they can relate to (and if they’re a little worse off than us, all the better).

    Your lack of belief in (and perhaps empathy for) awkward sex makes me think you’re either in denial about many of your past sexual partners or you just didn’t explore that much in your 20s. And could you please start criticizing shows for negative messages that ACTUALLY MATTER? The idea that an HBO show is going to have any noticeable effect on the libido of the American female population is not only highly unlikely but also kind of offensive. Lena Dunham and friend’s repeated experiences aren’t going to demonize sex for women (let’s face it, they didn’t demonize sex enough to prevent the show’s writers from repeat offenses) but insensitive men who don’t acknowledge that sex is different for women just might.

    • Crankygamer

      Right on, sister! Down with the MAN!

  • Aaron

    “interracial sex is totally cool, homosexual sex hasn’t been as publicly accepted since probably Greek times, and premarital sex is pretty much obligatory…”

    Your example of how comfortable with sex the young adults of today are is how accepting they are of abstract social pairings?

    I (as someone a half-generation older, in my thirties) am pefectly accepting of gay sex… but not with me, and I don’t care to watch it, awkward or not. My acceptance of homosexual or interracial coupling says nothing about the experiences I have one on one with an actual woman.

    It says nothing about how difficult it is open and apply a condom while remaining in the moment’. Or negotiating and renegotiating positions. Unclasping an unfamiliar bra clasp, dealing with a bad kisser, dozing off, banging heads, mis-aim, sudden appearance of pets, the list of hilarious misadventures is endless.

    I guess what I’m saying is that we aren’t all Casanovas, and I don’t see what’s so bad about portraying the more ridiculous side of sex, even if it is overblown (pun!). Nobody’s going to start having bad sex because they get suddenly cocerned that their sex isn’t as awkward as portrayed in an HBO series.

    If you want actual real true-to-life sex on TV then watch HBO’s Real Sex instead.

    • Potat0man

      Your example of how comfortable with sex the young adults of today are is how accepting they are of abstract social pairings?

      I took him to mean acceptance of actual sex acts through individual experimentation, not through social acceptance of others. Meaning younger people are more likely to experiment with sex with different genders and races. Which would indeed make them more astute sexually and less likely to feel any kind of awkwardness.

      • Matunos

        Different races I’ll buy, but I don’t buy the notion that sex with different races makes someone more sexually astute. In fact, that’s absolutely ridiculous. I’m sure your various past sexual partners appreciate your cultural journey through their body.

        Different genders? I’m skeptical. Kinsey probably overestimated rates of homosexual behavior, but even so, is there any reason to believe that the rate has changed that much? Homosexuality can be more openly practiced in many places, but that doesn’t mean the population at large is experimenting (or living) with gay sex more than they were. If anything, the increased acceptance of homosexuality has reduced the amount of such experimentation, as fewer gay people feel pressured to live a lie.

        This whole argument seems to ignore the 60s counterculture…

  • StrangeDay

    “awkward sex” is one of the unfunniest genres of comedy available. the post modern american pie in the face. yawn. lena dunham is trying to make a career out of the “sad trombone wahh wahh” sound, humiliating herself for attention. i don’t think the “cum omelette” conversation in tiny furniture was arbitrary. her work is on the same spectrum.

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