'Normal People': Show's portrayal of sex and consent is so realistic fans say it 'should be the benchmark'
The adaptation used an intimacy coach, Ita O’Brien, to make sure the sex scenes were depicted well. Psychosexual therapist Duchess Iphie breaks down the show's treatment of the theme
One of the reasons that Hulu's and BBC's joint adaptation of 'Normal People' stands out is because of its depiction of sex. The show was based on Sally Rooney's award-winning novel of the same name and featured a lot of sex — something readers were worried about if it would translate as well on to the screen.
The adaptation used an intimacy coach, Ita O'Brien, to make sure the scenes were depicted well. Additionally, O'Brien's role was key in making sure the actors who portrayed Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron — Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal — were comfortable filming those scenes on set.
There are quite a few reasons why those sex scenes work well. Intimacy coach and psychosexual therapist Duchess Iphie spoke to the Daily Mail about what made the sex scenes in 'Normal People' stand out.
For one, the show featured pre-sex conversations between Marianne and Connell. Duchess said, "Connell listened and accepted what she said but stopped her when she started to put herself down. It showed that they were getting comfortable and confident with being in such close proximity."
More often than not, film and television do not allow its male characters to be vulnerable — especially in intimacy scenes.
Duchess said that in 'Normal People', "Connell showed vulnerability when talking about himself and that promotes an intimate feeling because Marianne was getting to see a side of Connell that others probably don't see."
Duchess also pointed out, "During the process of undressing, there was tenderness and laughing which made the scene realistic and intimate because we don't always look graceful when taking clothes off especially when something gets stuck."
She also shared about the importance of conversations about protection during sex scenes. She said, "Marianne asked if he had protection and he said yes. There was no feeling of accusation that he had planned to have sex but an acceptance that he was responsible and prepared for their encounter. He got the condom and put it on so that she could trust that he was keeping his word and thinking of both of them."
Perhaps most important of all, is that Connell is quite simply, the king of consent — at least when it comes to television. Before they have sex, Connell tells Marianne, "If you want to stop or anything we can obviously stop, if it hurts or anything we can stop, it won't be awkward, just say."
With that simple sentence, Connell does a lot to make Marianne a lot more comfortable and also shows why seeking consent is actually sexy.
The portrayal of sex and consent in 'Normal People' did not go unnoticed by fans. One fan wrote, "The sex scene in #NormalPeople should be played to teenagers in every school as a perfect example of mutual consent."
Another tweeted, "The first sex scene between Connell and Marianne should be shown to all teenage males. That is how you treat a girl when it’s her first time (and thereafter). Kindness & respect. Perfect acting."
A viewer wrote, "I appreciated the sex scene where M asks C to hit her and he declines. The vulnerability/shock he shows as he realizes the depth of her pain broke my - exquisite acting. And lovely to see a sensitive male depiction for once."
Another tweeted, "Out of all the themes in #NormalPeople, consent was the best. A topic [rarely] taught at school and when it is, it doesn’t go into detail. A lesson teenagers needed in today’s society. That alone makes it worth the watch."
A viewer shared, "I love how #NormalPeople handles its sex scenes. Raw, intimate, and most importantly, healthy (mutual satisfaction, huge emphasis on consent)."
One wrote, "#NormalPeople Should be the benchmark of how adult themes should be approached! Its depiction of bullying, consent, toxic relationships, mental health, domestic abuse, love, sex, and everything in between is frighteningly beautiful!"
If you are in the US, 'Normal People' is streaming on Hulu. In the UK it is streaming on BBC iPlayer.