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5 Screenwriting Takeaways: ‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’ is a fun romp with a heartfelt core

November 22, 2021
4 min read time

The premise of the show is simple: Four girls are assigned to room together at the fictional liberal arts Essex College in Vermont — and they could not be more different. Yet, when they learn to listen to each other they find more common ground than meets the eye and learn that going through college escapades is much more fun with a good friend at your side. It’s a lovely premise with a risqué title that sometimes delivers on risqué shenanigans, and sometimes eschews them in favor of stakes much bigger than a one-night stand.

Here are your five screenwriting takeaways from Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble’s The Sex Lives of College Girls.

1. Realistic sex?  The show is facing some criticism surrounding the lack of realism around the sex scenes for a show that has sex in the title. There is little if any conversation about condoms, birth control, UTIs, yeast infections — just the basic realities of being sexually active as a young person. While that feels like a bit of a bummer and a lost opportunity, the awkwardness and sometimes fresh takes in many scenes are still worth the watch (not to mention the continued skewed power dynamics women deal with when choosing partners in a patriarchal world that still gives men overwhelming advantages). 

2. Subverting tropes.  The most refreshing characters on the show are Leighton (Reneé Rapp) and Reena (Kavi Ramachandran Ladnier). Leighton’s coming out story (one that she has yet to embrace in the series) feels different from most. “You don’t know what it was like to be popular,” she tells an older, off-campus hook-up (who also happens to be a Mom with a car seat that literally and figuratively comes between them. Leighton is the hot girl who…loves hot girls, but is currently uncomfortable admitting that to no one. She plays alone when frat guys hit on her but run away to bury herself in dating apps. Meanwhile, sex-positive Reena is down to exchange hand jobs for a spot on the college’s comedy writing staff reminiscent of The Harvard Lampoon. These two feel like a refreshing take on a Samantha and a Miranda of the group, and Ladnier steals many scenes with her hilarious always-at-the-ready desire to experiment. 

3. Embracing tropes.  Some tropes on the other hand feel a bit expected and one roots for Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) to develop more of an arc as the show moves along. Currently, Kimberly serves the role of the nerd who just lost her virginity to a hairy and fake-woke boyfriend that steals her deodorant after breaking up with her after the big night. Whitney is boning her college soccer coach (who neglects to tell her that he’s already married). Unfortunately, both these stories bring nothing particularly surprising, but Chalamet’s charm and Scott’s tenacity anchor them in a feeling of reality nonetheless. 

4. Fiction based on fact.  It’s clear there are some ripped-from-the-headlines storylines here, and it feels exciting to see more of this especially when the title feels borrowed from the notorious article: “The Highly Charged Erotic Life of the Wellesley Girl”. Some additional storylines we hope make it in the show: “The Girls Next Door” which features the notorious cuddle shuttle ride from all-girls schools to all-boys schools on the east coast, or taking on the much darker side of professor-student relationships like the CUNY Professor who went on drug-fueled antics that often included students, or the ethical question of if colleges should be offering sex advice to students as they navigate raging hormones, Greek life parties, and trying to stay afloat academically. There are undeniably unlimited storylines to cover here, and it will be interesting to see how much the show walks the line of escapist fiction and real issues college kids deal with. 

5. Embrace the romp.  Ultimately, much like its predecessors with ‘sex’ in the title, the show is a romp-filled pleasurable experience even if it’s not setting out to say much beyond the fact that college should be really, really fun — and on The Sex Lives of College Girls it mostly really is. While Essex seems to accurately reflect a microcosm of the real-life injustices women still go through, maybe, just maybe, a raucous group of confident women will keep making changes in the right direction — even if one of those changes is (still revolutionarily) putting the pleasure of women first. 


Final Takeaway: The Sex Lives of College Girls isn’t necessarily subversive. It’s a group of four women thrown together by dorm lottery who attempt to forge both awkward friendships and sexual relationships while navigating college. Nonetheless, it’s set itself up to address more complicated and nuanced stories and the fun ride may eventually provide a lot of pathos to those who had an imperfect college experience, which is…all of us?!

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