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What "Normal People" gets right about having sex for the first time

By Danielle Bezalel

GIF Credit: BBC Three

~*Spoilers for “Normal People” Season 1 ahead!*~

CW: Discussion of Sexual Assault

Adapted from Sally Rooney’s novel, “Normal People” is the hottest new teen-drama that has an inordinate amount of heavy breathing and leaves its audience wanting so much more. In essence, it’s about two hot, young, Irish people, Marianne and Connell, who have complex feelings and lives that intertwine. They are star-crossed lovers because of their differences in socioeconomic status, but they can’t seem to keep their hands (or their loud breathing mouths) off of each other. For real though, “Normal People” will move you; there is a ton of warmth, heartbreak, love, frustration, and a very sexy chain necklace Connell wears in every scene that is currently getting a lot of internet attention. While on the surface, it’s a sexy sexified sex-fest (and basically the new porn), “Normal People” does so many things right in depicting first-time sex between its two protagonists.

1) Awkwardness

GIF Credit: BBC Three

In this scene, both Marianne and Connell take their clothes off slowly and just take a few seconds to look at each other’s bodies. There’s a little bit of laughter, awkwardness, and talking before they go any further — all very real things that can and do happen when we get naked in front of other people (especially for the first time).

2) Other sexual acts before intercourse

GIF Credit: BBC Three

Here we see Marianne and Connell start to do some hand stuff. They take their time and turn each other on without rushing to have “penis/vagina” or “p/v” sex. This is normal and should be happening before intercourse to ensure mutual pleasure; it can get yourself and your partner in the mood, too. While most people think of fingering and handjobs as “foreplay” that takes place only before “p/v” sex, but truth be told, it all really is a part of sex (especially if we’re thinking of LGBTQ+ experiences).

3) Conversation about condoms

GIF Credit: BBC Three

While this may seem like a no brainer, rarely do TV shows and movies show a condom being put on someone’s penis let alone show the conversation that led up to that point. Especially since this is Marianne’s first time, this moment is super important for viewers to understand that convos about protection should be normalized for everyone’s comfort and safety.

4) Communication: checking in during sex

GIF Credit: BBC Three

There are so many moments of positive communication in this scene. Connell, especially, consistently tells Marianne they can stop having sex at any time — he tells her that if it hurts or feels awkward to let him know and they’ll stop right away. They both continuously ask each other if what they’re doing feels good for the other person. It’s essential for people to have sex with partners who are kind, understanding, trustworthy, and supportive, especially if one (or both) partner(s) has experienced sexual or other trauma. This part was, as Mary Berry likes to say, “sheer perfection,” and should be seen as a model for reassuring a partner that their voice and feelings matter. If you can’t tell, I love a good scene with check-ins during sex (and before and after, of course).

5) Pain can happen

GIF Credit: BBC Three

Sometimes first-time sex is depicted as easy-breezy for a cis-gender woman. In reality, there can be emotional or physical pain during sex — from first-time sex to 100th-time sex and beyond. Typically when we see a cis-gender woman expressing pain during sex, it is because she is getting sexually assaulted. I don’t want to downplay the horrors of sexual assault; sexual assaults are common and minority communities (like trans people and Native Americans) are most impacted by sexual assault. That being said, there are definitely times when cis-women have sex for the first time and there is a little, a medium amount, or a lot of pain. If this pain persists, it’s important to consult a doctor. If it is temporary, pleasure should follow, but again, everyone’s experiences are different. As long as everyone involved in a sexual activity is a consenting adult, sex can and should be what you make of it.

While Connell and Marianne’s overall relationship is layered, complex, and at some points unhealthy (we take issue with the way in which Connell pretends not to know Marianne in school and how he fails to communicate clearly in other parts of the story — but that’s an op-ed for another day), this very hot scene is an amazing step forward in the right direction in displaying inclusive, non-judgemental, tender, and typical first-time sex.

GIF Credit: BBC Three


Interested in reading more?


Danielle Bezalel, aka DB, is the creator, co-producer, and host of the Sex Ed with DB podcast. Danielle earned a Master of Public Health with a focus on Sexuality, Sexual, and Reproductive Health from Columbia University and graduated with a BA in Film and Media Studies from U.C. Berkeley. Danielle lives in New York City. Go to to learn more about the podcast. You can listen to the podcast on the Sex Ed with DB website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.


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