Let’s talk about sex, baby: An interview with the cast of HBO Max’s ‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’

We spoke with the cast about their thoughts on sex, college and Mindy Kaling.

We+spoke+with+the+cast+of+The+Sex+Lives+of+College+Girls.+%28Jessica+Brooks%2FHBO+Max%29

Jessica Brooks

We spoke with the cast of “The Sex Lives of College Girls.” (Jessica Brooks/HBO Max)

By Phoebe Sklansky, Vanderbilt University

Spoiler alert: this show is about the sex lives of college girls. If you read my initial recap of the series, you’ll know that “The Sex Lives of College Girls” (TSLOCG)—conceived by Mindy Kaling of “The Mindy Project” and “The Office” and Justin Noble of “Brooklyn 99”—tells the story of the sometimes sexy, usually awkward sex lives of college first-years. In an age where the male gaze is still a dominant feature, it’s refreshing to have a popular show venture into the risky territory of women having sex … wait for it … for, you know, pleasure.

On Thursday, Dec. 9, I had the unique opportunity to speak with the main cast of TSLOCG—Pauline Chalamet (Kimberly), Umrit Kaur (Bela), Alyah Chanelle Scott (Whitney) and Renée Rapp (Leighton)—along with a few other college journalists, to chat about the show and the actors’ careers.

A show about women having sex is, well, going to address women having sex, and “The Sex Lives of College Girls” does so in an effective and tactful way.

“There is so much more room for different identities [in the show],” Rapp said. “There are so many different conversations around sex and identities and how those coincide or don’t, and it’s all about choice.”

Scott—who plays Whitney, a star soccer player and senator’s daughter—chimed in on this concept as well.

It’s important to “demystify the ideas of young women having sex, and oversexualizing us just because we’re young, and removing the shame from it,” she said. “I know that for myself, I grew up in the South, and sex was not talked about at all.” 

She also added that she’s glad the show provides representation of diverse women navigating sex, which would have been helpful for her to see growing up.

Personally, I was curious about how Chalamet navigated Kimberly’s nuanced character arc from sheltered ingénue to … well, I won’t spoil it here.

“I think that in your first few months of college, the most happens,” she said. “You’re given roommates that often you don’t know, you’re sleeping in a new place, you’re going to a new school, you’re in charge of all your meals. I relate to Kimberly in this, it’s like, ‘Okay, I just need people’ … and so you’re misguided and maybe a little messy.” 

Kimberly does make some pretty messy choices, but that’s what your first year of college is for, right? (Asking for a friend.) 

All the while, though, “[Kimberly’s] trying to become the woman she wants to be,” Chalamet said. “And then she’s able to create some of these more real connections with her roommates. I think that as she continues to ground herself in becoming the type of woman she wants to be, she’s able to then create some of these more real connections with her roommates.”

As a huge fan of Mindy Kaling, I was delighted when another journalist inquired about the actors’ experiences working with her.

“We worked the most with Mindy and Justin on the pilot, and what was really incredible was the pace at which they were able to work,” Chalamet said. “Mindy was such a force of nature coming to set, and very good at communication—she was someone you could go up to and talk with … so that was a real pleasure.” 

Obviously, the college experience during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a little different. When asked about her own college social life, Kaur said that she did not remember going to as many parties as the girls did in the show.

“I did not go to parties in heels,” Chalamet added, to which my beaten-up white Converse—which I have owned for nearly four years of college—can attest. 

The cast of TSLOCG reminded us that there is no one single correct type of sexual experience, especially when you’re in college. (Breaking news: it’s not always like in the movies.)

“I thought at 18, everyone was having this type of sex that you have when you’re in your 30s … but it’s just not that,” Scott said. “I think there’s so much shame and embarrassment and lack of information about sex at that specific age, where you’re going into it with false expectations. I like seeing that on the show and seeing how it plays out for each character, and how it falls apart.”

Check out TSLOCG on HBO Max by logging in with Xfinity On-Campus.

This story was originally published on The Vanderbilt Hustler on December 15, 2021.