I was 11 years old when I learned about sex.
I’d been aware of the concept. My parents never lied about the stork and my sister rushed home from 5th grade sex ed to tell me every detail she learned. And, of course, I watched a lot of movies.
But I didn’t learn about sex until the year after my own sex ed class. By that I mean I didn’t encounter sex as more than an idea until I was in 6th grade, and, more importantly, my sister was in 10th.
I’d be up late, burning my way through the Criterion Collection, and my dad would sleepily approach my open door.
A noise outside woke him up. I’d lie and blame it on our neighbors and then he’d walk back to bed.
“You really need to be quieter,” I’d tell my sister the next day. “You’re going to get caught.”
My sister wasn’t having sex, but she was fumbling her way through first make outs with an older boy. He incited so much enthusiasm that she’d exclaim as she ran out of our house to greet his pick-up truck post-midnight.
And I’d cover for her. And then one time she came home crying.
The thing about boys is they’re horny and aggressive and if they can convince a girl to let them do things to her then they’re going to.
The thing about boys is they don’t understand the word no and they certainly don’t understand that sometimes the word yes really means the word no.
The thing about boys is that sex is for them and the thing about girls is sex isn’t for them and the thing about love is that sometimes you do things you don’t want to do. And sometimes you don’t even know you don’t want to do them until you’ve done them. And then you cry to your brother who is really your sister and tell her details she doesn’t need to hear about things she didn’t know existed. And then you sneak out again the next night filled with genuine enthusiasm to see the boy you love and your sister is left wondering what kind of boy she herself might someday become.
Mrs. Fletcher – Tom Perrotta’s new HBO series based on his book of the same name – is the only show on TV as horny as I am.
Kathryn Hahn plays Eve Fletcher, a divorced mother of one whose son, Brendan (Jackson White), is heading off to college. It’s been two years since Eve last had sex and Brendan’s departure leads to a pair of new developments: she enrolls in a personal essay course and she begins wanting to have sex with every single person she encounters.
But life isn’t quite like the porn she so greedily watches. Fantasies about supermarket sample girls don’t fulfill themselves. You can’t simply kiss your coworkers. You shouldn’t simply kiss the 19-year-old in your writing class who mere weeks ago was bullied by your son.
While Eve is attempting to open up her sexuality back home, Brendan is trying to control his own at college. The entitled jock energy isn’t working for him like it did in high school. The culture is moving on and it’s cooler to be sweet and gay than a hetero dickhead with daddy issues.
And then there is Margo (the always incredible Jen Richards) – Eve’s writing professor, a trans woman with her own class crush on the appropriately aged Curtis (Ifádansi Rashad).
Mrs. Fletcher is entirely directed by women and it’s all about sex. More specifically it’s about who’s historically been entitled to sex, how it feels to historically be denied sexual expression, and the difficulties of navigating sexual discovery. Especially if you’re as horny as every single character on this show.
I’ve always been horny. And I hated myself for it.
When I finally started going through puberty – about two years after everyone else – I was overwhelmed with shame. It felt like my body would betray me at any minute. I realize now my fear of turning into a man was a natural part of my transness. But at the time I just connected it to immorality. Mental flashes of bending over a math class crush and fucking her until I lost my concealed erection were proof that I was just like every other man. It was just a matter of time until I lost control and hurt someone.
I didn’t understand that assault is not a natural condition of malehood. I didn’t understand that women want sex too. The morality of it was simple to me. Outside of a monogamous relationship built on trust and conversation, sex was bad.
I refused to participate in games of spin the bottle and when given the opportunity I passed on casual hook ups. Instead I focused on long term crushes and I only let myself have feelings for one person at a time. I fulfilled the teen girl cliché of doodling their name in my notebooks and I told myself that because I had all-consuming feelings if we were to kiss it would be romantic, not wrong.
But just because I told myself I only had feelings for one person didn’t mean it was true. I was a teenager. And I was me as a teenager. I spent a large amount of mental space silencing fantasies about everyone I wanted to have sex with and a lot of energy trying to stick to my rules that I could only masturbate once a day and never two days in a row.
By the summer before my senior year I had only made out with one person – the most consuming of my crushes. Two years of longing culminated in two makeouts, my hands hovering in the air because I was worried I’d accidentally touch their boobs without permission. And that had happened over a year earlier.
I had a crush on my friend but she wasn’t the crush I was admitting to in the moment. She’d previously dated two of my friends and talked a lot about feeling like guys only wanted her for sex. Even though we spent every day together – and flirted a lot – I told myself it would be wrong to even have feelings.
One night, sitting on my couch, she locked her eyes with mine and told me that we would’ve made a really good couple. I didn’t kiss her. And then I drove her home. And again I didn’t kiss her. When I got back to my house I was horny and frustrated with myself for always seeming to do the right thing. For once in my life I wanted to do the wrong thing.
I’d never been drunk before and I decided that was the rule I’d break instead. I opened a bottle of my parents’ wine and took a sip. I didn’t feel anything so I took a gulp. And then another. And then another. I didn’t know that alcohol needed a chance to settle. Eventually, I was wasted.
I went into the bathroom with my computer, head spinning, searched for lesbian porn, and masturbated to my usual shame-filled completion.
Nobody is better at performing sexual frustration than Kathryn Hahn. Across her work with Jill Soloway – from Afternoon Delight to I Love Dick – Hahn has shown she’s at her sexiest and most emotional in a state of endless want.
It feels like Eve Fletcher was invented for her.
When we meet Eve the only sex in her life is the porn inappropriately played by one of the residents at the nursing home where she works. The rest of the first episode we watch as all her energy goes towards Brendan – making Brendan a goodbye dinner, helping Brendan pack for college, talking to her ex-husband Ted (Josh Hamilton) about Brendan, talking to Brendan about consent, helping Brendan move into his dorm.
And then he’s gone.
She’s been a mom for 18 years. She was a wife for many of those. Then she was an ex-wife. But now she’s just a woman – her status as mother relevant only as the first letter in the acronym MILF. She types this word into Google and pretty soon she’s watching porn appropriately played in the privacy of her own home.
It turns out to be a real Pandora’s box – and by box I mean vagina. Suddenly, sex is all she can think about. She has a full on fantasy about the supermarket employee who offers her an organic popsicle. (Sidenote: This is how hot everyone who works at the Echo Park Lassens is and it’s frankly overwhelming.) She begins heavily flirting with Julian (Owen Teague), the 19-year-old in her class. She throws herself at her coworker, Amanda (Katie Kershaw), after a night of drinks and vaping. And she watches porn. A lot of porn.
For Eve, porn acts as a tool of discovery. She consumes videos with role play and soft kink and lesbianism. After watching a video of a spanking she bends over a kitchen stool and role plays with herself – repeating lines both top and bottom – as she smacks her own ass until it’s red.
As a teenager I only watched lesbian porn. When my YouTube searches of “Girls Kissing” evolved into free porn sites, I guiltily remained in the lesbian category. I’d listen to other boys talk about their masturbation habits – teenage boys really like to talk about their masturbation habits – and wonder why I wasn’t able to do the same transference onto male porn stars as all of them.
I’d watch women have bad lesbian sex and fantasize about being a part of it. I experimented with MFF threesome videos, but that wasn’t it. I wanted to be the girl who practices kissing with her friend and then it leads to more. I wanted to feel my boobs against hers. I wanted to feel her tongue on my nipples and then slide down my body and then – I wanted a pussy.
When I got to college and started having sex – only in my monogamous relationship for the first two years – I switched my porn habits. Now that I knew what it was like to have my penis enter a vagina I tried to get off on videos where that was occurring. I could usually cum, but I didn’t enjoy it.
I started watching POV blowjob videos which filled me with more guilt. It seemed even more dehumanizing than other straight porn options. But there was something about the penis detached from the man that made it work for me. Anytime the man spoke it was ruined.
It was confusing because in real life I hated blowjobs. My first girlfriend gave me three blowjobs over the course of a year and a half. And those three were only because a friend of mine told me it was weird that I went down on her every time we had sex, but she never “returned the favor.”
The first time I enjoyed a blowjob was after I transitioned. I’d been watching a lot of trans woman porn in an attempt to love myself more. Like Eve I was trying to figure out how exactly I could use this body I currently have for my own pleasure.
My girlfriend and I had been experimenting and she asked if she could try going down on me. I said yes but was immediately anxious. I asked if I could put on porn. And I did. I watched a trans woman get sucked off and for the first time I didn’t mind the feeling on myself. Because for the first time I wasn’t a guy getting head, but a woman like the woman in the video, allowing herself to feel pleasure.
We watch Brendan get two blowjobs.
The first happens in episode one. Brendan was having sex with a girl named Becca their entire last semester before he ghosted. He comes onto her at a party and she tells him to fuck off. But the next morning she arrives at his house eager to apologize. She gives him head while he calls her a “dirty fucking slut.”
Like mother, like son, it’s clear that Brendan watches a lot of porn.
But his approach to sex is yet one more way Brendan doesn’t fit in at college. While he begins the semester having empty sex with another girl who throws herself on him, being away from home has him lonely and longing for something more. He meets Chloe (Jasmine Cephas Jones) who runs a club for students with autistic siblings and Brendan is thrilled to use his half-brother as an excuse to get to know her better.
Brendan is my nightmare. He’s the exact kind of person I was terrified of becoming and avoided whenever possible. And yet the show never judges him – only his behavior. He’s nuanced and human and Jackson White does a phenomenal job showing that everyone has layers even when it’s not that deep.
If Chloe were my friend, I’d tell her to run away, but watching them together is sort of sweet. She’s self-assured in a way none of the other girls were and Brendan seems to genuinely like her. They really do bond over their siblings. When they flirt it’s cute and when they kiss I found myself rooting for them despite myself.
But then she gives him head. And he does what he always did. He calls her a slut. And he shoves her head down. Unable to breathe she punches him in the crotch and kicks him out of her room. Brendan doesn’t know what he did wrong and Chloe feels the all-too common feeling that a sexual encounter she desired turned into one she very much did not.
Porn freed Eve from the confines of her repressed desire. But it helped shape a brutal entitlement in her son.
It’s not hard to imagine Eve at Chloe’s age. Maybe Brendan learned how to have sex from porn, but he learned how to be a man from his dad. It’s possible that Eve was a confident, sexual young woman, but probably not. She wasn’t just navigating men like Brendan – she married his prototype. No wonder it took until her mid-40s for her to really feel her desires. She was too busy living out Ted’s fantasies to experience her own.
I entered into trans singledom with an enthusiastic fervor.
As I settled into my transition, I felt an ache to explore the seemingly limitless possibilities of pussy-less lesbian sex. I liked my body for the first time – not just how it looked but how it reacted. I’d pinch my nipples until they turned red and feel more pleasure than I had through years of having sex. The first time I had a female orgasm, I not only felt the enjoyment of the moment, but also the rightness. Like I could finally let myself feel good without also feeling bad.
I ended my relationship in part to explore all this on my own. I downloaded dating apps, I met people with anxious excitement, and I even had decent, fun sex with a stranger. But as the initial thrill wore off, the realities of dating as a trans person sank in.
The worst part for me is the not knowing. Sometimes I wish people were more outward in their transphobia. Tinder profiles that say things like “No penises!” or “Not transphobic, just not interested” fill me with a sort of sick glee. It can be comforting to see explicit what you often feel implied.
But, of course, not everyone who doesn’t want to date me is transphobic. I am, after all, a person. And a fun part of being a person is sometimes the people we like don’t like us and there might be a million possible reasons why and it is what it is. Not every rejection is a political statement.
I’m not worried about finding people to love me. And if you’re trans you shouldn’t either. But my biggest frustration since becoming single is this feeling that I’m complicated. If someone really likes me then I’m worth the complication, but if they’re just looking for casual sex they’ll choose someone they know what to do with.
Or, again, this could not be the case. It could be my crazy high standards. Or, it could be something about my personality. Or, it could be my leftover shame around sex closing me off. Or or or or or or. The thing about dating as a trans person is you never really know.
Mrs. Fletcher is far from the first piece of media about a middle aged divorcée discovering her sexuality. In fact, it’s such a trope that people often describe intense feelings of horniness by comparing themselves to that very archetype.
The depth of this show lies in the people around Eve. Brendan is her clearest foil, but Margo is equally important.
While out for drinks as a class – the same drinks outing where Eve and Julian first almost have sex – Margo gets to chatting with Curtis. They’re laughing and dancing and soon Margo is giggling to Eve that she has a crush.
They go out on a date – a coffee in the middle of a mall. It’s the kind of date that’s pointedly casual, that could easily be mistaken for a student-teacher conference. And, her anxiety getting the better of her, that’s what Margo interprets it to be. Curtis reassures her he just wanted to hang out and she laughs and apologizes. And then they have a really nice time.
Margo invites Curtis to a lit magazine party that Wednesday night and he asks if it’s as her date and she says yes. He tells her Wednesdays are tough and she takes the hint.
She’s cold and angry at their next class. She makes no attempt at professionalism. Afterwards she sits in her car brooding and smoking a cigarette. Eve approaches and gets inside.
“This is always what fucking happens,” Margo tells her. “If a straight guy starts getting feelings for a trans girl it’s off to the races and then all of a sudden out of nowhere, bullshit existential crisis of masculinity.”
Eve asks if Margo is sure that’s what’s going on and Margo laughs.
“Oh God this is why I’m a writer, I cannot tell the difference between what’s in my head and what’s out here.”
Turns out that’s not what was happening. When Curtis said Wednesdays were difficult he meant Wednesdays were difficult because Wednesdays are a weeknight. And yet he still shows up to the party.
If Eve has been denied her sexual freedom as a cis woman, imagine the hurdles the rest of us face. We don’t get to see Margo and Curtis have sex, but this subplot feels so essential to the show because it presents yet another layer of a person denied what Ted and Brendan were given in excess.
And since they’re cute together and since Margo is so easy to root for it also presents the first crack in the audience’s shoulds – does anyone actually give a shit that Margo wants to fuck her adult student? Does anyone even care when she lets her feelings interrupt the class?
I sure didn’t.
Like all good stories, Mrs. Fletcher culminates in a threesome.
Eve decides to throw an impromptu party for herself after changing her last name ten years post-divorce. She isn’t Eve Fletcher. She’s Eve Mackie. It’s a declaration of self. A separation not just from her ex-husband but the person her ex-husband – and the patriarchy – forced her to be.
By this point Eve has not only had one silly drunk kiss with Amanda and a series of wavering flirts with Julian; she also went on a date with her friend’s husband’s boss and had sex with a man she met at Margo’s lit party.
She left the date before it even began. She’s horny, but she’s horny for her own sexuality, not a repeat of past mistakes. She could find another Ted – successful, boring, acceptable. She doesn’t want that.
The hookup was better – but not by much. Once again, the man wanted Eve only for his own fantasies, not hers. She’s left giddy by the recklessness of being with a stranger, but the sex itself was terrible.
Amanda helps Eve set up in the wake of a sprained ankle. Eve makes a self-deprecating comment about throwing herself a party and Amanda shuts this insecurity down. Sitting on the couch Eve apologizes again for kissing her and promises not to kiss her again.
“Well, it’s your party so I think you can kiss whoever you want,” Amanda says deadpan with a smirk confirming actress Katie Kershaw as one of the sexiest people on our TV screens this year.
Everyone in Eve’s social circles comes to the party. It’s a small crowd. Amanda tells Julian she knows he has a crush on Eve. And then she tells Eve she’s taking Julian to get some proper liquor.
By the time they get back everyone else is gone. Amanda knew what she was doing. They take shots. Eve asks if Amanda has her vape and she hands it over with the ease I give cis women poppers. Eve sucks, eyes locked with Amanda. Amanda then hands the vape to Julian.
“You don’t have to,” Eve tells Julian.
“But you can,” Amanda overrules.
Soon they are dancing. And then they are kissing. And then they are fucking.
The scene lasts about five minutes and feels real and specific in the way only a fantasy fulfilled can. When I think about the way Amanda wraps her finger around one of Eve’s wavy curls I’m filled with the same rush of sex that I get when I remember a random detail the day after an encounter of my own.
Julian is 19. Amanda is Eve’s coworker. These things seem worth repeating in that they don’t seem at all worth repeating. Not now. Not during this scene.
By this point, everyone has made their desires and intentions clear. It’s not that there aren’t power dynamics involved. It’s not that there aren’t some concerns, but mostly? It’s really okay.
Mrs. Fletcher is a masterpiece of sex positivity, not because it suggests that sex is always harmless, but because of how smart it is about that harm.
Brendan drives home for an impromptu visit and walks in on the three of them naked in bed. His worldview is shattered. It’s not just that he saw his mom in bed. It’s that he saw her in bed with another woman and his former bully victim.
Brendan has a lot to learn about sex. Society has told him that he deserves everything and he has taken it. He needs to learn to listen to others. He needs to learn that just because he wants something – or someone – doesn’t mean it’s his.
But that isn’t the lesson all of us need to learn. I’m not suggesting that we all – regardless of identity and experience – shouldn’t care deeply about consent. Women, cis and trans, can and do cause harm by abusing sex and power. We all should regularly check in with ourselves and our partners to make sure everyone is safe and taken care of. And there are some boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed.
I’m simply suggesting – and Mrs. Fletcher is simply suggesting – that for some people the change they need isn’t closing off desire, but letting it free. Some of us grew up thinking everything about our sexuality was wrong. Others still feel that way. There are Brendans and there are Eves and there are many who are both. If we want to build a society with a healthier relationship to sex, it’s equally important to empower some as it is disempower others. And that doesn’t just mean discourage recklessness in teenage cis boys and encourage it in horny middle-aged women. It’s not that simple. It’s far more circumstantial and nuanced. But it’s an important part of the discussion. The simple morality of my adolescent shame does a disservice to us all.
I’m not saying you should have a threesome with a 19-year-old and your coworker. I’m just not saying you shouldn’t.