A screenshot from HBO Max's The Sex Lives of College Girls

‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’ Is a Coming-of-Age Gem

HBO Max's new dramedy portrays women's adolescence with a nuanced richness that tends to be rare in television.
December 14, 2021
7 mins read

College is an odd time of life — technically, you are an adult, but you are not always treated like one. Whether or not these years are the best years of your life is up for debate, but it is undeniably an exciting and unique time for most adolescents who are leaving home for the first time and discovering the chance for reinvention.

Based on the title, you would expect “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” a new dramedy on HBO Max, to be a formulaic yet provocative story following university women. Surprisingly, the romance tends to fall to the back burner in the show, which instead focuses more on its four titular college girls finding themselves as they navigate the fictional and prestigious Essex College in Vermont. Their sex lives are a part of this, but certainly not the only part; rather, the show covers their intimate experiences with the richness they deserve, and it doesn’t shy away from the fear, lust, confusion and messiness of it all.

*Mild spoilers ahead*

Created by Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble, “The Sex Lives of College Girls” centers around a core of four main characters. Alyah Chanelle Scott plays Whitney, a senator’s daughter and soccer player who is secretly sleeping with her coach. Renée Rapp, who some may recognize from the Broadway adaptation of “Mean Girls,” portrays Leighton, a closeted child of privilege who has a legacy at Essex College. Pauline Chalamet (yes, Timothée’s sister) plays Leighton’s foil, Kimberly, a working-class student who is at the school on a scholarship. Lastly, Amrit Kaur is Bela, a comedy geek from a very conservative background who is determined to break free from the constraints she grew up with.


At the surface, each girl seems to fall into a trope, but Kaling crafts their stories with the nuance she is known for. Each of them deals with a pressure that is familiar to most viewers: How to fit into two very different molds at once — one that is your true self and one that is what others want from you. Of course, this is even harder to do when the former mold is not even entirely shaped yet. In this way, all of the girls are realistically both lovable and frustrating at the same time. “The Sex Lives of College Girls” follow these passionate young women as they try to shape their molds, which allows the show ample setups for slapstick character comedy.

The show is a little bit uneven at times in following the girls’ individual journeys, but it has taken on the difficult task of balancing larger social issues with smaller, personal ones. We see Kimberly struggle to fit in at a school where not many students come from her financial background, making her feel the need to prove that she deserves to be at Essex College. At a fancy Parents’ Weekend dinner, for instance, Kimberly panics because she knows her mother will not be able to afford their portion of the check. Additionally, Leighton’s princess bubble pops when she is forced to volunteer at the campus’ women’s center, but this ultimately broadens her horizons and enables her to immerse herself in the LGBTQ+ world.

Importantly, we get to see what the girls are passionate about outside of their romantic or sexual pursuits. Bela hopes to get on the white-male-dominated staff of the campus humor magazine, “The Catullan,” whose alumni tend to see massive success in comedy careers — all while her parents are under the impression that they’re paying for a STEM degree. Whitney pursues her athletic dreams but grows frustrated when she learns that the male soccer team gets a lot more perks than the girls’ team, even though the girls are contending for the championships.

In an age where casual sex is often associated with falling off the deep end — especially when women engage in it — “The Sex Lives of College Girls” is a refreshing reset. The girls are multidimensional: sensitive but not insecure, tough but not heartless. And in chasing pleasure and gratification, they are not portrayed as out-of-control or “slutty.” They are simply real women who want to have fun and achieve great things at the same time. They are self-aware that, at the ripe age of 18, they do not know everything yet — and that is okay.

Simply put, “The Sex Lives of College Girls” is a whole lot of fun. From corroborating lies to parents to stalking Instagrams, the show is deeply relatable, and that is what makes it so charming. It takes an honest and humorous look into the way that college kids cope with their newfound freedom, and it is a breath of fresh air in its portrayal of college life and undergraduate women. The show’s sincere attitude toward the core characters makes it easy for the friends to divulge in their dreams and fears while also making room for growth. I, for one, can’t wait to see them continue.

Esha Shah, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Writer Profile

Esha Shah

New Jersey Institute of Technology

Esha is a biology major with plans to go to medical school. Writing allows her to make sense of the confusing and incredible world around her, ranging from neural regeneration to songwriting techniques.

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