The HBO show “Girls” has been applauded and backlashed for their sex scenes, mainly citing that Lena Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath does not looks like the average girl we see on TV, as well as the characters not being able to live or afford those apartments. New York City apartments are, on average, very small for a lot of money. If “Girls” was set in reality, would it be possible for the characters to afford that space as well as have sex the way it is portrayed on the show?
In the first season, we get to watch Hannah and her sort-of boyfriend Adam have sex on a dilapidated couch at Adam’s Prospect Heights apartment. Shoshanna tries to have traditional bed sex but scares her date off by admitting that she is a virgin. Marnie decides to visit her ex-boyfriend at his apartment, get back together, hits her head on the ceiling of his self-made bunk-bed, and then breakup with him again. Jessa takes her ex-boyfriend back to the apartment she shares with her cousin Shoshanna and proceeds to have sex facing out a window in the living room — while Shoshanna hides behind a curtain.
In the second season, we finally see awkward Hannah get on top of her boyfriend Sandy. Marnie does some heavy petting with her gay friend Elijah. Shoshanna loses her virginity to Ray in her bed. And Jessa finds herself married to Thomas-John — a previous character from season one that brought Jessa and Marnie back to his apartment for a hopeful threesome, but ends after Marnie spills wine on his extremely expensive rug.
According to a Google Map Pin site created by Mashable, Hannah and Marnie’s apartment, Adam’s apartment, and the majority of the locations seen on the show have been mapped to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. During the first season, we find out from Hannah’s mother that her share of her Greenpoint apartment is $1000 per month. With the help of Easystreet.com, a popular apartment hunt search engine for Brooklyn, an average two bedroom apartment with one bathroom — referring back to Hannah and Marnie’s shared bathroom time in season one — in Greenpoint would cost between $1,750 – $2,500 with the median size of 780 ft² and $30 as the median price per ft².
The other apartments featured on the show are in Nolita, Prospect Heights, Bed-Stuy, and the Upper East Side. Charlie’s apartment and Shoshanna’s apartment are the two that have sparked the most fan envy. Marnie’s ex-boyfriend Charlie live in a small Bed-Stuy apartment filled with handcrafted birch wood designs. His bed is placed under and hand-made stair case leading to a tiny, squared-off sitting area that looks out five to seven feet above the floor. The character has an entry-level job at an architecture company. According to Salaryquest.com, the median salary for a starting architect in New York is $37,500 annually.
This is a plausible scenario for Charlie to be able to afford and build his luxury Bed-Stuy apartment. Shoshanna is a student that lives in a large, Sex and the City-esque apartment that her parents pay for — and shares with the unemployed Jessa in the first season of the show. When Jessa is introduced to the audience in the first episode of season one, Shoshanna gives her the run down of the rent for her portion of the apartment.
It isn’t until episode three that Jessa finds herself a nannying job. Even though Shoshanna’s portion of the rent is spoken for, the likelihood that Jessa is paying for her share is impossible. Good thing she quickly marries off in the second season to the rich Manhattanite Thomas-John.
The New York Times article, “Finding Your First Apartment” explains the two shocking truths about finding an apartment in NYC: the price and the size. “Almost every single person I’ve worked with thinks there’s a golden nugget of an apartment waiting right for them,” said Paul Hunt, an agent at Citi Habitats.
He explained to The New York Times that most of the people looking for apartments are recent graduates looking to relive what they have seen on TV. “They all want to be in the Village, and they all want the ‘Sex and the City’ apartment.”
In a 2006 NYC apartment census, 25,000 graduates in between the ages of 22 and 28 moved to the city with a median salary of $35,000. According to The New York Times, most landlords want tenants to earn about 40 times their monthly rent. In the case of Marnie and Hannah in the first season, both would have to separately pull in $40,000 annual salary for a $2,000 apartment in Greenpoint. After Hannah is cut off from her family’s support, the reality of paying for a Greenpoint apartment isn’t possible.
The Web site TV Tropes explains that even with the popular “Friends Rent Controlled” trope used to explain TV show in NYC with low cost apartments in expensive areas, it still wouldn’t be possible with the storyline of the show. “Marnie is forced to pay the full rent after Hannah loses her parental funding. While paying half would be possible, it’s way too much of a stretch for Marnie to pay the full amount given that her art gallery job would pay no more than $30,000 per year and she gets only limited family support.”
The sex the characters are having are not out of the ordinary or go beyond ‘vanilla’ encounters. Each setting is unique because all the furniture used requires it to occupy a small living space. All the beds have to be full size or, in Shoshanna’s case, queen size and able to fit into small apartments. The couches used fill up the length of one person, but can only fit two people: perfect for the Elijah/Marnie sex scene, and uncomfortable for the first Hannah/Adam sex scene.
The most risque and living space conscious sex in the show is with Jessa and her newly engaged ex-boyfriend in season one as both aren’t using furniture and are facing out a window facing out of Little Italy. The use of exhibitionism is the most like New York sex in the entire show as there is a lack of regard for personal barriers.
In the December 2012 issue of New York Magazine‘s, Reasons We Love NY edition, they cite number 29 on the list as: We Screw in Public. “How many people have we watched scarfing down their dinners on the subway? How many newly heartbroken girls have we seen on the street, sobbing into their cell phones — a scene in some ways more intimate than that of couples rolling around in happier times? It’s during these moments, when we’re crossing the line between public and private either by being exhibitionists or by watching the exhibition, that the city feels like home. Or rather, a much-needed extension of our crap apartments.”
Yes, the sex is possible. The scenery is possible. Though, the price isn’t so possible. Each character would not be able to afford their apartment in those areas — or the furniture they are fornicating on. Though the reality of those apartment prices are pretty high, there is still a great use of occupying and working with a small space.
That is where we see the best of what “Girls” has to offer with their set design and character development. Each character’s internal struggle with sex finds a creative place externally in small, expensive, New York apartments.