• On the job in 'The Girlfriend Experience'. (SBS)Source: SBS
Even in a culture that has access to millions of portrayals of sex, you won't have seen anything like this before.
Alice Fraser

23 Feb 2018 - 10:29 AM  UPDATED 12 Sep 2018 - 10:52 AM

You probably know that the name of the show - The Girlfriend Experience - comes from a service in sex work. It encompasses the parts of sex and relationships that are more than just the sex-bit. Conversation, affection, intimacy… warmth. 

None of that is present in the finale of season one. It is coldness, scientific dispassion, and tactical utility - all traditionally masculine virtues - that make this sex simultaneously appalling and appealing.

That coldness has been present throughout the series. Sparse sets and subtle acting give the show an aesthetic that’s both celebrated for its art-house feel, and denigrated for its almost surreal detachment from its own passionate subject matter.

But despite its interest in slick surfaces and images, and restrained pace, this show is very active in deeply disrupting our expectations of women, work and commodified sex. The show plays on gender norms; disrupting ideas about women as emotive, co-dependent, warm, physically subjugated. Its female characters are ruthless, capable and cold, and never more so than in the sex of its season finale.

Watch the season 1 finale of The Girlfriend Experience at SBS On Demand:

For a finale, season one ends on a subdued note. There are no major revelations or events, no cliffhanger. It only shows Christine’s day, moving in her life around the focus of her escort work.

But The Girlfriend Experience has always been about undermining expectations. Sex work scenes in the show act as an expression of success and power - for the protagonists, an opportunity for asserting independence and claiming control.

The sex scenes can also be deeply disturbing – the female gaze, so often marginalised, is centred, but it is centred as emotionless, possibly disdainful. For each player, emotions are messy and characterise weakness. The ultimate achievement for the worker has been to cut herself off from feeling, to excise the messiness of emotion from sex. It is a victory of a kind, but one that feels hollowed out.

It’s a fascinating and nuanced take on sex - transactional, powerful, portrayed graphically but eliding titillation. And it’s well worth watching, because for a culture that has access to millions of portrayals of sex, I don’t think you’ll have seen anything like it before. 

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