Tuned In

TMYLM Watch: Bringing Sexlessness Back

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“We ask a lot of love.” –May

HBO photo: Doug Hyun

Only time for a quickie today. That’s what she said! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. That’s what she–

OK, seriously. You can’t really write about Tell Me You Love Me without having sex on the brain, and this episode was a reminder of how much the series is about the consequences–and the burden–of having sex on the brain. At the beginning of the season, we met Dave and Katie and discovered that they weren’t having sex, which looked like it might be the end of their relationship. Seven episodes in, they’re not having sex–and it looks like it may be the best thing that ever happened to their relationship.

Enjoined by May’s prescription to put their sex life on hold, they get a surprise evening alone together, courtesy of the grandparents. Rather than jump into bed–that is, rather than feel smothered by the pressure to jump into bed–they spend the evening with man and woman’s best friend: TiVo, and a hot bath, respectively. Later, they go out for a couple’s dinner and play a guessing game about who else is and isn’t having sex. (“Very few,” Dave guesses.) Suddenly, not having sex is their thing, in a positive way: it’s a kind of mutual rebellion, in a culture that’s fixated on sex.

TMYLM quickly got a repuation as “the dirty show,” but so much of it is a commentary on how sex-saturated the rest of society is, and how relentless that can be. It’s inescapable: it’s at the ice cream shop, at clothing stores, at parties, in Chris Rock routines and in your computer. This isn’t a prudish attitude, exactly: TMYLM clearly doesn’t think that sex is bad or unhealthy. But it can be tyrannical, and this episode largely focused on the three therapy couples trying to escape it. Carolyn and Palek speed-selling their house to flee the site off their baby-making pneumatics. Jamie dragging Hugo to therapy because if they talked alone, “we’d fight, and then we’d have sex, and I don’t want to do that.” And Dave and Katie finding, in their disciplined sexlessness, that they can be freer and more fun with each other than we’ve ever seen them. (This despite Katie’s frenemy, Rita, trying obnoxiously to stoke her frustration: “There they go–the MILF hunter and the celibate coach.”)

Dave and Katie haven’t come close to solving their problems, but they’ve taken a step; if they aren’t yet ready to have sex, they’re at least asserting their power to deny it. In any revolution–sexual or otherwise–sometimes the hardest freedom to win is the freedom to opt out.