“Scrubs” On Relationships
In season one of the truly wonderful medical comedy-drama Scrubs, a young intern, Elliot Reed, struggles with relationships. She’s portrayed as nerdy, anxious, and uptight, even prudish. She will only refer to sex as “intercourse”, and claims never to have had an orgasm. (In a truly brilliant scene, she then has her first orgasm sitting on a washing machine.)
And then she hooks up with main character John Dorian, and it’s wonderful and effortless and they spend a luxurious 24 hours in bed and have great sex over and over again. And it’s cute, but it also seems way too easy.
I get it. Uptight, prudish people need to relax, loosen up a little, and have more fun, in order to move on to the next stage of their personal development. It’s a great trope. But…I still feel like the show’s writers took this episode in the most predictable direction imaginable. Of course the priggish girl turns out to be standard cis heterosexual and capable of mind-blowing orgasms if only she lets loose a little.
Not only is this trope kind of boring, it also sends a powerful message about what’s normal and good. It says that if you’re anxious and uptight and you’ve never enjoyed sex, the next stage of your personal development involves unlocking your hidden desire and, well, having the best sex ever.
There are plenty of people for whom this just isn’t true.
Imagine a different version. Maybe Elliot still has a crush on J.D. She watches him get together with another woman, feels the sharp pang of jealousy, and when he breaks up, she seizes her chance. She kisses him. This time it will be different. This time, it will feel the way it’s described in books, the way it’s portrayed in movies. This time, it’ll be right.
Only it isn’t. Her lips touch his, and it feels like…nothing. She wants him to want her, so she fakes it. She’s good at it by now. In bed, she takes his clothes off. Maybe this, at least, will be different. But it isn’t. It still feels like nothing. She fakes an orgasm, and has the relationship talk, because she wants this. And later she goes home and lies in her own bed and feels sick, because it was so wrong, letting him touch her. Because even though she initiated the kiss and the sex, even though she wanted it, she feels invaded.
So she breaks up with him, and it’s messy and confusing and she feels like there must be something terribly wrong with her. When she asks her friend Carla for advice, Carla says, well, you must not have met The One yet.
Maybe, eventually, she wonders if she’s a lesbian. She’s never looked at girls that way, but maybe she should try it anyway? So she tries it, with a newly introduced character, a cute, funny, likeable girl. And it’s no different. Their lips touch, they lie naked in bed together, and it feels like nothing.
And then, finally, someone offers that maybe she isn’t repressed or uptight or broken or wrong. Maybe she just doesn’t like sex or kissing, and that’s okay. And maybe she finds a character who’ll love her the way she is.
(There are a lot of other versions. Maybe she is lesbian. Hell, maybe she’s trans, and has always just felt so wrong in her body that she can’t focus on intimacy, but never had the words for it. Or maybe a dozen other things–all of which are better than the narrative that says “this is how you have to be, otherwise you’re broken.”)