Study Guide

Big Little Lies Sex

By Liane Moriarty

Sex

You hit me, you hit me, now you have to kiss me. –School Yard Chant (Epigraph)

Big Little Lies hits the ground running with the connection between sex and violence. Even tiny little kiddos are instructed to make a sordid connection between the two. This books suggests we start learning to conflate affection and abuse at a very young age.

Was there some sick, damaged part of Celeste that actually liked living like this and wanted this shameful, dirty marriage? That's how she thought of it. As if she and Perry engaged in some sort of strange, disgusting, and perverted sexual practice. (13.17)

Sex isn't something to be ashamed of; beating up your wife, however, is definitely something to be ashamed of. Celeste has absolutely zero to be ashamed of, but she internalizes victim-blaming and feels like she's "disgusting."

There was always sex afterward. When it was all over. At about five a.m. Fierce, angry sex with tears that slid onto each other's faces and tender apologies and the words murmured over and over Never again, I swear on my life, never again, this has to stop, we have to stop this, we should get help, never again. (13.19)

Part of the Celeste's complicated, self-blaming feelings about her abuse have to do with the fact that there's always make-up sex. Hot n' steamy make-up sex. The interconnectedness between sex and violence rears its ugly head once again.

Right now she was in the middle of a sex scene. She flipped the page. […] She was feeling something, a tiny pinprick of feeling. She shifted slightly on the bathroom tiles. No. Surely not. From a book? From two nicely written paragraphs? But yes. She was. She was ever so slightly aroused. (29.6)

Jane's reading a spicy passage from a book club book…and it has the intended effect. What's remarkable here is that Jane's arousal isn't just about sex—it's part of a larger trend of her waking up from being depressed and closed off to the world. For Jane, remembering sexual arousal is part of remembering how to live.

She was there to have sex with him. She did not change her mind. She did not say no. It was definitely not rape. (31.16)

This is what Jane remembers about the night of her sexual and verbal assault. And let's get very real for a second here. On the one hand, she's right: she did want to have sex with him, and helped initiate. On the other hand: sex is only consensual as long as both people involved are enthusiastic participants. What starts as consensual sex can 100% become rape.

"So that's why, if you’re in bed with a man, and you're naked and vulnerable, and you're assuming that he finds you at least mildly attractive, and then he says something like that, well it's…" She gave Madeline a wry look. "It's kind of devastating." (32.19)

Real talk: Jane was verbally abused by a man while they were having sex. He called her fat and ugly and she has never forgotten that.

"What? No! Are you kidding?" said Madeline. "Anyway, I don't want sex. I ate too much risotto for dinner."

"Right. Of course. Silly of me." Ed put his glasses back on. (34.3)

Madeline and Ed's sex life isn't smokin' hot (blame the risotto, the kids, or the years of marriage) but it's always well-communicated and consensual.

Something had been happening over the last few weeks, ever since she'd read the sex scene in the bathroom. It was like her body, her rusty, abandoned body, was starting up again of its own accord, creaking back to life. She kept catching herself idly, accidentally looking at men, and at women to, but mainly men, not so much in a sexual way but in a sensual, appreciative way. (35.8)

Jane's back, baby! She's experiencing a transformative, spring-like awakening. Six years after her trauma, she's beginning to appreciate bodies—both hers and other people's.

"Abigail is auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder as a way of raising awareness for child marriage and sex slavery. She is saying, um 'If the world stands by while a seven-year-old is sold for sex, then the world shouldn't blink an eye if a privileged white fourteen-year-old sells herself for sex.' All the money raised will go to Amnesty International." (57.5)

Whoa, has anyone ever told Madeline's daughter that two wrongs don't make a right? At fourteen, Abigail understands the intrinsic power of sex, and just how provocative it can be.

"Right, right, but the point is, Renata's nanny is having an affair with Geoff."

"Why would she want to have an affair with Geoff?" (75.6)

This snippet off gossip shows that a large percentage of the tea spilled in Pirriwee has to do with S-E-X. A nanny sleeping with the husband of her employer? Juicy. The same nanny also sleeping with the husband of the employer's best friend? Doubly juicy.

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