Sarah Shahi: Sex/Life Taught Me That Desire Isn't a Dirty Word

In a new essay for Glamour, Sarah Shahi, who played Billie Mann in Netflix's Sex/Life, reveals how closely Billie's life resembled her own, and how she rediscovered sex, desire, and pleasure. In the season one finale, Billie declares the words "Now, fuck me" to her ex-boyfriend Brad, as she releases the desires she had been denying for so long. Shahi explains that after a season of feeling unappreciated by her perfect-on-paper husband, Cooper, Billie believed that the parts of herself that were unseen, her desire and sexuality, would continue to be unseen forever. But the consistent urge for a life that was far bigger than her own could no longer be ignored.

Sarah Shahi reveals how she struggled to perform a scene in Sex/Life, despite having rehearsed it for the past 10 years of her life. However, after weeks of nursing her wounds with chipotle and Milagro, she received a call offering her the role of Billie Mann. Shahi felt that the energy she possessed as her flawed, messy, overtired self was just what the character called for. She describes a scene in season one, episode one, where Billie talks about feeling like a watered-down version of herself and how it made her long for her earlier, uninhibited, and free self. Shahi reflects on how, as the first among her friends to have a baby, she declined invites to trips and adventures and watched from the sidelines while putting Lanolin on her sore breastfeeding nipples.

Sarah Shahi reflects on how she felt buried in frustration and questioned whether her life was meant for more. She wondered why she was always tired and why her neck pillow was in her son's room. In December 2019, she auditioned for a role in Sex/Life and found the script to be personal and relatable. The character of Billie had the courage to challenge all the things Shahi had been questioning for years. Shahi saw herself in Billie, who was flawed, didn't have it together, and was mourning the loss of her liberated, younger self. This audition was the jumpstart that Shahi had been searching for, and she walked into the audition room ready to prove that she and Billie Mann were one.
Sarah Shahi's newfound bravery gave her ownership over who she was, and it was empowering. She was no longer escaping her truth; she was living it. This commitment to herself extended to all areas of her life, including the bedroom. Shahi believes that women have been taught to view desire as a dirty word, but every human being is biologically designed to experience full sexual pleasure. She no longer saw sex as an obligation and found it kinky, playful, and something to look forward to. Shahi had the confidence to speak about her likes and dislikes without shame. Owning this self-liberation in front of millions of people was awkward at first, but she wears it with pride.

As an Iranian American, Shahi considers it a privilege and part of her life's purpose to be the poster child for women experiencing something similar. She wants to advocate for women fighting for things much bigger than the laments of an "unhappy housewife." Shahi's mother was born in Iran and was one of the original protestors in the '70s, which led to her parents' fleeing before she was born. Shahi understands what her mother fought against and the sacrifices she made to give her the freedoms she has.

Shahi believes that women have been told to keep their heads down, accept things the way they are, and not make noise. However, desire is a life-giving gift from the Universe, and she hopes that Billie Mann serves as a middle finger to every society, system, and person who held women down. Women are here to live as their truest selves and do everything their soul's fancy. They are here to live out their fullest selves next to one another, and they're just getting started.

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