(Love, Your Way)

What Sex And The City Got Wrong About Sex, Relationships, & Identity

Sorry, Carrie.

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Everyone has that show that they know so well and have watched so much that they can turn on any episode and any season and know exactly where they are in the cast’s journey. Sex and the City is that show for me. I’ve followed the franchise and its four main characters — Carrie Bradshaw, Miranda Hobbes, Charlotte York, and Samantha Jones — since I was in high school, finding them all to be relatable in many ways. That said, as the highly anticipated reboot And Just Like That... looms (premiering on Dec. 9 on HBO Max), I can’t help but wonder just how accurately and fairly Sex and the City portrayed sex, relationships, and even identity throughout its six seasons and subsequent films.

Since its debut in 1998, and well past the series finale in 2004, the show has continued to captivate fans both old and new, in large part due to the deep friendship and ties between the four women. However, it’s also been heavily scrutinized for its lack of diversity and inclusivity in casting, which is a major pain point for me, as well. And in re-binging the entire series — ahead of the reboot, which I plan on watching — I’ve found myself taking issue with some of the primary relationships, plot lines, and character portrayals.

To compare notes, I consulted with Zoë Kors, the resident sex and intimacy coach at sexual wellness app Coral and author of Radical Intimacy: Cultivate The Deeply Connected Relationships You Desire And Deserve (hitting shelves in April 2022). A fellow SATC fan and historian, Kors had a lot to say about the show's pitfalls when it comes to sex, identity, and relationships. Check out our thoughts below.

The (Mis)Representation Of The LGBTQIA+ Community

While I loved regular characters like Stanford Blatch (played by the late Willie Garson) and Anthony Marentino (played by Mario Cantone), SATC’s representation of the LGBTQIA+ community was, in my opinion, limited at best ... and flat out disrespectful at worst. The aforementioned characters were the only recurring gay presence on the show, and positioned as stereotypes: flamboyant, fashion-forward, and snarky. There just wasn’t much scope or depth beyond this, and many of the episodes that featured LGBTQIA+ stories or characters blatantly missed the mark. There was very little exploration when it came to sexual identity, and when the topic was breached, it was often handled, well, poorly.

For example, in Season 3, Bradshaw dates a bisexual man, Sean (played by Eddie Cahill) who reveals to her that his past relationships included both men and women. She’s immediately put off by this, which Kors says was an “immature” and “emotionally unintelligent” response. “At one point, I think, she asks him who kisses better, she or a man, and is he more attracted to women or men,” says Kors. “I would think that as a sex columnist and sex expert [she would be] more evolved and less judgmental than that.”

This sentiment toward bisexuality and sexual fluidity arose again when Samantha Jones began dating a woman in Season 4. Not only did her group of friends struggle in their support of Jones’ relationship with artist Maria (played by Sonia Braga) — “I don’t think she’s a lesbian, I think she just ran out of men,” said York upon hearing the announcement. I felt Jones’ experience was devalued and written off as a sort of itch she needed to scratch — not to mention a punchline. “It was treated more like a kink orientation,” agrees Kors.

Then there is the downright shameful treatment and discussion of trans women in Season 3, which is arguably one of the most controversial to this day. In the episode, Jones gets into a turf battle of sorts with a group of transgender sex workers, and her treatment and derogatory names for them is nothing short of problematic. Laverne Cox, who told TZR in 2019 she’s a SATC historian, once said in a 2019 podcast interview that the episode was “disappointing to me, as a Black trans woman, to see Black trans women enter the world of Sex and the City and be so thoroughly othered.”

While plots and character storylines are all reserved to speculation until the Dec. 9 premiere, the And Just Like That... series is said to attempt to reconcile some of these inaccuracies and wrong turns, particularly with the addition of the Che Diaz character (played by Sara Ramirez), who is reported to be a non-binary, queer stand-up comedian. According to Deadline, “Che is a big presence with a big heart whose outrageous sense of humor and progressive, human overview of gender roles has made them and their podcast very popular.”

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Not Addressing The Sex-Intimacy Connection

While SATC was revolutionary in candidly portraying the lives (and sex lives) of single women in their 30s and 40s, and encouraging an honest dialogue around it, sex and true intimacy were often treated as separate entities, according to Kors. Yes, sex can and should be enjoyed casually outside of a relationship, but one can’t deny that it is a major source of intimacy and connection within a committed one. “I think [SATC] never really got to the crux of how physical intimacy (sex) and emotional intimacy (relationship) coexist,” says Kors.

SATC had a number of opportunities to showcase and explore this connection more with some of the primary relationships in the show, but instead chose too often to graze over it. Couples like Bradshaw and Mr. Big (played by Chris Noth) and Hobbes and Steve Brady (played by David Eigenberg) would experience lulls in their sex lives that clearly impacted their connection (and even led Brady to cheat on Hobbes in the first film), but the effect of physical intimacy on relationships wasn’t often discussed at length and how it specifically affected the characters and how they interacted with their partners.


The Lack Of Vibrator Respect

Sex toys can be an active part of one’s sex life, whether or not you’re in a relationship, and I think the discussions around vibrators early on in the series were, while silly, just wrong. I think a lot about the Season 1 episode where York discovers her first Rabbit vibrator and becomes thoroughly besotted by it, to the point of obsession. “I’d just rather stay at home with the Rabbit than go out and deal with men,” said York.

The episode portrays sex toys and accessories as addictive (which they are not) and not a worthy substitute for sex IRL. But the truth is, every body responds differently to stimulation and however you best achieve an orgasm is great. In fact, a 2017 study by The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that only 18% of women were able to reach climax from penetration alone, compared to the 37% who required clitoral stimulation. So, the moral of the story is that vibrators should be celebrated and not treated like a bad habit that must be quelled.

It must be said that the treatment of sex toys is improved upon in later seasons of SATC. “I'm thinking about Miranda and her goody drawer with toys and Magda [played by the late Lynn Cohen] moving them,” says Kors, referencing the Season 3 episode, where Hobbes’ housekeeper subtly shames her for her interest in the hand-held devices by removing them from the nightstand and replacing the contents with a figurine of the Virgin Mary. The episode concludes with the lawyer defending her use of sex toys and the housekeeper returning the goods to their rightful home. “I think Miranda handled it pretty well. I think that was an instance where toys were sort of championed,” says Kors.

The Sex Shaming

As a viewer and longtime fan of the show, I admit some of my favorite episodes have been when one of the women goes on a bad date or falls into a relationship with someone with an interesting habit. There was Hobbes who met a man at Weight Watchers who infamously “overate” her in the bedroom, and was left with her residue all over his face, which horrified the lawyer and her friends. “This is not shocking!” says Kors. “This happens every day. And, my sort of anecdotal research is that at least half of the women in the world love that. And, you’ve got the four women the next day at breakfast grossed out and wincing — it’s so disproportionate.”

And then there was the politician Bradshaw was seeing briefly who enjoyed golden showers. York also had a brief stint with a man who was known for being skilled at performing oral sex on women. All of these instances likely make for great entertainment and TV-watching, but they also created an atmosphere of sex-shaming, inferring certain sexual interests and preferences as unhealthy or weird. Says Kors: “My hope [for the reboot] is that they really portray the broad range of sexual identity and sexual expression that exists as healthy.”

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