When Sex and the City premiered in 1998, it was hailed as one of the most envelope-pushing, modern television series of all time. It was about four successful women in their 30s living in New York and having sex... and talking about it. Nowadays, that sounds like the standard for a lot of comedies (The Mindy Project, Girls, Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City), but, for 1998, it wasn't being done on such a large or in-your-face scale. The Golden Girls was also a series about four single gals who were dating, having sex, and figuring out the next step in their lives, but they were older, so it was somehow less shocking, or at least more approachable, to audiences. However, looking back on Sex and the City shows how tame the series actually was when it comes to showing what modern sex looks like in New York City.
Yes, the show shifted perspectives and boundaries in terms of how women's stories are told on television, but it did so in a way that was actually much safer than I remembered. Though I suppose it just feels that way now because of how much things have changed in the past 17 years in terms of what you can and can't say on television. Sex and the City may not have been the big sexual revolution it was thought to be, but it did help prove to the industry that women are a demographic not to be ignored — and now women's stories on television are now being pushed into new territory.
Let's take a look at how SATC was a lot less edgy than we remember.
1. Most Of The Sex Talk Involved Feelings & Relationships
Sex and the City wasn't just four gal pals sitting around talking about penis sizes. When Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte got together, the sex talk usually revolved around their current relationship status, feelings, wants, and where they were in their lives. Even Samantha, who was the "risky" one of the bunch, discussed her sex life in relationship to her career and lifestyle. It wasn't just dirty sex talk with these gals — sex was the framework for a lot of complicated conversations.
2. The Sex Stuff Was Fairly Tame
It took all four of them to get together to help Charlotte figure out whether or not she wanted to be "up the butt girl." We now live in the world of 50 Shades of Grey, from which an entire genre of BDSM lite and major hollywood films have spawned. Which one seems more shocking?
3. The Nudity Is Light For HBO Standards
Sure, we saw Samantha's boobs almost every episode, but it never felt gratuitous. Maybe that's because her nudity was served with a healthy serving of body-positivity and agency. When you think about how many breasts, bums, and pelvic mounds we see per episode of Game of Thrones and even True Detective, Sex and the City is pretty PG-13.
4. The Sex Is Consensual
Shows like Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black depict sexual encounters in a very wide spectrum — including very realistic and unsettling portrayals of rape and sexual abuse. When you think about controversial sex scenes on television, it's not Sex and the City that comes to mind, because, even before GoT and OITNB, there was Oz.
5. The Sex Is Mostly Hetero-normative
Other than Samantha's experimental relationship with Maria, and the brief glimpse at seeing Stanford fellating Marcus, all of the sex on Sex and the City is heterosexual. Sex and the City was progressive for its time, but, at one point, Carrie was totally freaked out by having a boyfriend who was bisexual. In New York? Nowadays? C'mon now.
6. The Fashion Was Tame As Well
Carrie walked around in her skivvies from time to time, donned a tutu with a tank top, and covered herself in oversized flowers, but we also had Charlotte's ultra conservative preppiness, and Miranda's styling to balance it all out. Heck, Samantha wore power suits during most episodes. And, lest we forget, the late '90s were also the time for this:
7. The Girls Were More Exciting Than The Guys
The most exciting thing Big ever did was paint one wall in his bedroom red (he was also a grade A jerk). Steve was safe. Harry was a doormat. Aidan was almost too good to be true. Smith was an anti-Hollywood actor, and then there was Trey. I know Sex and the City was really about the women, but the guys are safer than you remember.
8. Everyone Was Wealthy
No wonder the gals dated in such a predictable way; they all lived in Manhattan and made buckets (or married into buckets) of money. There's nothing really shocking about watching rich people struggle with a bad date or broken stiletto when you're busy trying to find what instant noodle has the lowest sodium content. Now there's a struggle!
All in all, Sex and the City was a pretty tame show that explored sex in a safe way. In the end, all of the women fell into occasionally typical expectations for what a relationship should look like. Entertaining? Yes. Shocking? Not so much.
Images: HBO; Giphy (9)