When Sex and the City first came to UK television in 1999, it was aired in the middle of the week late at night on Channel 4, which meant it ticked all of my teenage boxes for what wanted to watch: edgy, cool and about sex. But unlike Eurotrash or any of the other explicit things I used to watch on my portable TV, with the volume turned down low in the pitch black, Sex and the City immediately set itself apart.
There had been nothing else like it before. Here were four successful but flawed women, not only having sex, but what felt like real sex. The show was sexy but also funny, and showed us that sex sometimes goes wrong. And not only were they having sex but they were talking about it – explicitly, but not for the sake of simply being explicit.
Sex and the City felt like my little secret for a few years. Only my best friend and I watched it, and we never missed an episode. Even as I got older and started going out, I would get my mum to tape record it so I could devour it for sex tips and outfit ideas when I was hungover.
By the time the final series came around, Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha had become worldwide names. Everything from cosmopolitans, magic wand vibrators and Manolo Blahniks had entered into the cultural psyche.
Today, 17 years after the end of Sex and the City series (let’s not talk about the films), comes the new chapter, And Just Like That…, which sees Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda return to our screens. Kim Cattrall’s character Samantha Jones will not be returning.
And with their return, I couldn’t help but wonder: were the sex and relationship tips that Carrie and the girls imparted on us the first time round actually any good? Let’s unpack.
“He’s just not that into you”
Carrie is introducing her friends to her new boyfriend, the infamous Berger. After some standard explicit chat from Samantha about her sex life, Miranda shares details about her average date, which ended up with a kiss but no sex, as he had an early meeting the next day. Everyone agrees that it sounded positive and that he will definitely call her. But Berger lays it on straight and tells Miranda that “he’s just not that into you”, because “when a guy’s really into you, he’s coming up, meeting or no meeting”. Faced with this incredibly black and white assessment, everyone applies it to their real world situations and finds out that it can work to their advantage. But there are obviously exceptions to the rule.
This episode was actually the inspiration for the self-help book He’s Just Not That Into You, which later became a film. To be honest, the film was trash, but the overall advice here is actually pretty great. You’re not going to be to everyone’s taste, just like you might date someone that you’re not super into. It’s better to just say, “hey, I had a nice time, but I’m not feeling it”, rather than ghost away leaving questions and a bruised ego.
Verdict: Solid, reliable advice.
While going through a dry spell, Miranda bumps into a cute ophthalmologist she used to date whilst training for a marathon. Recalling that she broke it off because the guy couldn’t make her cum during sex and she used to fake orgasms with him, the girls encourage her to give it another try to see if he has learned anything since she was last with him. Nothing has changed, so Miranda is forced to tell him that he is bad in bed and teaches him how to give orgasms with clitoral stimulation. The guy doesn’t get it, so she goes back to faking them for ease.
This is truly awful advice. People won’t learn if they don’t get shown how to make you orgasm. We aren’t all born with an innate knowledge of the wheres and hows of what works. Patience and communication leads to better sex.
Verdict: Never ever fake an orgasm, people!
“You can’t have sex on the first date”
It’s funny to think about Carrie and Big first having sex, after years and years of being off and on and off again. But early on in the first series, debating if and when she should fuck Mr Big was a whole episode and column headline for Carrie. Rather predictably, each character has their own view on the matter:
“You can’t sleep with him on the first date,” insisted Charlotte.
“Bullshit theory,” rebutted Samantha.
“If you are serious about a guy, you have to keep him in a holding pattern for at least five dates,” argued back Charlotte.
Miranda kept it simple: “Just don’t fuck on your first date.”
At which Samantha said: “Who cares? Just fuck.”
Carrie does in fact sleep with Big on their first official date. When he doesn’t turn up to an engagement, the moralising happens again and even Samantha reneges on her “who cares” attitude.
But in reality, your relationship isn’t going to be affected if you fuck on the first date. It all depends on how you feel and what you want. These types of ideals have long gone out the window, along with Carrie’s pedal pushers and heels combos.
Verdict: You do you!
The bisexual shaming
There is so much to unpack here, I don’t know where to begin. In series three, Carrie starts dating a man who has previously been in relationships with both men and women, and identifies as a bisexual. Over brunch, Carrie admits to the girls she might be uncomfortable with it and asks, “when did the genders get all confused?” She even goes on to say that she dated some bisexual people in college, but they all turned out gay. Later in the conversation, she takes it further by saying she doesn’t even think she believes in bisexuality and thinks it is just a layover for confused gay people on the way to gay town. Charlotte agrees and says people should pick a side. Miranda says it’s greedy, that he’s double dipping and tells Carrie to stop seeing the guy.
Once again, words of wisdom only come from Samantha, who tells her that if he is open to all sexual experiences, he is evolved and, most importantly, that is hot! Don’t worry about the labels. Carrie eventually ends up playing spin the bottle with Alanis Morissette and sits there like a cold fish while Alanis snogs her face off. She then gets up and leaves her bisexual boyfriend for being too confusing.
Verdict: I don’t really need to tell you how biphobic this is really, do I?
Another one from series three, in episode eight, Samantha introduced us to the all important kegel muscle exercises, which can be done anywhere and at any time. These exercises help make your tighter pelvic floor muscle stronger, which not only keeps you nice and tight, but also gives you better bladder control. I have done mine every single day since watching this episode. Never had any complaints.
Verdict: Add kegel exercises into your daily routine immediately.
Samantha has an unusually long relationship with a man she is compatible with everywhere but the bedroom, due to the fact the guy has a tiny penis. To her credit, she tries all kinds of different positions to make penetration more enjoyable, but eventually just stops having any kind of sex and end up in couples therapy. At one point, unable to hold in the reason for their dry spell, Samantha blurts out that his penis is just too small to satisfy her. The guy leaves and her therapist agrees that sometimes you just need a big dick! While being fulfilled the way you like is important, penetration isn’t the only way to enjoy sex. Any good sex therapist would agree with this and work with you to help make banging enjoyable again.
Verdict: Size-obsessed Samantha got it wrong on this occasion, sorry.
After seeing her date kiss another woman in her gallery, Charlotte muses the definitions of cheating. Samantha declares that “men cheat for the same reason dogs lick their balls, because they can. It’s in their biology.” This is probably one of the worst opinions in the whole SATC series, however, it’s saved by Carrie who reminds us that women also cheat. Charlotte argues that it’s not the same, because women are motivated by emotions. Carrie then suggests that there is actually a cheating curve and people have different definitions of cheating.
This may well be the case for different people, but it is really better to know each other’s definitions of cheating before one of you declares that snogging and blowjobs don’t count. This episode does however gift us with my favourite piece of advice from Samantha of all time: “You can’t go listening to every fucking little voice that runs through your head. It’ll drive you nuts.” Words to live by.
Verdict: People cheat regardless of their gender. If you want to explore open relationships, communication is key.
The blowjob tug of war
Charlotte hates giving blowjobs. But the man she’s dating keeps pushing her head down to initiate a blowie, so she keeps giving excuses as to why she won’t go down on him. Over lunch she tells the girls that she has practiced over the years, pretending it was a popsicle, but it just makes her gag. The girls all agree they don’t mind doing it, but swallowing cum is not necessarily for them, or depending who the receiver is, they will make a judgement call. In fact, in certain situations, it can actually be quite powerful to be on your knees while you have them by the balls. Everyone also agrees that giving head often means you will get head in return and you shouldn’t expect it back if you’re withholding.
Verdict: This is my favourite advice in Sex and the City. It is explicit, fun and exactly what you expect from the show.
“It takes half the total time you went out with someone to get over them”
After Carrie splits up with Mr Big (for the first time), Charlotte tells her one of her famous “rules”: it takes half the time you were with someone to get over them. These words have stuck with me for life. It might be utter bullshit, but clinging on to something tangible like this when you are in the middle of heartbreak can be kind of helpful. In my lowest moments, when I was crying over a guy who I really thought might be the one despite only knowing him for a month or so, I knew that after two weeks I would be over him.
Verdict: Potentially bullshit, but a good coping mechanism for heartbreak.
When Charlotte marries Trey MacDougal (Kyle MacLachlan), she realises the day before her wedding that he can’t get it up. Rather than discuss this delicate and nuanced issue with her new husband, the girls tell Charlotte to wrap a strip of postage stamps around his flaccid dick while he is asleep. The next morning, if the paper has torn during the night, she’ll know the issue isn’t physical but rather mental. This is some of the worst sex advice that’s ever been given full stop.
Trey’s erectile dysfunction problems go on throughout this series and into the next. Thankfully, the couple eventually see a therapist who suggests they name their genitals (Trey’s is called “Schooner” and Charlotte’s is “Rebecca”). And guess what? It helps!
Verdict: Please, talk to each other and don’t wrap someone’s dick up like a Christmas present without consent.
The reverse racism episode
Maybe the worst episode in all of SATC history, this not only has the worst sex advice but is also so tone deaf and overtly racist that it needs addressing. Samantha starts dating the brother of the latest and hottest NYC restaurant head chef, who the girls happen to know. He also happens to be Black. It is worth noting that these are the first Black people we ever see in SATC, who aren’t playing the role of doctor, shopkeeper or other small roles. Samantha starts speaking in African-American vernacular and makes some comparisons between rap and hip-hop as though she has never heard any before, which is strange considering we know she has lived in New York City since at least the mid-80s. In a cringe-worthy moment that you knew was coming, the show couldn’t help itself and had to mention how great big Black cock is too.
Samantha is then verbally attacked by the chef, the reasons being that a white woman couldn’t possibly ever be with her Black brother. Samantha cries racism. The episode ends in a club, which is predominantly a Black space, where Samantha fights with the chef over her boyfriend. Samantha’s portrayed as the victim, while the chef is positioned as an aggressive, loud Black woman. A really bad look for everyone involved making this episode. Let’s hope And Just Like That… brings a bit more diversity and inclusivity both on and off the screen.
Verdict: The only thing to learn from this episode is what not to do in interracial relationships.