Sex and the City might just be one of the greatest shows of all times, but not everything about it holds up. Here are the most outdated moments.
I love Sex and the City as much as the next girl, and I’m so grateful I got to be a part of the phenomenon in its original glory. I’ll even rewatch some of the episodes to indulge my sense of nostalgia. But, just like any kind of artifact, cultural or otherwise, Sex and the City is a product of its time, and as such, has some really cringeworthy moments that show its age.
As we near the 20th anniversary of the HBO show, we’ve rounded up a few of the most outdated and antiquated moments from the show’s successful six season run. We’re trying our best not to hold these against the show, but I can’t make any promises when it comes to cowboy hats as day wear or low-key racism (or language in any of the following clips; watch with caution).
Opinions about sexual identity
I feel like I’ll be making a lot of “it was a different time” excuses for this article, but this might just be the grossest thing on the list. I’d like to say Carrie didn’t know any better, but it seems by season three in 2000, it seems like she would have been a little more open in her beliefs.
"“I’m not even sure bisexuality exists. I think it’s just a layover on the way to Gay Town.” — Carrie"
Of course this is ridiculous. Bisexuality exists, isn’t a lifestyle choice, and isn’t some gateway identity on the way to homosexuality. This wouldn’t fly one bit if this aired today, because it’s wildly short-sighted and completely ignorant.
Sex of all sorts
Charlotte loses her mind when her “perfect” boyfriend of a few weeks asks her for anal sex. The other ladies react equally disproportionally, and everybody (except Samantha, of course) acts like he’s asked her to commit murder.
To clarify, Charlotte thinks anal sex and getting married are mutually exclusive. She fears her boyfriend will take her less seriously and perhaps refuse her. It’s insanity. Thank goodness, in the 20 years since this show has aired, women are allowed to like what they like, and not have to serve these very traditionally binary ideas of sexual pleasure. This is so old-fashioned, I can’t believe it even made it into this episode. Even for the late ’90s this seems a little prudish.
Carrie’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Yes, that’s an AOL email address. And, because Carrie doesn’t understand how the internet works, she hides under her desk when she realizes her boyfriend can see that she’s online.
The Post-It break up
We all know this would have been a text message if this show aired today. Berger wouldn’t have bothered to search the house for a sticky pad and pen, he’d just fire off the same message in the elevator on the way down. He’d probably add a few sad faced emojis and call it a day.
Smoking in public
There used to be a time when you could smoke inside — in bars and restaurants, no less. Carrie takes full advantage of this convention and lights up pretty much everywhere. She even capitalizes on the open air of the ballpark, and lights a ciggie as they watch the Yankees. Can you even imagine what would happen if you tried to smoke like that today? Gasp!
Remember when Samantha dated Chivon and the writers did everything in their power to fetishize him? Yeah … we tried to block it out as well, especially when Samantha tells her friends about him in the bedroom. Yikes.
Chivon’s sister was portrayed as a caricature of an “angry black woman,” and their fight about the interracial relationship would totally make modern viewers cringe. Things quickly devolve into the two lobbing racial stereotypes, including Samantha insulting the sister’s okra by saying it wasn’t “all that.” I almost tossed my okra all over Samantha’s “hip hop” outfit.
Although I’m willing to forgive a lot of fashion mistakes and blame it on the early aughts, there’s not much I can say to defend this Pepto Bismol-sponsored shearling coat.
From Sex and the City. Image via HBO
As a general rule, the ladies on Sex and the City dressed to accentuate their characters, but I’m not sure what wardrobe was trying to tell us about Charlotte with this ugly monstrosity.
In case you forgot, this show existed in a time before smart phones, text messaging, and social media. Lest you need reminding, just examine how much influence Carrie’s answering machine had on her romantic life and how many storylines sprang from the device. Miranda and Samantha had their beepers and Carrie talked on her house phone almost exclusively, long after it was practical to do so.
Looking back with a little distance, this makes the show seem far older and dated than it really is. While there are a lot of things that remain relevant about it, this positions it firmly in a very specific time and space — a time and space before iPhones and Instagram.
The absence of online dating (and shopping)
If Sex and the City were to get a revamp, this would have to be one of the first things the characters would have to take on. Obviously Carrie would have to learn the online shopping ropes and Samantha would be a Tinder genius. The absence of either of these things, even for a show that ran well into 2004, is just plain odd.
Carrie’s red cowboy hat/bandeau combo
Warning: this will hurt your eyes as much as it will hurt your heart. This outfit is so early 2000s it might as well have the date printed across that tiny bandeau.
I’m not sure who decided that the urban cowgirl look was a viable fashion option, but there is no way this outfit survives the test of time. It’s just so bad.
Threesomes as the next sexual frontier
It’s kind of quaint that Sex and the City thought that threesomes were a sexual frontier. For a show that preened in its own progressive attitudes about sex, this seems a little myopic. Sure, for some, a threesome might be a bit daring, but for Carrie to suggest it’s a far recess of sexual prowess is just sweet.
We live in a post-50 Shades of Grey world now, in which you have to work super hard to shock our sensibilities. A threesome could be considered vanilla sex by some stretch of the imagination, and plenty of folks might think that’s just the start of the adventure, not the end.
Carrie’s financial situation
Much has been written about the impossibility of Carrie Bradshaw’s financial situation. She’s a freelance writer, who writes one column a week, and is able to afford her own Manhattan apartment and dozens of thousand dollar shoes.
Perhaps we have the recession to thank for our reluctance to suspend our disbelief about her economic circumstances, or maybe it’s because the writers don’t even try to explain it away. They just rub it in our faces, constantly reminding us that she’s spent $40,000 on shoes. There are a few throw away episodes in which we’re meant to acknowledge her plight — she even takes the bus – but generally, it’s completely unbelievable. We’re much more savvy consumers these days, and we probably wouldn’t accept such irresponsibility and lack of accountability from our heroines. Modern audiences would demand Carrie “explain yourself.”
Speaking of the recession, these days we have an inherent distrust for anyone working in the banking industry. It stands to reason that we probably wouldn’t root for any of these ladies to date an investment banker, and we certainly wouldn’t buy it if any of them characterized them in a positive way. We would be very incredulous if we heard Carrie say today, “Tim was 42. A well-liked and respected investment banker.”
Everything that’s happening in this picture
From Sex and the City. Image via HBO.
Is Carrie going to a Halloween party? Does Miranda have to dress for her allergy to sunlight? Are those all-white sneakers Charlotte is wearing with a headband? This whole situation screams 20 years old. I can’t imagine a scenario in which any of these women could turn up in 2017 and not look like aliens from another planet at worst, and at best, like they came from a costume shop.
As forward thinking as this show was about female sexuality, there was a fair amount of slut-shaming going on. It was the go-to insult for Samantha’s character anytime anyone was mad at her. And Carrie often pondered this about her and her friends.
"Are We Simply Romantically Challenged, Or Are We Sluts? – Carrie"
Despite the claims of sexual freedom and independence, the ladies of Sex and the City forced themselves to follow a lot of rules about how they should behave in the bedroom. They constantly negotiated the ideas of “right” and “wrong” when it came to their sexual choices, and the inclination to defer to the word “slut” came far too quickly.
Even though Sex and the City is a great nostalgia trip, it’s not perfect — and there are a lot of things it could have done better, even when it was actually airing.