They talked openly about rimming, spanking, anal and threesomes, yet Carrie – a successful sex columnist – argued bisexuality as a mere “layover to Gaytown”
It’s easy to pick fault with Sex & the City. Carrie Bradshaw writes one newspaper column per week yet inexplicably has a closet stuffed with Dior and an oven stuffed with Manolos (like where is that £££ coming from); Samantha runs a wildly successful PR firm but steps into the actual office approximately once a season and the girls gather for stupidly overpriced Cosmos on the daily without falling into, you know, bankruptcy or awful alcoholism. Their sex lives are, however, more realistic – well, that if is you ignore certifiable nympho Samantha, who somehow manages to fuck every single conquest she ever lays eyes on. They talk frankly about rimming, threesomes and spanking which, to be fair, are conversations that many of us don’t want to have with our friends in 2016. But how do the girls cope with talking about bisexuality?
The first glimpse of the topic comes in Season 1 (Episode 3 – “The Bay of Married Pigs”) when Miranda – played by lesbian actress Cynthia Nixon – fakes a same-sex relationship to gain respect and power at work. “I’m determined to make partner in this firm even if I have to be a lesbian partner”, she says, reeling off other classic quotes like “Since when did being single translate to being gay?” She eventually decides she definitely isn’t gay after kissing fake-girlfriend Syd in the lift (“Yep, definitely straight”), but the messages are there; the message is that men assume Miranda’s a lesbian because she’s single in her thirties and wears dungarees with puffer coats and bad hats. It’s unfortunate but it’s true – these fabricated stereotypes are still pretty prevalent even today, and in this episode Miranda’s happy to exploit them for a promotion.
Shit truly hits the fan in Season 3 when Carrie accidentally ends up dating – horror of horrors – a real-life male bisexual! He’s called Sean, he’s approximately a decade younger than her, he’s a great kisser and he can even fucking ice-skate. What more does she want? The day after his admission she launches into discussion with her girlfriends and comes to the conclusion that bisexuality probably doesn’t even exist, that it’s just a “layover to Gaytown” and that “they always end up with men” – oh, and so do bisexual women, apparently.
Charlotte thinks that bisexual men are the reason that there’s no available men in New York, Samantha dismisses it as mere sexual experimentation and Miranda calls it “greedy double-dipping”. Carrie later unceremoniously ditches Sean at a party – which is fairly unsurprising considering that Carrie’s generally a bit of a dick. Remember when she cheated on Aidan with Big, begged for Aidan back and then chucked him again when he wanted to get married? Anyway, I digress. The most important thing here is that Carrie’s supposed to be a really successful SEX COLUMNIST! Why the fuck is the New York Star paying her enough to maintain a rent-controlled apartment in New York and an excessive shoe habit when she won’t even recognise bisexuality as a legitimate identity?
In fact, the only woman doesn’t appear completely biphobic is Samantha, who describes herself as a ‘try-sexual’. She proves this theory in Season 4 when she enters a relationship with Maria, a drop-dead gorgeous Brazilian artist with incredible hair and incredible talent that calls her vagina a ‘buceta’ (it’s Brazilian Portuguese slang for ‘pussy’, because she’s ‘exotic’, you know?) There’s a glimmer of hope here that the show might become even more progressive and dip its toes into pansexuality – a hope which is later erased.
“Charlotte thinks that bisexual men are the reason that there’s no available men in New York, Samantha dismisses it as mere sexual experimentation and Miranda calls it ‘greedy double-dipping’”
Instead of being immediately supportive that Samantha has finally found herself something resembling an emotional connection to someone, the girls immediately write it off as a phase and bitch about her the entire way home. Miranda likens it to transforming into a fire hydrant, Carrie compares it to becoming a shoe and Charlotte claims she’s simply run out of men (detecting a theme with Charlotte?), a statement to which Miranda responds, outraged, with “Then you go on strike, you don’t eat pussy!”
Despite the girls’ initial negative reactions, Maria actually goes on to be one of Samantha’s longest onscreen relationships – she lasts an entire three episodes before Samantha decides she misses dick and “isn’t a relationship person” – even a strap-on can’t rescue their fragile union, which comes to an abrupt end when a guy turns up at 4am and Maria reacts by spontaneously smashing around 14 plates. However, throughout the course of these episodes Samantha receives a comprehensive sexual education (“did you know that, when a vagina gets engorged, it expands to the size of a fist?”) and proves that individual magnetism can override sexual labels. There are still problems with the depiction – again, that Samantha ‘dips in’ to lesbianism as opposed to being genuinely bisexual – but it’s still the most progressive representation of bisexuality that the show offers.
Depictions of trans identities were also pretty shitty – one episode which sees a group of black “tranny hookers” congregate nightly outside Samantha’s apartment is particularly misguided in retrospect – as were issues of race in general, particularly in the episode where Samantha dates a man whom she frequently reiterates has a “big black cock” before his sister gets involved and expresses anger at her brother dating a white woman.
From Season 4 onwards the sexual experimentation dies down as Miranda has a baby, Samantha battles cancer and Carrie spends her time chasing Russian millionaires and throwing McDonald’s at Big. But, even now, I often use the programme as a jumping-off point to talk about sex with my friends. We live in a society that still views subjects like anal, rimming and foot fetishes as taboo, so the fact that these topics were discussed from four different viewpoints – nympho Samantha, conservative Charlotte, sarcastic Miranda and, well, Carrie – meant that the conversations were usually nuanced and varied. Plus, it resulted in some brilliant quotes – Samantha’s take on blow jobs (“Honey, they don’t call it a job for nothing!”) has become somewhat immortal in the modern dating world.
It is, however, a shame that bisexuality seemed to be the one subject they all agreed on. Samantha thought it was a phase of sexual experimentation reserved only for youth, Carrie thought it was a “layover to Gaytown”, Miranda called it “greedy” and Charlotte just thought it was a personal vendetta designed to see her single for the rest of her life. The show has been called biphobic in the past – a statement which you can either agree or disagree with based on the evidence above.
They may have shitty opinions and questionable approaches to relationships but, at their core, these women are wholly relatable. Friendship groups worldwide squabble which of them deserves the title of ‘Miranda’ and who’s a real ‘Charlotte’ – we can overlook the mistakes of these characters because they’re occasionally misguided and often flawed just like us; an essential quality which is doubtless the real reason that Carrie and co have endured the test of time.