June marks the 20th anniversary of Sex and the City , a revolutionary show about four independent women talking frankly about sex and their desires in New York. This story was originally published on May 26, Advertisement As many times as these women fall down — meet the wrong sociopath, have weird sex, get their hearts broken — they always manage to get back up and try again.
But this time around, one episode stopped me in my tracks. Her reticence to speak up means she has to endure terrible sex that actually leaves her physically injured. A decade ago, that was enough. The pioneering series about single, sexually active women broke ground in depicting exactly this kind of experience with a wink and a smile.
But watching it now, I was troubled to see a woman discounting her own pleasure, even her well-being, in favor of playing nice and not making waves. A single episode from this season of Girls wades further into the dynamics of consent and pleasure than all of Sex and the City combined — all within the same framework of a half-hour comedy.
Hannah makes the first move and goes in for a kiss. After some protest from her partner, Hannah stands up and ends the hookup. The instructor finishes herself off and bursts into sobs. Another scene in the same episode finds Jessa and Adam having sex, and things seem to have improved from their very awkward first time.
They act out her fantasy, with Jessa protesting for him to pull out and Adam finishing inside, supposedly against her will. Advertisement If TV is a prism for our culture, scenes like these are evidence of a long-overdue conversation about consent that's been pushed to the forefront in recent years.
In light of how far we've come in bringing these issues to the surface — no longer playing nice and actually being honest, both on-screen and off — watching Carrie bury her true feelings and defer to some douchey one-night stand was totally jarring this time around. I can't imagine a current female-fronted series depicting the same scenario without digging deeper. Though it may feel dated now, Sex and the City did more for representations of female experiences on the small screen than anything that came before it.
Signs of its enormous cultural impact can be seen everywhere from women marrying older to dating apps that cater to the agency of single ladies, like Bumble.
At the turn of the century, we needed to see gutsy, ambitious, eloquent women navigating the twists and turns of urban dating. These days, we get series like Girls probing tougher questions about consent and consistently pushing boundaries in exploring female pleasure.