The iconic TV show Sex and the City may have gone off the air in 2004, but the series—which had countless women trying to figure out if they were a Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, or a Miranda—has remained a pop culture staple.
Although SATC first aired when I was a kid and I’m now well into my 20s, I find myself rewatching the entire series from start to finish at least once a year. I continue to do this despite the fact that, when the show aired from 1998 to 2004, it certainly wasn’t written with working class Black women or Black femmes like me in mind. Still, I’ve always found a certain comfort in watching the main characters fall in and fail at love over and over again. Not to mention that as a current sex writer who briefly resided in New York City, Carrie Bradshaw—with her rent-controlled Upper East Side Apartment, bold fashion, and quaint sex column—represents something of a dream deferred to me.
But now I must admit that years of revisiting the series as an adult have revealed that, simply, the show hasn’t aged well. After my most recent viewing, I see that SATC‘s instances of racism, transphobia, and slut-shaming were problematic at best, blatantly offensive at worst. Ahead are just a few of those disconcerting moments.
1Carrie’s thoughts on bisexuality
Biphobia is a very real thing, and individuals across all genders are stigmatized for identifying as bisexual. In a Season 3 episode of the series entitled “Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl,” Carrie dates Sean, a younger man who once had a romantic relationship with another man. This facet of Sean’s romantic past trips Carrie up, and she makes the following statement:
Though I’m discussing an episode that aired years ago, bisexual people are often accused of either being experimental or simply gay to this day. Not to mention how toxic masculinity frequently invalidates the experiences of bisexual men. Frankly, it’s unfathomable to me that Carrie wrote about sex for a living yet was so narrow-minded about sexual identity.
2Samantha’s fetishization of interracial dating
Season 3 Samantha “didn’t see color” and struck up a short-lived relationship with an “African-American” record executive named Chivon. Samantha loved to describe Chivon’s “big Black c*ck,” and the relationship ended because of Chivon’s sister’s disapproval. Given that Samantha fetishized Chivon throughout the entire episode, it’s a good thing that the relationship didn’t last.
3A surprising amount of slut-shaming and sex negativity
For a show that was about four women and their sex lives, they sure did slut-shame each other an awful lot. Charlotte, who was as sexually active as her girlfriends, frequently spouted the “sex should only happen with someone you love” rhetoric. On more than one occasion, she judged Samantha for having multiple sex partners. Even Carrie turned up her nose at “golden showers,” and slut-shamed Samantha after catching her performing oral sex in public. It makes you wonder why Carrie even got into writing about sex as a line of work if she was so judgmental.
Also, important aspects of sex like consent were never discussed. And Samantha, the most sex-positive character on the show, waited until her 40s to get her first HIV test.
In Season 3, episode 9, Samantha gets into a spat with transgender sex workers in her neighborhood. This episode managed to include several dated terms and transphobic slurs, including references to transgender individuals as transsexuals and tr*nnies. And while it wasn’t the only show at the time to insensitively discuss the LGBTQ+ community, it is disappointing for an apparently progressive show to make transgender identities feel like a punchline.
5Carrie’s unrealistic, privileged lifestyle
Carrie’s lifestyle has long been criticized for being beyond unrealistic, as was pretty much every character’s lifestyle on the show. The series never featured any characters who were working class, aside from Miranda’s paramour Steve. And even then, the women portrayed as working class in those episodes were characterized as “less than.” While all the women lived alone in spacious N.Y.C. apartments, the only one to ever be depicted as having money troubles was Carrie in the Season 4 episode “Ring a Ding Ding.” It’s a wonder that Carrie didn’t struggle with money earlier in the series because in real life—even in the late 90s/early 2000s—there’s no way a newspaper columnist could maintain a studio apartment in Manhattan, complete with a closet full of $400 shoes.
New York City is a place brimming with various cultural and racial identities. But Sex and the City remained lily-white throughout the entirety of its run. And when non-white characters were introduced, their appearance was typically brief and their performance felt like one-dimensional stereotypes. In total, there were only three interracial relationships depicted on the series, and all other people of color almost always seemed to play some version of “the help.”
I’ve loved SATC for most of my life, but these things are hard to ignore and important to talk about—especially if we keep watching.