Sex and the City S1E8/9: Three’s a Crowd/The Turtle and the Hare
But why, oh, why, is it always about the fucking men?
These last couple of episodes of Sex and the City are…frustrating, to say the least. As a woman who is all about that sex positivity and who believes that the great expanse of sexual pleasure for women is something that even now stands to be explored with a far greater depth in popular culture, Sex and the City was sort of the beginning of those conversations in the broader mainstream. These two episodes, Three’s a Crowd and The Turtle and the Hare, both claim to explore women’s sexuality – but functionally boil all that down to just doing what it is that a man likes best.
Charlotte’s current beau shares the fantasy of a threesome with her, which she initially declines but eventually opens up to, and Carrie spends a bunch of time musing on the fact that Big has been married before. In a lot of ways, I think this is a really classic episode of SATC – this is the kind of thing people think of when they picture the show, some vaguely taboo sexual topic acting as a framing device for Carrie hand-wringing about whether her American Psycho boyfriend is about to poke his enormous nose into some other woman’s business again.
I don’t have much against the threesome plot here (especially not Miranda’s take on it, as she tries to find a couple who want to have sex with her to prove her own desirability, because Cynthia Nixon is second only to Kim Cattrall in the comic timing stakes) – exploring a partner’s fantasies is a pretty normal and healthy part of a relationship, and I appreciate that it’s framed as Charlotte’s choice (even if the episode also drops the possibility of exploring Charlotte’s fantasy as soon as her new man brings up his). Of course, as soon as Charlotte does agree to going through with it, she gets dumped for the other woman as soon as they get into bed – God forbid she actually enjoy some new sexual experience and have a positive takeaway from it, right? Well, the next episode tries to remedy that – even if it fails pretty dismally.
The Turtle and the Hare is actually the first episode of SATC that I ever remember seeing, and it was indeed the very first time that I ever saw sex toys discussed in such an open manner – a major sub-plot this week is Charlotte getting her first rabbit vibrator, and honestly, her cooing over the little pink bunny ears is basically how I was introduced to the idea of next-level vaginal masturbation. As an erotica author, every time I write a sex scene featuring toys, I am always reminded of this plot, whether I like it or not, my first introduction to the plastic pleasures of a really, really good vibrator (side note: if you’ve got a vagina and a few spare bucks, this vibrator will change your life).
Charlotte winds up addicted to the toy, cancelling plans with her friends to have some crazy orgasms, until an intervention by Carrie and Miranda breaks her out of it. Charlotte agrees that it’s time to get rid of the toy, not because it’s getting in the way of her social life, but because…well, she doesn’t want to ruin herself for the men who can’t make her come as hard as that.
Which is kind of bananas, in a show that frames itself as a sex-positive and blunt depiction of women’s sexuality. Yes, women’s sexual pleasure is explored in SATC in a way it might not have been in other shows at the time, but the cap that is put on this storyline is one that revolves around Charlotte saving herself for sex with actual men. Sex that, as she remarks during the episode, isn’t anywhere near as good as masturbation with the vibrator. She doesn’t want to ruin herself for men. Even though it sounds like men have been ruining orgasms for her plenty so far. In what world does the moral of the story here have to be that having insane orgasms using solo sex toys is…the wrong thing to be doing? Let a gal jill off in peace, please!
Fundamentally, these two episodes are telling us that a woman’s sex life revolves around how she can be the best sexual partner possible for a man who may not even exist yet. Even masturbation revolves around men. Fantasies are men’s fantasies, women acting as fulfillment tokens to make them work, and sex toys are a holdover between Real Men (even when they’re worse in bed than their plastic counterparts). Sex and the City, in these episodes, is more about Sex and the Men Who You’re Going to Have It With And How Best to Pleasure Them When You Do. Because it’s always about the fucking men – and more specifically, fucking men.
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(header image via Television of Yore)