Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha -- my go-to girlfriends from Sex and the City answered basically every relationship question out there. From June, 1998 - February, 2004, these cherished heroines were at once approachable, smart, hilarious, insightful, brutally honest and self-effacing. Sure, the Prada bags and Jimmy Choos are fun to see, but the fashion was merely an appealing aesthetic serving as a delivery platform for ground-breaking discussions about sex, commitment, friendship and love.
True confession: I was a hipper psychotherapist when they were around. Why? Week after week, their fresh new material on everything from masturbation to marriage was relevant to the very issues my therapy clients face. Since I specialize in relationships and intimacy, the show became an ideal co-therapist that I brought into the therapy session whenever appropriate.
I recently began re-watching season one and was struck by how much the dating world has changed. Forget about ipads and iphones; only a couple of random season one characters even have cell phones, and the few they have look oversized and embarrassing. No blackberries, no internet references, no Facebook, noTwitter. At the same time, it is surprising how much remains the same. So much has evolved technologically, and yet the very first episode asks the current, ever-relevant question, "Can Women Have Sex Like Men?"
This appealing and psychologically interesting question is as relevant today as it was when the first SATC episode aired.
Samantha insists that with so many "toxic bachelors" in New York City, the answer to being happily single in the City is to do it like a guy: frequently, with multiple partners, and no strings attached. Charlotte completely disagrees and insists that if a woman approaches sex like a man, she will compromise her virtue and her desirability. Miranda and Carrie fall somewhere in the middle and spend the episode flirting with the concept. Carrie has "cheap and easy" sex and feels incredibly "free" and "potent" until she notices her sex buddy out in a night club kissing another woman.
Female clients in psychotherapy struggle with this question in earnest. I worked years ago with a Samantha-esque women who truly could have sex with multiple partners, enjoy it, and feel consistently satisfied with this approach. She began therapy when one of her sexual partners said he was falling in love with her. Intellectually, she wanted to give a committed relationship a shot, but in her heart she felt terrified. She had difficulty picturing herself in a monogamous relationship and explained that it felt like speaking a foreign language. And yet, she decided it was a foreign language she wanted to learn. Today, she and her former sex buddy are happily married. Her life was quite full when she ended therapy, and she expressed no regret whatsoever about the many years she enjoyed sex without commitment.
Based on my experience, for every Samantha, there are many more Charlottes who are not comfortable with this approach. But there are even more Carries and Mirandas who CAN have sex without emotional intimacy or commitment up to a point, but then, like it or not, feelings start to develop. Once the feelings develop, it becomes harder to proceed with the stereotypical masculine mindset they once enjoyed.
Why so few Samanthas? Maybe it is the way women are socialized? Or maybe it is something in the female biochemistry? Or something primal, related to differing gender roles with respect to reproduction.
My advice? If you think you might want to have sex like a man, think twice! Force yourself to imagine how you would feel if, the very same night you had sex with someone, you saw him kissing another woman in a night club. Would this scenario make you feel "free" and "potent"? Or would you feel hurt and used? Be honest. If you would struggle with this hypothetical but very possible scenario, then cheap and easy sex without emotional intimacy or commitment may not be for you.
For many women, like it or not, sex brings up feelings and once the feelings develop, it is INCREDIBLY hard to get rid of them.
In fact, sex brings up similar feelings for many men who may go along with "cheap" and "easy" sex simply because they feel societal pressure to do so. Men who would struggle seeing their sex partner kissing another should also think twice about having sex without commitment. More importantly, whether you have sex like a woman or sex like a man, use protection. Even if you successfully avoid having feelings for a one-night stander, you may find yourself stuck with extremely strong, lifelong feelings if it turns out that your sexual partner gets you pregnant or transmits an STD!
Sex and the City fun trivia fact: Carrie first meets Mr. Big during episode one immediately after she has sex like a man, leaves hex sex partner's apartment, and spills a purse full of ultra textured Trojans on the city sidewalk - and Mr. Big kneels down to help her collect them. So, in this instance, Carrie's "cheap and easy" "sex like a man" leads to some unintended long-term consequences!
Log in next week to discuss SATC episode two: "How Important is Beauty?"
Follow Elisabeth Joy LaMotte, LICSW on Twitter: www.twitter.com/elisjoy