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Can Women Have Sex Like a Man

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‘‘Can Women Have Sex Like a Man?’’: Sexual Scripts in Sex and the City Gail Markle
Published online: 16 January 2008
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008 Abstract The television series Sex and the City became an instant international hit from its 1998 debut on HBO throughout its final episode in 2004 and still remains popular through syndication and DVD sales and rentals. The series garnered widespread attention due to its explicit depiction and candid discussion of female sexuality. Sex and the City challenges commonly held cultural beliefs about what constitutes appropriate sexual desires and behaviors for women. According to sexual script theory, sexuality is not innate, but is learned through cultural mes- sages. I performed a content analysis on the sexual scripts embedded in the series to determine if the sexual encounters of the characters were more likely to be relational or recreational. I also compared the characters’ sexual behavior to that of respondents of an extensive survey of sexual practices in the US. The encounters of the characters were much more likely to be recreational than relational, and their sexual scripts differ significantly from behavior that women actually report practicing. Yet for all the promotion of equal opportunity sexual freedom, by series end, all four characters were engaged in committed relationships—‘‘happily ever after’’ endings for all! Keywords Sex and the City 􏰀 Sexual scripts 􏰀 Female sexuality 􏰀 Postfeminism 􏰀 Media studies In the first episode of the hugely successful HBO series, Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw, narrator, journalist, and self-proclaimed ‘‘sexual anthropologist’’, asks: Can women have sex like a man? What follows is a 6 year chronicle of the sexual adventures of four successful thirty-something single women in Manhattan. The comedy series has been widely hailed as ground-breaking in its explicit depiction G. Markle (&)
Department of Sociology, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30302, USA e-mail:

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and candid discussion of female sexuality. Sex and the City challenges commonly held cultural beliefs about what constitutes appropriate sexual desires and behaviors for women. The series contests hegemonic masculine and feminine ideas about the nature of the relationships men and women seek. The leading women attempt to transgress gendered sexual roles in their quest to experience ‘‘sex like a man’’, which they characterize as without feeling, for pleasure only, and with no commitment. While sexuality is most often described in individualistic terms, here it is portrayed as a very social undertaking, the subject of endless group discussions and analyses. Through watching (and talking about) what happens on the show, viewers themselves participate in the social construction of sexuality. The concept of ‘‘sexual scripts’’ (Gagnon and Simon 1973) refers to the idea that sexuality is learned from culturally produced messages that define what sex is and explain how to recognize sexual situations and how to behave in such situations (Frith and Kitzinger 2001). According to sexual script theory, individuals develop sexual scripts that delineate which sexual roles, behaviors, and acts of sexual expression are personally appropriate and acceptable. Sex and the City delivers a detailed and intimate view of the sexual scripts of its four fictional heroines. This study will use the research technique of content analysis to examine the sexual scripts embedded in the series Sex and the City. Since this series has had such wide-ranging and long-lasting appeal it is important to consider what cultural messages the series delivers regarding the sexuality of contemporary American women. It will be interesting to find out if, according to the series, the sexual double standard has been replaced by an equal opportunity sexual freedom. It is important to examine media representations of women because they are a key site through which gender and sexual identities are constructed and reified. (Why only from point of women? Missing the whole half of the population: article weakness) Theoretical Background

Sexual script theory, developed by Gagnon and Simon (1973), derives from the symbolic interactionist perspective and incorporates Freud’s conceptions of the interaction of symbolic material within the psyche. (discuss what you know about Freud from psych) Sexual scripts are the ‘‘blueprints’’ for sexual conduct, detailing with whom one will have sex, what acts one will perform, when and where sex will occur, and for what reasons (Atwood and Dershowitz 1992). Sexual script theory includes several assumptions about how specific sexual patterns are acquired and expressed:

–  the meaning of sex differs by culture
–  the sexual effects of biological instincts are minor compared to those of 
sociocultural processes
–  individuals acquire patterns of sexual conduct through a lifetime process of 
acculturation, and
–  people may make minor adaptations in cultural scripts to suit their own needs 
(Laumann et al. 2000). Sexual Scripts in Sex and the City 47

Sexual scripts exist at three distinct levels: cultural scenarios, interpersonal scripts and intrapsychic scripts (Simon and Gagnon 1987). Cultural scenarios are the societal norms and narratives that provide guidelines for sexual conduct. Interper- sonal scripts convert general cultural scenarios into scripts appropriate to specific situations. It is at this level that individuals develop strategies for realizing their particular sexual desires. Intrapsychic scripts include sexual fantasies, objects, and the sequence of behaviors that elicit and sustain sexual arousal and connect individual desires to social meanings. People develop scripts based on their own experiences as well as on their knowledge of the sexual experiences of others. When uncertainty arises about appropriate sexual conduct, individuals refer to the behavior of those in similar positions. Interruptions in carrying out scripts, or breaches, may sometimes occur disrupting an anticipated sequence and making it necessary for individuals to modify their intended behavior (Rose and Frieze 1993). Scripts allow people to take control over sexual situations, securing adequate pleasure with a minimum amount of anxiety or risk. People are unlikely to stray too far from the formulas that consistently result in sexual success (Simon 1996). According to Simon and Gagnon (1987) men and women learn different scripts because they inhabit different social locations. The typical sexual script for men includes the active pursuit of sexual partners, peer validation of sexual activity, inability to control sexuality once aroused, and sex undertaken solely for the sake of pleasure (Frith and Kitzinger 2001, p. 214). The typical sexual script for women, on the other hand, includes waiting to be chosen instead of pursuing a partner, feeling affection or love, and a wish to please men (Frith and Kitzinger 2001, p. 214). Alksnis et al. (1996) report similar differences in analyses of men’s and women’s dating scripts, with women’s scripts more likely to include emotional intimacy and commitment while men were more likely to follow a ‘‘casual sex’’ script. Sexual scripts that obligate women to please and to be emotionally available to men also make it tough for women to refuse sex. Women may find saying no difficult because it breaches an anticipated sexual script. Individuals develop personal scripts by adapting internalized cultural scenarios thereby influencing sexual culture. In addition to individuals, those who disseminate representations of sexual life (for example the media, religious leaders, educators and researchers) continually reproduce and reconstruct the sexual life of society (Laumann et al. 2000). Sex and the City is a prime example of the influence media representations of female sexuality have on contemporary society. Sex and the City

The series Sex and the City debuted on premium cable channel HBO in 1998, becoming an instant international hit. It was the highest-rated comedy series on cable for two seasons and won several awards including four Emmys, three Golden Globes, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Its huge popularity made the show the topic of many morning-after office discussions across America. It was the subject of 48 G. Markle

countless articles and publications, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 2000. Sex and the City inspired and contributed to numerous cultural discourses and debates regarding fashion, sex and relationships, marriage, femininity and masculinity, as well as feminism (Akass and McCabe 2004). Sex and the City is widely described as postfeminist, despite the lack of consensus regarding the definition of the term. As it appears in popular culture, postfeminism is regularly presented as ‘‘the idea that feminism is no longer relevant as women are now equal’’ (Hollows and Moseley 2006, p. 8). Along these lines then, the characters’ economic independence, professional employment, sexy attire and acceptance of each other’s beliefs and behaviors render the series postfeminist (Hermes 2006). The characters’ ‘‘glamorous consumption of men and clothes’’ is made possible by the existence of previously attained economic, intellectual and sexual freedoms (Richards 2003, p. 148). Gerhard (2005) positions the series as an example of queer postfeminism, in which the women ‘‘enjoy the fruits of post-70s equality’’ (p. 37) with an added emphasis on emancipated sexual expression and a repudiation of feminist politicization. Lotz (2001) believes it would be beneficial for feminist media critics to appreciate the complexity of the female characters as they negotiate feminism in contemporary television programs. As a means of enhancing the discipline of feminist media criticism Lotz offers a list of features that render a series postfeminist: an exploration of women’s diverse relationships to power; represen- tations of various feminist solutions and activism; the presentation of gender and sexuality as flexible and indistinct categories; and the introduction and examination of contemporary struggles confronting women (pp. 115–116). Episodes of Sex and the City rarely conform to these standards. Postfeminism. New feminism. Popular feminism. According to Whelehan (2000) it is not so much the repackaging of feminism into new forms that is undesirable as it is the distancing of these new forms of feminism from the more overtly political forms of the past. Such distancing is necessary in order for the Sex and the City characters to pursue the ‘‘endless possibilities of free-floating desire – desire which is almost always linked to consumption and sexuality’’ (p. 93). Indeed, a television series such as Sex and the City is only possible because of its location within a historical context formed by second-wave feminism (Hollows 2000). The series was adapted from Candace Bushnell’s 1996 book, Sex and the City, a collection of columns written for the New York Observer about the torments of the Manhattan dating scene. In the series, Sarah Jessica Parker plays the role of Carrie Bradshaw, who writes a weekly newspaper column in which she ruminates on the sexual conventions of single professionals. Advertising on city buses proclaims her an expert, brandishing the slogan ‘‘Carrie Bradshaw Knows Sex’’ (Sex and the City 1:1). Carrie’s ‘‘research’’ derives mainly from the experiences of her three friends: Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), a corporate lawyer cynical about relationships; Charlotte York (Kristin Davis), an art gallery manager and persistent romantic; and Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), a public relations executive and sexual free-spirit. Although the series touts itself as boundary-pushing it is not the first to chronicle the sexual and romantic experiences of financially independent single women (Gerhard 2005). In 1962 venerable Cosmopolitan editor, Helen Gurley Brown Sexual Scripts in Sex and the City 49

penned Sex and the Single Girl, the story of a self-supporting single woman who moves to the city in search of career success and sexual fulfillment. Nor is the series the first to ask if a woman can have sex like a man. The heroine in Erica Jong’s 1973 novel Fear of Flying was a New York writer in search of good sex without the obligation of love, or what she called the ‘‘zipless fuck’’: The zipless fuck was more than a fuck. It was a platonic ideal... For the true, ultimate zipless A-1 fuck, it was necessary that you never get to know the man very well... Another condition for the zipless fuck was brevity. And anonymity made it even better. (p.12) What is different about Sex and the City is the portrayal of committed friendships between the main characters. The highly valued relationships the women have with each other are the foundation of the series. Their conversations with one another are often more intimate than the sex they have with men. ‘‘The talk is the true subject, the process by which the show’s narrative, its knowledge and its pleasures are generated’’ (Gerhard 2005, p. 43). The importance of sexual behavior is not necessarily determined by its frequency but by the magnitude of attention it garners (Simon 1996). Part of the pleasure the women derive from sex comes from talking about it with one another. They frequently meet for meals or cocktails at trendy Manhattan hotspots where they engage in loud and lascivious talk in an adult version of ‘‘show and tell’’ (Gerhard 2005, p. 45). The speaker often takes a confessional tone, with the other women providing advice or consolation. Foucault describes such a confessional discourse: The confession was, and still remains, the general standard governing the production of the true discourse on sex...It is no longer a question simply of saying what was done - the sexual act - and how it was done; but of reconstructing, in and around the act, the thoughts that recapitulated it, the obsessions that accompanied it, the images, desires, modulations, and quality of the pleasure that animated it. (1990, p. 63) The women’s explicit sex talk is a form of feminine discourse, a means of expression in which women acknowledge their lesser status within patriarchal society (Brown 1994). Feminine discourse provides a safe space among women where they can speak freely, where listeners validate their perceptions, and their opinions are respected. Within this space ‘‘women can acknowledge their tenuous position in relation to dominant social and cultural practices and yet gain strength from the knowledge that others understand that position’’ (Brown 1994, p. 206). The question within this discourse, ‘‘can women have sex like a man?’’ seems anachronistic. Second wave feminism established and validated women’s desire for sexual pleasure beyond the confines of a monogamous heterosexual relationship. Additionally, the question itself smacks of gender essentialism. The gender definitions articulated by Sex and the City narratives not only make gender a meaningful category (Ang and Hermes 1991), but elevate that category to primacy. At the center of this question is the assumption that sexual desire and behavior are expressive of gender. Yet gender identity itself ‘‘is a performative 50 G. Markle

accomplishment compelled by social sanction and taboo’’ (Butler 1990, p. 271). Gender is its performance. In women-centered media like the series Sex and the City, discourses of appropriate sexual behavior are in the process of being rewritten. Cultural scenarios are being updated and sexual scripts are under revision. This study examines the interpersonal sexual scripts embedded in Sex and the City. In their research on sexual scripts Mahay et al. (2005) categorized interpersonal scripts as traditional, relational or recreational based on respondents’ relationship to their sex partner(s), their reasons for having sex, and the number of sex partners they had. As mentioned previously, Alksnis et al. (1996) found women’s sexual scripts more likely to be relational while men’s sexual scripts were more likely to be recreational. On this basis, I have translated the enduring question ‘‘can women have sex like a man?’’ into a more quantifiable research question: Q1: Are the sexual encounters of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha more likely to be relational or recreational? Breaches in sexual scripts disrupt the taken-for-granted sequence of the encounter and preclude the expected outcome. Individuals either resort to an alternative script or discontinue the interaction. Frith and Kitzinger (2001) found that declining sex is ‘‘normatively difficult’’ for women and many believe that there is never a right time to say no because they are subject to the accusation of having led men on. Yet, in the characters’ quest to ‘‘have sex like a man,’’ they are often the initiators of sexual encounters. This leads to the second research question: Q2: Are Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha more likely to decline a sexual overture or to have their overture rebuffed? Methodology

To study sexual scripts, I performed a content analysis of episodes of Sex and the City. This analysis was a quantitative summary rather than a fully detailed critical analysis of the message set (Neuendorf 2002). The series aired for six seasons, generating 94 episodes. Using systematic random sampling, I selected every third and fifth episode beginning with the premier, for a sample of 37 episodes or 39.4% of the total. Sexual encounters were coded as traditional, relational or recreational based on Mahay et al.’s (2005) characterization of interpersonal sexual scripts as traditional (partners were married), relational (partners were in love, but not married), and recreational (partners were not in love). I defined a sexual overture as an expressed desire or intent to engage in sex. If the overture did not result in sex, I coded it according to whether the female characters initiated sex and were refused (rebuffed), or if they refused someone else’s initiation of sex (declined). Sexual Scripts in Sex and the City 51

Episodes of Sex and the City have a standard format in which Carrie poses a provocative question pertaining to sexual or relationship behavior. Each character provides her distinct perspective, much like articles in women’s magazines offer readers a variety of anecdotes relating their personal experiences with similar issues. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha present themselves as sophisticated women who epitomize economic independence and an entitlement to self- fulfillment. In many ways the series is a dramatization of the consumer and sexual content of women’s magazines (Arthurs 2003; 2004), offering beauty and fashion advice as well as guidelines on relationship protocol and an implied endorsement of recreational sex. In response to the first research question, the episodes sampled show that Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha are much more likely to engage in sexual encounters that are recreational than they are to engage in sexual encounters that are relational. Only Charlotte and Miranda engage in traditional sexual encounters; Charlotte married twice during the series and Miranda married in the final season. Table 1 illustrates the distribution of the characters’ sexual encounters according to type. The encounters included in this analysis only reflect incidences that occurred on screen, although the characters frequently referred to additional off screen liaisons. The proportion of recreational sexual encounters ranged from a high of 86% for Samantha, to a low of 65% for Charlotte, with Carrie and Miranda in the middle with 71% and 68%, respectively. Although the majority of the featured sex was recreational some sexual encounters did evolve into brief relationships. Almost all of the relationships started out as recreational sexual encounters, with sex generally occurring on the first date or meeting. However, when the encounters evolved into a relationship, I then classified the ensuing encounters as relational. In the first episode (‘‘Sex and the City’’ 1:1), Carrie laments the ‘‘death of love in Manhattan’’ attributing it to the city’s high quantity of ‘‘toxic bachelors.’’ At lunch Carrie spies Kurt, a man she dated several years ago who again piques her interest. However, her friend Stanford begs her not to take up with him again since he does not want to have to pick up the pieces of yet another failed relationship. Undeterred, Carrie arranges a purely recreational afternoon rendezvous at Kurt’s apartment. After performing enthusiastic cunnilingus on her, Kurt says, ‘‘Okay, now my turn’’, at which point Carrie gets up, and quickly dresses, unapologetically saying she Table 1 Type of characters’ sexual scripts

Type Carrie Miranda Charlotte
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Recreational 20 71 19 68 15 65 Relational 8 29 8 29 2 9 Traditional 0 0 1 3 6 26 Total 28 100 28 100 23 100 Samantha
Number Percent
31 86 5 14 0 0
36 100

52 G. Markle

needs to get back to work. She leaves, feeling powerful and incredibly alive, proclaiming, ‘‘I’ve just had sex like a man!’’ Miranda also seeks out recreational sexual encounters. One evening, drinking alone in a bar, Miranda meets Steve, the bartender, who begs her to stay and talk to him (‘‘Old Dogs, New Dicks’’ 2:9) while he works. When Steve’s shift is over, they go back to her apartment to have sex, whereupon ‘‘Steve, the bartender, gave her two orgasms, straight up.’’ The next morning, when he leaves he asks for her phone number so he can ask her out. Miranda refuses, telling him that he does not have to bullshit her and that they should just call this what it is—a one-night stand. Ironically, this encounter does eventually result in marriage. Although Charlotte is frequently portrayed as a hopeless romantic in search of a husband, she, too, partakes of many recreational sexual encounters. In the course of her work at an art gallery she meets, Schmeul, an Orthodox Jewish painter (‘‘Secret Sex’’ 1:6). She arranges to meet him at his studio, ostensibly to view his artistic work. They engage in spontaneous sex on the floor amidst paintbrushes and canvases. She is fully aware the encounter will not result in a relationship as she characterizes it as ‘‘forbidden - Daddy’s little Episcopalian princess in the arms of one of God’s chosen people.’’ Samantha, of course, represents the quintessence of recreational sex. ‘‘I’m a tri- sexual,’’ she announces, ‘‘I’ll try anything once’’ (‘‘Sex and the City’’ 1:1). By far the most sexually active and the most sexually satisfied, Samantha’s guilt-free promiscuity borders on caricature. She insists on orgasm as a woman’s fundamental right. In the sampled episodes Samantha has the most variety of sexual partners, including a Black man, a Brazilian woman, numerous younger men, and her boss. She refers to her experiences with three- and foursomes and explicitly describes her penchant for engaging in a diversity of sexual acts. In classic gender role reversal, Samantha clearly treats her partners as sex objects and openly disdains the prospect of emotional commitment. In many instances sex is portrayed primarily as a means of personal pleasure or entertainment. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha frequently discuss their enjoyment of masturbation, including a testimonial for a specific high-performance vibrator (the Rabbit). In one episode (‘‘The Turtle and the Hare’’ 1:9) Miranda and Carrie stage a ‘‘Rabbit Intervention’’ when Charlotte becomes so dependent on her vibrator that she cancels all social engagements to stay home alone. Samantha appears in several of the sampled episodes, erotically satisfying herself. In another episode (‘‘The Drought’’ 1:11), all four women partake in some voyeuristic entertainment. Carrie’s apartment has a direct view of her newlywed neighbors who frequently engage in imaginative and athletic copulation. The women gather with drinks and snacks and make themselves comfortable as they watch (and discuss) the performance. According to the episodes of Sex and the City included in this sample, contemporary cultural scenarios have been updated to include recreational sex for both men and women. Additionally, women whose sexual scripts include sex simply for the sake of pleasure seem to suffer no adverse consequences. Just how realistic is this portrayal? Tables 2 and 3 show selected data from an extensive survey of sexual practices in the United States (Laumann et al. 2000). Table 2 shows the average Sexual Scripts in Sex and the City 53

Table 2 No. of sex partners since age 18
Source: Laumann et al. (2000)
Table 3 No. of sex partners in the past 12 months, single men and women age 30–44 Source: Laumann et al. (2000)
Gender Number of sex partners (%)

Men 3.4 19.5 Women 2.5 31.5
2–4 5–10 11–20 21+ Total
20.9 23.3 16.3 16.6 100 36.4 20.4 6 3.2 100

Gender Number of sex partners (%)
0 1 2–4 5+ Total
Men 23.1 34.0 35.4 7.5 100 Women 37.3 42.4 17.8 2.5 100

number of sexual partners men and women have had since the age of 18. Less than 10% of American women have had over ten partners. However, in one episode (‘‘Are We Sluts?’’ 3:6) Miranda’s list of lifetime sexual partners amounts to 42. In each season, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha each have more than five sexual partners, a feat allegedly matched by only 2.5% of women and 7.5% of men as shown in Table 3. The researchers also found that only 3.4% of women the same age as the characters found using a vibrator very appealing, 0.8% found watching others have sex very appealing, and 0.7% found having sex with a stranger very appealing (Laumann et al. 2000). Clearly the characters of Sex and the City are having a lot more sex than these researchers’ respondents. I also examined incidents where sexual scripts were breached, when either sexual advances were made and refused or when sexual encounters were interrupted. As shown in Table 4, Carrie declined sex five times, the same number of times her advances to a potential sexual partner were rebuffed. In one episode (‘‘They Shoot Single People, Don’t They?’’ 2:4), Carrie picks up a stranger in a bar and on the way to his apartment she changes her mind and gets out of his car choosing not to sleep with a man just to validate herself. On another episode (‘‘The Fuck Buddy’’ 2:14), she tells a man she sees only for recreational sex, that this time she made reservations for dinner first. In the middle of having sex with a man with whom she has a relationship, Carrie pushes him off her saying, ‘‘I can’t breathe’’ and leaves (‘‘Running with Scissors’’ 3:11). Carrie’s sexual advances are rebuffed three times by a man who wants a relationship first (‘‘Are We Sluts?’’ 3:6). On another occasion Table 4 Incomplete attempts at sexual activity

Number of incomplete attempts

Declined 5 Rebuffed 5 Interrupted 2 Total 12
Miranda Charlotte Samantha
2 3 2 1 2 5 25 1 5 10 8

54 G. Markle

with a new lover (‘‘Great Sexpectations’’ 6:2) Carrie is so drunk she passes out, thus interrupting their sexual encounter. In the sampled episodes Miranda only declined sex twice, once because she was being treated for an STI (‘‘Are We Sluts?’’ 3:6) and the second time on her honeymoon (‘‘Catch 38’’ 6(2):3), saying ‘‘I can’t have sex anymore I have a brain. I am not the honeymoon type.’’ Miranda encounters a construction worker who shouts at her repeatedly, ‘‘I got what you need.’’ Frustrated because she has not had sex in a while, she responds saying, ‘‘What I need is to get laid.’’ The workman backs off, telling her to take it easy, as he is married, whereupon Miranda accuses him of being ‘‘all talk and no action’’ (‘‘The Drought’’ 1:11). Two encounters are interrupted, once when her partner falls asleep and the second time, when she brings a new man home and he is turned off by the sounds of her crying baby (‘‘Plus One is the Loneliest Number’’ 5:5). Charlotte declines sexual advances three times in the sampled episodes. One time she wants to wait until after the first date with someone she hopes to see again. In another episode (‘‘Old Dogs, New Dicks’’ 2:9), after having sex with a restaurant critic, she declines any further advances because he is not circumcised. She also rejects her first husband’s urgent suggestion to have sex in a cab. On several occasions Charlotte’s sexual encounters with her husband were aborted due to his impotence. Twice Charlotte attempts to have intercourse with Kevin, a man Carrie dated previously and characterized as a sex maniac. However Charlotte’s experience was highly unsatisfying because he was on Prozac which left him unable to maintain an erection. When Charlotte suggested he might suspend the medication, he replied that he definitely ‘‘would choose losing the mood swings over sex’’ (‘‘The Drought’’ 1:11). Tellingly Samantha’s advances were rebuffed more often than she declined someone else’s advances. Samantha made several overtures to her yoga instructor but was turned down because he practices tantric celibacy (‘‘The Drought’’ 1:11), saying, ‘‘The only thing hotter than sex is not having sex.’’ In another episode, Samantha finally meets Tom, a man whose reputation for promiscuity matches hers (‘‘Running with Scissors’’ 3:11). He asks her when her last AIDS test was. When she admits she has never had one, he refuses to have sex with her until she gets tested. Samantha becomes intrigued when she hears the sounds of her neighbors’ lovemaking through her wall (‘‘The Fuck Buddy’’ 2:14). She brings herself to satisfaction moaning loudly along with them night after night. They leave her a note saying they would ‘‘like to take down the wall between them.’’ Finding out that the husband is a musician and the wife a dancer, she dresses in a lacy black negligee and knocks on their door, hoping to take part in a threesome. When she discovers they are older, overweight immigrants, she instead asks them to please keep the noise down and leaves. All four women have sex much more often than they either decline sex or have their advances rebuffed. It is interesting that there were no repercussions for the women when they turned down sex, even if the encounter was already well underway. Of course, this is as it should be, but at no time did any man express any emotion other than mild disappointment when turned down or interrupted in process. In Sex and the City, men never pressure women for sex and there is no force Sexual Scripts in Sex and the City 55

or date rape. Given the sheer number of men these women date, the fact that they never encounter any pressure or hint of violence seems unrealistic. Also, the women have no negative feelings about declining an advance or changing their minds during sex. Again, this is as it should be, but research shows women often find it difficult to say no to sex because they feel guilty, feel that saying no would be rude, or fear being accused of being a prick teaser (Frith and Kitziner 2001). Conclusion

Watching Sex and the City is in many ways like reading a woman’s magazine (Arthurs 2003; 2004). Women’s fashion magazines proffer specifically feminine roles with the implicit assumption that women need and want instruction on the skills necessary to successfully perform these roles (Manca and Manca 1994). They offer an exclusionary construction of feminine identity: young, white, beautiful, thin, and heterosexual (Currie 1999). Women’s magazines present female identity as a project to be achieved through consumption. Articles in women’s magazines focus on the importance of relationships with men: ‘‘Make Him Want to Be Your Boyfriend’’ (Seventeen, September 2006); ‘‘Extreme Dating Tactics’’ (Glamour, May 2007); ‘‘The Seven Levels of Love’’ (Glamour, December 2006). McRobbie (1981) describes the predictable scenario depicted in adolescent women’s magazines in which ‘‘a relationship is formed, threatened and then either consolidated or else tragically dissolved’’ (p. 118). This ‘code of romance’ is echoed in the Sex and the City characters’ relentless search for the elusive fulfilling and enduring romantic relationship. Another similarity to women’s magazines appears in the way Sex and the City presents women’s sexuality as part of a consumer lifestyle in which women’s sexual power and pleasure are encouraged. Sexual relationships and the consumption of fashion and entertainment are front and center. Sex and the City promises the fulfillment of desire but fails to deliver completely, setting the stage for the cycle of consumption to begin again with the next episode, in much the same way women’s magazines leave readers anticipating the next issue (Arthurs 2003). Content analysis of the sampled episodes from Sex and the City reveals that the sexual encounters of the four main characters, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha are more likely to be recreational than relational. The women are able to initiate sexual encounters and decline them with no negative repercussions. The characters who initiate sex are just as likely to have their overtures declined as they are to decline someone else’s overture. The interpersonal and intrapsychic scripts of these characters appear to differ significantly from behavior that women actually report engaging in or find appealing (Laumann et al. 2000). A significant aspect of the series Sex and the City is the role it plays in sexual pedagogy. Television provides a cultural forum through which viewers can learn about their social selves. It can also be influential in identity construction (Heide 1995). According to Kellner (1992) television can help socially integrate individuals by demonstrating appropriate behaviors, ideas and values as well as helping 56 G. Markle

individuals resolve conflicts over changing identities in much the same way myth and ritual did in premodern societies. There is quite a difference in the quantity and variety of the sex enjoyed by the characters on Sex and the City and that actually experienced by most women (Laumann et al. 2000). The characters Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha, do not appear as role models, but as symbolic representations of ‘‘female subject positions’’, whom viewers can emulate in fantasy (Ang 1990). This type of fantasy fiction provides a safe space for women to try on socially unacceptable subject positions or engage in behavior that might be too risky in their own lives. Contrary to real life where choices are never without consequences, in fantasy fiction ‘‘there is no punishment for whatever identity one takes up, no matter how headstrong or destructive: there will be no retribution, no defeat will ensue’’ (Ang 1990, p. 86). So while the series appears to reflect the brave new world of sexual equality and assertiveness it ends its 6 year run with all four characters safely ensconced in relationships. In the final analysis, the women of Sex and the City abandon their desires to enjoy ‘‘sex like a man’’ in favor of committed relationships—‘‘happily ever after’’ endings for all. In this series, the supposedly liberated women ‘‘appropriate the language of radical feminist politics only to retell old patriarchal fairy tales of women longing to be swept away’’ (Akass and McCabe 2004, p. 180). The more things change the more they remain the same. References

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