In the late 90s, HBO started becoming perceived as less of simply a cable video store as it started producing more of its own original content. Some of Hollywood’s talented younger writers, directors, and producers saw in the premium channel less restriction from Standards and Practices censorship and more creative license for their product. Consequently, HBO started producing edgy, highly acclaimed original series such as The Sopranos, Oz, and a critical darling targeted at young women called Sex and the City.
In many ways, SATC was considered a knockoff of an earlier network sitcom called The Golden Girls, which was only able to get away with half of its content because people considered little old ladies talking about sex as cute, quirky, and harmless enough.
The show follows a New York City writer named Carrie Bradshaw. Carrie is also the show’s narrator, and every episode is structured around an article she happens to be writing that week for a relationship column in a New York newspaper.
While in the 80s, a weekly show like Sex and the City, starring mostly women, addressing the content matter that it did, would have most likely been considered nearly unconscionable by the collective American public. But by the late 90s, it was met with great critical and consumer fanfare. In its six-season span, the show collected 54 Emmy nominations, 24 Golden Globe nominations, and 11 Screen Actors Guild nominations. Despite all its accolades, many Christians have denounced the overtly lewd and immoral content of the show. They’re not wrong, but we can still learn something from the influence of Sex and the City. The show is another painful reminder that Hollywood beat the church to the punch on the important issue of talking about sex. The Christian Church, by and large, shied away from openly and honestly addressing the delicate issue of sexuality for years and years and years. Sex and the City wasn’t shy at all. And while there is such a thing as an inappropriate fascination with the topic, it’s preposterous to have young people learning about sex primarily from locker rooms, or the internet, or TV, especially when you consider how much it’s on the minds of sexually maturing human beings.
GOD is the one who created humans to be sexual beings. Yes, God invented sex! God even inspired nearly an entire book of the Bible to be recorded about it – you know that one that remains virtually unstudied in most Bibles – Song of Songs? If we as Christian leaders and parents don’t have the courage to address difficult topics with young people who are naturally going to be curious, there eventually going to be instructed by someone (or some show) that shapes their understanding of what exactly is sexually “normal” and “healthy.” What will curious Christians conclude about sex from Game of Thrones, or from Ozark, or from Euphoria? They’re drawing a lot more conclusions from TV when mature Christians are silent about sex.
What was “magical” about Sex and the City?
Even apart from the risqué content of the show, from what I’ve seen, I found the show virtually unwatchable because of the main character’s notorious overuse of “puns” – the lowest, most groan-inducing form of humor I can imagine. The show is littered with them. My personal preferences notwithstanding, the show was, and continues to be, enormously influential.
The show reflected on television what many women were experiencing in real life: extravagant fashion, having a gay best friend, having multiple boyfriends, occasional one-night stands, women working outside of the home, the glamour of Manhattan. Some of those are good for a professional woman; some are neutral; some are certainly unhelpful influences, but seeing these things visible in mass media has endeared SATC to millions of women.
Okay, so how has it influenced us…spiritually?
A primary influence is overt sexuality, especially female sexuality. The overt sexuality in Sex and the City is far from God’s design. One of my favorite biblical warnings about human sexuality is what the Apostle Paul says to the Ephesians, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” (Eph. 5:3) What was once “hinted at” on TV, SATC went ahead and told the whole secret.
When Paul writes to the Romans, he mentions the commonness of departure from God’s design for human sexuality amongst females as a benchmark for how far a society has fallen from God – “Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” (Rom. 1:26)
For one reason or another, American media has historically presented women as more sexually virtuous than men. In the past, when Americans turned on the television they were accustomed to the male characters mentioning sex, pursuing sex, and feeling good about sex—even if it was immoral. (It’s not a great compliment to gentlemen.) Christians who strive for “not even a hint of sexual immorality” recognize stereotypes of male sexuality in media as problematic. In the past few decades, Hollywood has proposed a solution to that problem: They will portray female characters talking about sex, pursuing pleasure, and feeling good about sex—even if it’s immoral. Sex has always been part of God’s world for men and women alike, but a television show featuring women and their sexuality felt like something new for American media. SATC was part of a new era in which sexually liberated women on TV are just as far from God’s design for sex as the men on TV. It’s not hard to imagine some long-term implications for real life men and women.
To put it in other terms, a recent survey I was reading of 29,000 people at North American universities suggested that 51% of men spent up to five hours per week online for sexual purposes. The number of women in that category is 16%. Is the solution to that iniquity to help more women find sexual pleasure online? Maybe that’s the solution big porn companies want. Some women, the Sex and the City girls included, have taken the “may as well join them” attitude about sex. But that’s not the solution God wants. It’s also not what Christians want.
God’s solution is to satisfy the deep longings of every man’s heart and every woman’s not with a shallow click, or a temporary rush of dopamine, but with the unconditional approval of his grace-filled smile. God’s solution is to assure us that he will walk beside us as we navigate webs of temptation and he’ll bring support and forgiveness to every day. God’s solution is grace. God’s grace is what the Apostle Paul wrote about to his friend Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope.” (Titus 2:11-12) That blessed hope of heaven and the grace of God that makes it possible is far superior to learning about sex from television shows.
God’s grace is unimaginably better than the good life as described on Sex and the City, or any other television show. But don’t wait for Hollywood to produce a show with the theme: “the grace of God teaches us to live godly lives.” Influencing the culture in that direction is our job.
Thanks to author Pastor James Hein of St. Marcus Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI. This article is adapted from content that originally appeared on “Crossing my mind. Mind on the cross.” pastorjameshein.wordpress.com