What Sex And The City Taught Us About Sex Toys

Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Despite Sex And The City's unrealistic portrayal of life in New York City (I'm looking at you, giant walk-in closet), Carrie Bradshaw and her friends often got one thing right: the way women talked about sex. So, it's not too surprising that a show that first aired 20 years ago showed women in their 30s talking about vibrators as if they'd just discovered the eighth wonder of the world. After all, most women at the time probably didn't explore sex toys (or at least, anything too out there) until later in life. Sex toys have been around forever, but they have always been clouded in shame. So, it's unlikely that most women at the time were popping into sex toys stores to check out the latest gadgets.
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That changed when SATC started talking about sex toys in season 1, episode 9. While at their regular brunch, Carrie is freaking out about Big's announcement that he never wants to get married. Miranda offers what she thinks is a comforting argument: In 50 years, men are going to be obsolete anyway. Her evidence? Along with fertility treatments that allow women to have babies sans men, you don't even need them for sex as she'd "very pleasantly" just discovered. Samantha assumes that Miranda is gushing about buying her first vibrator (because she definitely wasn't exploring sex with women), but Miranda corrects her. "Not first. Ultimate. And I think I'm in love," she says. A few minutes later, she's introducing Carrie, Charlotte, and the rest of the world to the Vibratex Rabbit Pearl.
Fans of the show know what happens next, because the storyline launched the Rabbit into a life of fame and glory. Sweet, innocent Charlotte, who earlier in the show said that a machine could never replace sex with real people, becomes so enamoured with her new sex toy that she decides to give up on men altogether. She locks herself in her apartment for days, until Miranda and Carrie come to take the Rabbit away.
While Charlotte's reaction is a little over-the-top (seriously, sex toys do not replace sex with real people), the episode does teach us a few wonderful things about sex toys, the first being that women can take pleasure into their own *ahem* hands. "I know where my next orgasm is coming from, who here can say as much," Miranda says to her friends' claims that vibrators aren't as good as the real thing. You can practically hear crickets chirp as she looks around the table and it's clear that she's won this round of the vibrator vs. no vibrator battle.
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A few minutes later, Miranda comes in with another great point when Carrie (who, mind you, spends way more than she can afford on clothes, shoes, and furniture made by cute men) gasps at the Rabbit's $92 (£69) price tag. "Please, think of the money we spend on shoes," Miranda says. While many people rightfully don't want or can't afford to spend that much on a sex toy, what she's really getting at here is that women's pleasure is worth the investment (just as much as a pair of Jimmy Choos). Later, Charlotte whispers to Carrie that the Rabbit made her come for "like 5 minutes," which certainly sounds like it's worth $92 to me.
As small as a moment like this might seem today, showing women overcome with sexual pleasure that they'd given themselves was revolutionary at the time. And it had a big impact on the sex toy industry. "The changing cultural norms in the late 1990s characterised by such shows as Sex In the City were mostly positive for the industry," Susan Colvin, founder and CEO of sex toy company CalExotics told Forbes. "Women emerged as self-sufficient and in control of their lives, all the way into the bedroom." While less than 10% of 21 to 29-year-old women said they masturbated at all in the early 1990s, about 21% now say they masturbate weekly. Part of that change could be credited to Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha, who brought the conversation about women's pleasure onto American women's TV screens.
So, even with Charlotte's unfortunate sex toy addiction, the episode is pretty empowering. Twenty years ago, it was revolutionary to watch a 30-something woman fall head-over-heel for a sex toy, talk openly about it with her friends, and then bring those friends into a sex toy shop and convince them that their self-pleasure is worthwhile. Even now, Miranda's relentless pursuit of Charlotte and Carrie's sexual happiness is the kind of friendship we all need.
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