Sin and the City

I was required to take a class called Women & Literature, in my undergraduate study. On two particular days of class we were forced to watch the show “Sex and the City” for a classroom discussion. I had never seen the show until that moment and I was appalled! It’s an HBO show, so what is now playing on TBS is most definitely an edited version without the HBO version’s constant swearing and nudity. Those elements, however, are the least of my concerns with the show.

The major premise of the show circles around journalist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker). Carrie is a single thirty-three year old woman who writes a weekly column entitled, “Sex and the City.” Her sources for writing this column are her friends: three other single women. These women are all successful business women and live independent lives, each has their own apartment and has no need of a husband. In the very first episode, Samantha, the more bold of the four, suggests that women should start having sex “like men.” According to Samantha this means having sex without feeling any attachment to the person you are having it with. Now, to say that men do this is of course a general stereotype, but undoubtedly true. It is a wrong and sinful thing to be sure. But the show takes this kind of sexual “liberation” doctrine in a direction that we can sometimes overlook.

The women of the show, like real women, find that they have two needs: (1) physical/sexual, and (2) personal/relational intimacy. The two needs should come together, to be met in one place- a husband. That, however, is not the way the writers of “Sex and the City” solve the dilemma. For Carrie, Samantha, and their two other friends physical fulfillment comes from a myriad of sexual encounters with different men whom they leave behind after they are done. The relational intimacy comes when the four girls meet for cocktails and relay the details of their intimate moments. This is what is appalling! Men have been not only removed from their roles, but have been displaced all together.

What is the message that “Sex and the City” sends: Men and women are equally qualified to meet a women’s needs, and that sex and intimacy can be acceptably separated. These women do not need husbands because they have each other to fulfill the need of relationships and one-night-stands to fulfill their sexual desires. The show blurs the lines, to be sure, between heterosexuality and homosexuality. And in a world where gay marriage is as good as any other alternative, we are told, then the message of “Sex and the City” should be seen as nothing less than another stab at the established, and God-ordained, institution of marriage.

The solution to this dilemma is not, however, what some Christians might suggest. The solution is not to write TBS with “Christian” hate-mail. Nor is it to march against the show, change the Constitution, or even to get all single people “hitched” so they are not tempted to live this lifestyle. Rather, the right response is for Christian churches to teach, promote, and exemplify Biblical manhood and womanhood. The right response involves training our young people in what it means to have godly marriages, counseling the broken homes, and preaching from God’s Word about the love relationship of a husband and wife according to God, and the joy and beauty of sex in His prescribed bounds. What this cultural example again reminds us of is that the solution is Biblical first and foremost. The right response to cultural sins, is not condemnation, but gracious and humble correction that starts with the church.

About Dave Dunham
  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    David,

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I think you make great points about the way shows like this “blur” lines that should be clear. It also made me recognize the the dangerous problem of separating the physical and the intimate relationship. Very helpful, and a solid “way forward” to think about.

  • http://www.thewonderingpundit.wordpress.com The Pundit

    David,

    Hmmm….

    I think it is in the area of sexual ethics that the most glaring differences between Christians and non-Christians is seen (unlike, say, with murder or lying).

    So here’s my question: Given the oddity of the “Christian view of sex,” is it not a bit much to expect non-Christians to conform to the church’s rules?

  • David Dunham

    Well of course it is! My point in the article is not to condemn culture, but to remind Christians to first, take care of this issue in our own home (the church) and then to loving reform culture (of course I recognize that “reforming the culture” looks different to almost every individual).

    And while it is true that non-Christians can’t obey God’s rules without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, that does not mean that we can’t use their sin to lovingly point them to Christ. That should be our goal whenever we have to deal with cultural sin. A point I could have certainly made more clear in my writing. Thanks for the question.

  • Pingback: Church, Gender, Religion & Romance | Said at Southern Seminary

  • Geoffrey Seven

    Before we accept without question the stereotype noted above that men “have sex without feeling any attachment to the person [we're] having it with,” here’s an interesting study on the topic: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/inside-the-mind-of-the-boy-dating-your-daughter/?hp

    The findings suggest that boys are motivated more by love than lust in pursuing sexual relationships with girls. It that is true, then it suggests that the stereotype has more to do with a cultural machine that pushes MEN to act against their real feelings and deep relational needs when it comes to sexuality. Christians might be able to do a lot of good by simply tapping into the natural inclination of boys to act out of love for their partners, and helping them recognize that sex before marriage is not in her — or his — best interests.

  • David Dunham

    Perhaps this is true Geoffrey, but sin the sinful tendency to use women for selfish pleasure and then leave them off is probably what the culture is tapping into…and because sin is our “natural inclination” I am not sure how much head-way could be made by tapping into this other inclination.

  • Geoffrey Seven

    I think the point the study makes is that “the sinful tendency to use women for selfish pleasure” is less true of young men than we may believe it to be. Further, while sin is indeed a natural inclination, it is certainly not our only inclination. There is also a healthy and positive inclination for love and emotional intimacy. I do not think that efforts at “correction” that ignore this would be very likely to work.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    From purely anecdotal evidence, I’d say the tendency for women to be users is pretty high too. I think the reason the stereotype belongs to men is that societally, we still want to imagine women to be sweeter and more innocent—the fairer sex. I think that we get disturbed by just how egalitarian reality can be.

  • Geoffrey Seven

    That is certainly an excellent point, Dane.

  • jaytheson

    I want to change the trajectory of the conversation a bit as I found some interesting points in the original post. The comment that stood out most to me, was in regards to the show blurring the line between heterosexual and homosexual. I don’t all together see the link.

    The leading women in the show don’t get together and have PJ parties where they play spin the bottle and share in “other” physical encounters. They share their life. If anything, I think that is one of the redeemable characteristics of the show. While I find the high level of sexual promiscuity lamentable, I think their common bond in this plight is admirable.

    In a society where it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain meaningful relationships, these women do find love and support while they live in this world. Furthermore on this point, (I have only seen maybe 3 or 4 shows) but these women do indeed dabble with the idea of settling down. I think they want to…

    I was listening to NPR on Valentine’s day and they had a 30 something expert on the air imploring women who are older (30+) to settle because they weren’t going to find a “better” guy. Looking at this in context of sex and the city you see what our consumeristic society has produced. We shop around to find the best deal and are willing to get rid of something for the latest and greatest.

    Sex and the City embodies this principle. The women are afraid to settle because they fear that after they buy, a new model will come their way exceeding the merits of their outdated merchandise. Sad. Yeah. I lament.

    So what they are engaging in isn’t an attempt to usurp Christian values or the proper role of man and woman. It is a reflection of the lives of a lot of 40 and under people in this world who have more choices than ever.

    To conclude, I am glad these women have friends, for this world isn’t a friendly place. We Christians have the same type of community when we engage in same-sex bible study. Or Women’s Evenings or Men’s days. We do the same thing. Maybe less gossip and less NC-17 topics, but still the same type of community. People need this.

    Ministering to our culture in this sense would be less suring up the proper roles of men and women and more of pointing out the church is about community. Sharing lives together. However, this could backfire in that the women in Sex and the City would fear condemnation….

    Just a thought.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Interestingly (I imagine), I loathe the idea of men’s and women’s groups in the church. A men’s group has nothing to offer me that the gathered body of Christ doesn’t (except perhaps an interest in an artificially crafted community). I find the segregation pointless—and maybe even harmful.

    I mean, since when do I need to be all about the Super Bowl? Since when am I not interested in toying with crafts. Since when is there anything I could talk about with a man that I couldn’t likewise talk about with a woman?

    I suspect it’s the same for many women as well. Not all women want tea parties and scrap-booking nights.

    This kind of empty community might be fine for non-believers (it may be the best they can find), but Christians have something far better so it’s painful to see them form cliques based upon arbitrary cultural outliers. Really, the only thing common among males of the species is that they all have penises.

    And I assure you, I have never heard that topic come up when the men are gathered and bonding or whatever it is they are to do in the sub-community, the clique, known as the Men’s Bible Study.

  • jaytheson

    You are correct to a point. I agree that activities like “Men’s Morning with the Master” are at times a needless subdivision. But, I wouldn’t call it empty.

    It is whatever fits your fancy. The women on sex and the city meet to find support with each other. You could probably substitute a guy in there and things wouldn’t change a bit.

    I was just trying to make a point that the women meeting together doesn’t somehow support homosexuality or exalt unmarried living. It is a group of people enjoying community centered around, not Christ, but the plight of unmarried women. I mentioned same sex groups to serve as a parallel as a majority of church’s have some type of sex segregated event on a fairly regular basis.

    I don’t know if these women in the show have formed a clique on the basis of “arbitrary cultural outliers”. I think what they go through, while to an extreme, is what many women go through. I would say that anytime you are enjoying relationship with people it is not empty–it means something and does a lot for people. Loneliness kills.

    But to your point about “the best they can find”, I AGREE!! It is great when people from all areas can come together in community. Regardless of life story…homosexual, divorced, single, married, man, woman, transexual, poor, rich, immigrant, white, black…and the list could go on. That is the community I want to be a part of where all people are welcome to join in the journey of trying to connect with God in this world.

    It is the church’s calling to create this environment. It is what will change the world. HOWEVER, women or men who live lives like those in sex and the city probably wouldn’t want to be a part of the vast majority of Christian communities because the church has become a clique unto itself.

    Come all those who are weary and heavy laden. That is the dream and the hope. The women in sex and the city are surely weary and heavy laden with this world. It is my prayer that women or men like them are welcomed to a place where they can bring that “junk”, the hurt, to a place where they may find peace and love. Just like I and you Dane lament the boundary between men and women in the church, may we also be grieved by the gross distinctions many church communities have made between race, lifestyle, sexual orientation, and political positioning, rendering the church to be a community for some and not all.

  • Geoffrey Seven

    As a regular watcher of Sex & the City when it was originally aired, I have to say that Jay makes another critical point — the women ALL wanted to settle down with Mr. Right. Indeed, a key storyline structuring the series was Carrie’s unrequited (or occasionally requited) love for a man identified only as “Mr. Big”. And the big payoff of the last episode comes when Big finally recognizes that Carrie really is the only woman for him, and goes off to Paris to rescue her from a disastrous relationship with an artsy, self-involved Russian played by Mikhail Baryshnikov. In the same timeframe, Samantha has realized that her boy toy, Smith, is loaded with substance, supporting her during her chemo and deciding — of his own volition — to be faithful to her. Steve and Miranda have decided to make their relationship work because they’ve had a baby together — and because they’re determined for it to work, it does. Equally commitment-and-baby-minded Charlotte is married to Harry and they’re looking into adoption.

    So much for the unfettered celebration of free sex. These are women who want love and commitment and families. And in the end, each of them makes significant compromises in order to have that.

  • David Dunham

    It seems to me that the character Samantha, who started the whole “let’s have sex and date like men do” idea, does not have any desire to settle down. Also in later episodes she clearly becomes a lesbian.

    As to the issue of friendship, I think it can be agreed that friendship is a great thing. The issue I am making with this show is that physical and relational intimacy need to come from the same place. I am not saying exclusively…but the show has largely divorced the idea that phyiscal and relational intimacy can be found in a man.

    That’s the critique I have offered.

  • http://consumedblog.blogspot.com Owen

    Very thoughtful post. Good writing. Sound analysis of the show. Great prescription at the end.

    This site offers valuable content–keep up the good work, guys.


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