Twenty Years Later, Gen Z Revisits 'Sex And The City'

By Josephine Fox··  9 min read
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Twenty Years Later, Gen Z Revisits 'Sex And The City'

I’m a young woman in her prime, a woman of the modern world. In fact, I’m someone who’s part of Generation Z – the fun and fresh crowd known for TikTok Dances, internet culture, and a major screen addiction.

I’m lucky enough to remember the early 2000s, though perhaps my retention of the decade could be considered a curse. I can still see the shimmery blue eyeshadow, the low-rise jeans, and the Sex and the City billboards posted up high alongside Chicago highways. 

As a child, I fantasized about being 16 years of age, hopping into a pink convertible with a group of friends, driving down to a mall to shop for the extravagant glittery tops, and winding down with ice cream and an episode of Sex and the City – a television show very much on-brand for a chic 2000s Barbie teen, but very much off-limits for the 5 year old I was at the time. The controversy only piqued my interest. Forbidden fruit only draws you in closer, and people like me had waited long to take a bite. 

Growing up during the age of the internet, my interests were constantly split in all directions as I tried to keep up with the quickly changing trends. Low rise jeans became high-waisted skinnies and the shimmery eyeshadows turned into smoky eyes. The pretty and pink decade flew by fast and was replaced by something very different, something we’ve now grown to recognize as Gen Z culture. Who had the time to reminisce over the fever dream of a decade when the Y2K memories are still so fresh in our minds? 

But just a few months ago I signed up for an HBO Max subscription and the 2000s fire was reignited. There it was! Lurking behind the hundreds of the selections was the holy grail of trashy TV shows — full seasons of Sex and the City

Our Intimacy Obsession 

I don’t think I’ve ever clicked on anything so fast in my entire life. It was like the fantasy version of my grown self coming to life. My excitement, however, was short-lived. I think I’d held on to my 5 year old understanding of what the show could be about because I was beyond shocked upon viewing the first episode. There were no pink convertibles or trips to the mall. Instead, there was sex. Lots and lots of sex. I should have expected that – I mean, look at the title of the show.

Our culture has become very open about sex, to the degree that entire shows are created around it. 

Despite how disturbed I felt about the bare chests and O-faces, the sex wasn’t the most shocking part. Sex on TV has become a standard. Our culture has become very open about this aspect of personal relationships, to the degree that entire shows are created around the act. Take a look at Bridgerton, the 2020 Netflix series that captured people’s hearts. That show was littered with scandalous intimate scenes. It’s the norm for television today. The shocking part was realizing that Sex and the City was released over two decades ago. This made me pause for a second. Our obsession with open intimacy isn’t as recent as I originally thought. 

My mind spins when I remember that the show aired in the late ‘90s and continued until 2004. It seems odd that such a raunchy show was aired back then. I was a child, I had no clue that I was living in a society that celebrated promiscuous tendencies. Thinking about it now seems strange. The era of my childhood was the era of one-night stands? When did one-night stands become so popular? If it was a normal occurrence in the show, it must’ve been normal in the real world. 

Hookup Culture 

Hookup culture is the societal craze of spontaneous sex and one-night stands. There’s no room for foresight in hookup culture. There’s just a single night “without any promise of, or desire for, a more traditional romantic relationship.” The interaction between a man and woman starts and ends with sex. 

As glamorous as Sex and the City tries to make the lifestyle seem, there’s a sadness underlying each character partaking in frequent casual sex. Oftentimes the characters are struggling with the way their life paths are affecting them. They try to find meaning as 30-something year olds in New York, a topic that’s openly discussed between characters. Despite each character facing hardships due to their unstructured lifestyle, they struggle with placing blame on their attitude toward committed relationships. This begs the question: Is a promiscuous lifestyle damaging? 

The characters struggle with how their lives are going but won’t blame their attitude toward committed relationships. 

According to Dr. Niklas Langstrom and Dr. R. Karl Hanson, researchers of sexual behavior, “elevated rates of impersonal sex are associated with a range of negative health indicators,” such as dissatisfaction with one’s life and instability in relationships, as well as substance abuse. We see a trend of such behaviors from each character. Perhaps hookup culture may not be the fun, carefree lifestyle it packages itself as. I give props to the show, as it seems to show an accurate depiction of the thrill and the crash of the indiscriminate tendencies of Carrie Bradshaw, portrayed by the beautiful Sarah Jessica Parker, and her friends. 

The Avoidance of Responsibility 

I have a weakness for well-developed characters, and despite the many choice words I may have for this shocking show, Sex and the City is wonderful at portraying fun archetypes. The protagonist is Carrie Bradshaw, a neutral journalist with a sex column who gives the audience an accurate and impartial take on the lives of the New York it-girls. She has many friends and connections, though her tight-knit group consists of Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), a fiery feminist and lawyer, Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), a sex addict in public relations, and Charlotte York (Kristin Davis), a fairly traditional woman in the arts. All actresses do an absolutely amazing job at portraying their respective characters and I must applaud them for their convincing performances. 

Charlotte York is one of the more interesting characters. She’s a sweet, caring, responsible woman. She likes to feel included and searches for a sense of belonging. She has an admirable dream of being a wife and mother. The problem is that she’s often the laughingstock of her other friends. She’s labeled naïve and dependent for her “humble” ambitions. Realistic and honorable aims are portrayed as goofy and boring. 

Charlotte is labeled naïve and dependent for her “humble” ambitions of being a wife and mother.

In episode 10 of the first season, the girls hesitantly venture out to a baby shower. They show disinterest in motherhood, even going as far as to show disgust for anything baby-related. Samantha brings a bottle of champagne to the event. She enjoys making herself the outlier, satisfying a need to distinguish herself from the others as a single, childless woman who is free to day drink as the others tend to their children. 

The mothers are portrayed distastefully, abandoning every semblance of a personality to become the stereotypical and quintessential soccer mom. Charlotte seems to get along with them, enjoying the family-oriented discussions. The connotation is that Charlotte is abnormal for entertaining the topics, as if she’s falling for the subversion. The other three city girls try their hardest to resist, leaving the baby shower tired, angry, and in need of a few drinks. The idea that a life full of responsibility is undesirable and second to that of a single woman pursuing her own independent interests is the norm. 

The idea is that a life of responsibility is second to that of a single woman pursuing her own interests.

What makes Charlotte’s story so upsetting is that her close friends, the responsibility-rejecting culture, and all the pleasure-seeking men she encounters, discourage prudent behavior. She struggles with being in her thirties and continuing her life just as she did in her twenties – searching for a future within dishonorable men. She’s a victim of the modern world, just as many of us are. She sees the error in her ways and the roadblock halting her progression toward her goals, but she feels a pressure from her environment that stunts any changes she may want to implement. 

What Does It Mean To Live Your Life Right? 

As a young Gen Z woman, I find her story to be very relatable. Charlotte York is being pulled into various directions. The culture pushing for a woman’s independence completely left out the other half of the happiness equation – interpersonal relationships. Women in the 2020s continue to struggle with the balance of the ever-changing culture and their own personal interests, fighting responsibility only to crave it later, just as women did in the 2000s. 

The encouraging news for Gen Z is that “fewer adolescents in recent years engaged in adult activities.” Casual sex, alcohol consumption, etc. have been on a decline. 2021 research found that young adults are also experiencing the same decline in casual sexual intercourse. The possible culprit? Television and internet use. Perhaps we’ve been living vicariously through characters like Carrie Bradshaw or Charlotte York, reducing our susceptibility to cultural pressures. 

The push for women’s independence has completely left out interpersonal relationships. 

Sex and the City pushes the individual to do some introspection, to evaluate your wants and needs in relation to the cultural tide. For the Gen Z young adults facing the same pressures that women in Y2K experienced, one thing is for certain: always try to do what seems right to you and don’t ignore feelings of warning, as the beloved New York girls have done throughout the seasons of the 2000s hit show. 

Closing Thoughts

Despite the way this show makes my head spin, I’m still hooked on the series. The characters, as static as they are, are interesting archetypes that reel you in. There have been many times where I couldn’t help but let out a hearty chuckle. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure of mine and helps me refine my “what-not-to-do” list. But keep in mind, viewer discretion is definitely advised.

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