Sex and the City opened with four thirty-something women debating one crucial question: can women have sex like men? The whole series addresses this question, and the nice thing about this show is that it never tried too hard to nail down an answer. Sometimes it worked, as in the pilot episode, when Carrie ditches a guy after sex and the voiceover announces: “After I began to get dressed, I’d realized that I’d done it. I’d just had sex like a man. I left feeling powerful, potent and incredibly alive. I felt like I owned this city. Nothing and no one could get in my way.”

And then sometimes it doesn’t work. It never works with Mr. Big.

Sex and the City was a success because it depicted sex lives that women might actually have, or, more likely, fantasize about having. The story changes, of course, when it turns out that girls as young as thirteen and as vulnerable to STDs as college students are also trying to have ‘sex like men.’ This issue has been taken up full-force by the media in recent years, with a slew of articles describing the sex lives of teenagers in voyeuristic detail, inevitably followed up by horrified letters-to-the-editors in which the concerned writers hark back, unconvincingly, to a more innocent time. A recent letter printed in The New York Times responded to Laura Sessions Stepp’s book Unhooked with praise for the book–and a warning for young women: “‘Hooking up’ is a dream come true for men rather than an expression of feminine power. Young guys love that kind of ‘girl power’! Women, remember: just because you can do anything a man can do doesn’t mean you want to.”

This is complicated. I am not beginning this blog with a position on ‘hooking up’–good or bad, it happens. I don’t appreciate the way women’s sex lives are represented in the media, but I do recognize the possible pitfalls of our generation’s sexually liberal habits. Men come in to the picture here too–surely the concerned letter-writer sells the poor guys short. Maybe men don’t even get to have ‘sex like men.’ Then there’s the question of love–the Mr. Big factor–and the way that women are, and are represented as, irrepressibly chatty and emotional when it comes to sex and romance.

Can women, and girls, have sex like men? Or does that just lead inevitably to herpes?

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