Over the last several decades, sitcoms have helped us laugh our troubles away. Today’s streaming services feature many of these cancelled shows (along with new ones that keep us tuned in). We can look back on societal expectations of sex and gender roles like digging up a time capsule. These representations of culture during each show’s run compared to today might give us a glimpse at how far we could go in the next few decades of showbiz, especially pertaining to how sex is portrayed in the media.
Fave Sitcoms – From the ‘90s to Now
Let’s go back in time to explore a few popular sitcoms to see just how sex is portrayed in the media. From one series to the next, you can see how society was adapting to handle new gender roles, types of relationships, and openness to talking about sex. It is clearly apparent that we’ve become more accepting of a sexualized media versus forty years ago.
Though Seinfeld officially debuted in 1989, it ran until 1998 boasting 180 episodes over 9 seasons. Whether you enjoyed it on your own as a young adult, or tuned in with your parents or even grandparents, you’ve probably heard of it. But just in case you haven’t: Jerry Seinfeld and his three friends, George, Elaine, and Kramer, are living in NYC just making their way through life. There’s mostly comedy with a bit of romance.
One of our favorite episodes, “The Contest,” comes from season four. It opens with the usual stand-up performance from Jerry before taking us on the journey that likely inspired those jokes. The friends have found themselves placing bets to see who can go the longest without masturbating (or uphold being the “master of my domain” as it is termed in the show). That’s right! Back then, you couldn’t really talk about sex openly on prime-time television. Who else grew up hearing their mom yell at their dad to change the channel because “the kids don’t need to hear that” but have no clue what you weren’t supposed to hear? Just us? *Sheepishly puts raised hand down.* Anyway, they placed the bets according to gender, because it isn’t fair that Elain is a woman. We know! The shame! Everyone in the 90’s saw masturbating as part of a man’s lifestyle but didn’t view women masturbating the same way.
At the end of the episode, we’re not sure whether Jerry or George won. The most important takeaway we can learn is that censorship has eased up since then. Thankfully, we’ve also seen improvements to equality between women’s and men’s sexuality when played out on the small screen.
The sitcom Friends has made a major comeback over the last few years with Millennials revisiting the show and Gen Zers discovering it for the first time. The series ran from 1994 to 2004, with a total of over 200 episodes over 10 seasons. The show is based on the lives of six friends living in Manhattan during their mid-20s. They share lots of laughs, a little romance, and some sappy drama to win over the hearts of audiences world-wide. Even K-pop star RM (Real Me) from BTS shared on Ellen that he taught himself English by watching the hit show.
One of the ongoing plot-points is that Ross Geller’s wife, Carol, left him for a woman. This running punchline is brought up countless times even after Carol marries Susan in season 2’s “The One with the Lesbian Wedding.” Ross is so bitter that he resolves to not attend the wedding, and the question is posed on if he would be just as bitter if Carol were marrying a man instead of a woman. How the show handles this topic is actually pretty admirable. We see the struggle of Carol not being supported by her parents, which prompts Ross to eat a slice of humble pie and walk her down the aisle. While there are a few jokes regarding lesbians, the punches are mostly thrown at the straight cast (e.g., Joey is unable to understand why his charm won’t work on gay women). Our favorite little bit is where Susan asks Ross to dance and jokes, “I’ll let you lead.”
Taking a hard look at “Friends,” we could say that there was still a way to go for the media at the time, and there were definitely some cringe-worthy comments and atttidues. Still, the show managed to give outsiders a look into gay relationships without making caricatures of the roles. We have to admire that.
Sex and the City
While we talked about two of the tamer ‘90s sitcoms, we know, we know, we hear you: Sex and the City. Yes, this HBO show ran from 1998-2004 with just under 100 episodes over 6 seasons. The show follows a group of four girls living in New York (what’s with all the ‘90s sitcoms being based in NYC?). They often discuss their social lives, which mainly revolve around sex. Sex and the City is basically a feminist answer to all the male-dominated sitcoms that came before it.
Being that it was on a racier network, writers could get away with much more in terms of content and language. So much so that there was an episode “The Turtle and the Hare” in the very first season where the girls argued whether men were becoming obsolete thanks to vibrators, particularly the rabbit vibrator. Talk about sexualized media! But the gals did have a point! And thanks to this episode, rabbit vibrator sales soared (you can find out more all about that here). This episode of SATC is only one example of many that covered becoming comfortable with your own sexuality.
We can’t help but get behind a spicy show that covers being confident with our bodies and not being afraid to explore your options in relationships. It was controversial for it’s time. Would we look at Sex and the City in a similar light today? Probably not, since many shows that are based on humor make light of sexuality without spinning it in a negative regard. How sex is portrayed in the media today leans towards respect, especially in concern to gender roles and relationship types.
Young and Hungry
Miley Cyrus wasn’t the only one who grew up! Her Hannah Montana co-star, Emily Osment, stars as Gabi Diamond in Young and Hungry. If you want to take a good look at how far we’ve gotten in how sex is portrayed in the media, look no farther than the ABC Family (Freeform) sitcom that ran from 2014 to 2018. Yes, ABC Family – as in the Disney-owned channel that featured content the whole household could watch together. The basic synopsis of this show is that a smoking-hot tech millionaire, Josh Kaminski, needs to hire a personal chef, and unqualified hopeful, Gabi Diamond, shows up for an interview. Her trial dinner ends in the two having a one-night stand that turns into a “will they – won’t they” back and forth leading to their eventual engagement in the series finale.
The best thing to go with the romcom gold? Finally! Some gosh darned diversity. Yolanda is Josh’s African-American housekeeper who stands in to give Gabi motherly advice. And we can’t forget to mention Elliot, Josh’s Korean-American publicist who is proud and out in every way. We can’t unpack the rest of the show in this short article, so please give it a try if you’re looking for something more current to binge. The pilot episode is just a precursor to the sexual topics that are covered in the show, including pregnancy scares, homosexuality, casual sex, and body positivity. There’s even an episode featuring some bondage. Talk about transforming how sex is portrayed in the media!
If you’re wanting a feel-good sitcom that isn’t based on New Yorkers, Young and Hungry should be your go-to. It’s set in San Francisco after all. It also delves into overcoming financial struggles due to the economy (millennials, we’re looking at you). We’re still holding out for a reboot or a spin-off show.
How Sex is Portrayed in the Media Now
From Two and a Half Men to Two Broke Girls, sitcoms are a pivotal reflection of society’s standing during their original air dates. While we watch these shows primarily for entertainment, the messages they convey are ones that can be empathized with by many. Now more than ever, we have a renewed urgency to demand inclusion of all gender identities and types of sexualities in TV shows and movies. Sexualized media can help in many ways when it covers meaningful topics, like:
- Safe sex
- Body positivity
- Managing your sexual health
- Being able to discuss sex openly
- Dating do’s and don’ts
Regardless of our own sexual orientations, we as a collective whole can only prosper from the normalization of our differences. Hopefully when we look to how sex is portrayed in the media, production companies can depict a true representation of how far we have come as a society.
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As culture moves forward to openly embrace different sexual lifestyles, we can only hope the media will keep up. In the meantime, PinkCherry advocates for all genders, sexualities, and relationship choices. Trust our online shopping experience for whatever fun you’re into. At PinkCherry.ca, you’ll find sex toys that check EVERY box.