STDs on Sex and the City

From Chlamydia to Crabs, What the Show Got Right (and Wrong)

Sex and the City Promo Shoot with Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis and Sarah Jessica Parker
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HBO's "Sex and the City" ran for six years and 94 episodes from 1998 to 2004 and became the show people would gather around the water cooler to talk about the next day. It wasn't always accurate in its portrayal of sexual mores and practices though, but it more often than not, it got it right.

While the show never did push the characters to where they experienced any serious consequence from a sexual encounter (other than emotional), every woman on the show, except for Carrie, did have an STD scare at least once.

In an alternative TV universe where every woman has a closet-full of Jimmy Choo shoes, it may seem unreasonable to wonder why there weren't more problems given how rarely condoms were discussed. It left the uncomfortable impression that safer sex wasn't all that high a concern at a time when we were just emerging from the depths of the AIDS crisis in the U.S.

With that being said, there were three episodes that did tackle the issue of STDs head-on. For the most part, they were played for laughs but did manage to get a few thing right... and few things not-so-right.

"Twenty-Something Girls vs. Thirty-Something Women" (Episode 29)

In this episode, Charlotte misleads a much younger man about her age in order to seduce him. Then she comes down with a case of crabs.

What the episode got right:

  • Crabs (pubic lice) are most common in college-age students and those living in close quarters.
  • You can get crabs from infested sheets and towels. You are even more likely to get them from an infested bedmate.
  • Pubic lice itch. A lot.

What the episode got wrong:

  • Charlotte essentially gets "punished" for lying about her age. Do we really need to equate an STD with a punishment?

"Are We Sluts?" (Episode 36)

In this episode, Miranda is diagnosed with chlamydia. She is told to contact all of her past sexual partners, which she does.

She then has a conversation with Steve, her current partner, about why he needs to be tested even though he has no symptoms.

What the episode got right:

  • Most cases of chlamydia never have any symptoms.
  • Lots of people don't bother with partner notification.
  • Many people believe that no symptoms equal no problems. Like Steve, they'd rather not bother going to the doctor for screening and treatment. What most don't realize is that, if left untreated, STDs like chlamydia can lead to infertility and other serious problems.

What the episode got wrong:

  • Sadly, many doctors stop screening their female patients for asymptomatic STDs if they're over 25.

"Running with Scissors" (Episode 41)

In this episode, a man refuses to sleep with Samantha unless she gets an HIV test, something to which she admits she's never done because she is afraid of what the results might be. Fortunately, after a chiding from her girlfriends, she gets tested and discovers she is HIV-negative.

What the episode got right:

  • People are still afraid to get tested even if they are clearly at higher risk. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 20 percent of the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV have yet to be tested.
  • Waiting for HIV test results can be scary. Very.

What the episode got wrong:

  • There was a judgmental quality in the rebuke from the others when Samantha—someone who has clearly had more sexual partners than any of them—admits that she has never been tested. It suggests she was "more" at risk than the others. From a statistical standpoint, this may be true. From an individual standpoint, a person can get infected after just one encounter. That's a fact.

Source:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "HIV Surveillance Report: Diagnoses of HIV Infection and AIDS in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2015." Atlanta, Georgia; published November 2016.

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