Is the Strap-On the Last Taboo of Sex on TV?

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

First there was the finger-banging in the kitchen. Then there was the strap-on.

It’s tempting to joke about “where you were” when And Just Like That, the sequel series to Sex and the City, first aired its now-infamous sex scene between Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) and Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez)—like it’s a collective trauma we’ve all gone through together. The scene was jarring in many ways, not least of which was that it represented a seemingly out-of-character spontaneity and reckless abandon from sure-headed, emotionally intelligent Miranda, a character fans thought they knew—and thought they knew would never do this.

That “this” was getting fingered by Che in her best friend Carrie’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) kitchen, physicalizing an emotional affair she’d been having with the nonbinary comedian while still married to her devoted husband, Steve (David Eigenberg). Worse, Miranda was supposed to be at the apartment to care for Carrie, who was convalescing from a surgery—and ends up peeing herself when she’s too startled by what’s going on in her kitchen to make it to the bathroom.

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The scene is… a lot. And it’s probably a defining moment in the lightning-rod And Just Like That series. But it also marked a significant milestone in the Sex and the City universe. After two decades across a HBO series and two subsequent films, the franchise had traversed, exposed, celebrated, and discussed just about every sexual taboo, kink, anxiety, and trend there is—among heterosexual couples.

And Just Like That is notable for, however you may feel about the Miranda and Che pairing, kicking off a real—and graphic—exploration within the SATC oeuvre of queer sex. That continued in Season 2 with a storyline about Anthony’s (Mario Cantone) anxiety over bottoming and a few classic SATC-esque puns, like when Che cautions Miranda against performing oral sex on them after eating Indian food: “currylingus.”

But the major moment—that “where you were” scene from Season 2 fans will never forget—was when Miranda was trying on a strap-on dildo and harness to use while having sex with Che.

It’s the second annual Sextember at The Daily Beast, and some of the things we’ve been exploring are the recent turning points in how pop culture portrays sex. With each successive barreling through boundaries of sex on TV, there’s an equal and opposite reaction from society’s pearl-clutchers. Bums in primetime! Teens losing their virginity on soaps! Scenes becoming too realistic! Sexposition! Penises!!!!! Last year, we observed a new trend and wondered, “Is Ass-Eating Having Its TV Moment?” (Mom was so proud.)

Now, after all the attention of Miranda outfitting herself in the strap-on received this season on And Just Like That—who knew there were so many literal straps?—we’re wondering if, when it comes to sex on TV, the strap-on may be the last taboo.

Cynthia Nixon trying on a strap on while Sara Ramirez is on the phone in a still from And Just Like That

What makes the And Just Like That scene remarkable is that, albeit through the always-cheeky lens of SATC, it’s not overtly mocking the act. Sure, there’s comedy in Miranda attempting to figure out how the buckles function, but the scene does a lot of work to normalize what, for some couples, is a very normal aspect of sex play. There’s a matter-of-factness to it: Of course Miranda would try this out; she’s in a committed, sexually vibrant relationship with Che.

Still, it’s hard to move away from the instinct to blush at the sight of a dildo and harness, a reaction that persists because of buttoned-up, conservative social mores that perpetuate shame related to sex that is deemed “abnormal.” (Which, often, can mean “not heterosexual.”) That instinct goes away when depictions of so-called kinky or deviant sex acts are more common, portrayed as consensual and fun—instead of something that audiences are supposed to be shocked by.

What’s actually shocking is that it’s taking us so long to get to that point.

This isn’t the first time a strap-on has been used in the SATC franchise. In the Season 4 episode “Ghost Town,” which first aired in 2001—22 years ago—Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is navigating a nascent lesbian relationship with Maria (Sonia Braga). After the two get in a dish-smashing fight—pa-ping!—over there being too many feelings and not enough fucking in their relationship, Maria surprises Samantha with a strap-on. “I guess we could give it a try…” Samantha says. We later learn that she threw her back out while using it (off-screen), which is the last we see or hear of Maria… or the dildo.

Is Ass-Eating Finally Having Its TV Moment?

In the two decades between Carrie Bradshaw’s BFFs buckling into a harness, there wasn’t much movement on the strap-on front, at least on TV. That is, except for one curious year when it was everywhere, before disappearing again. There seemed to be such a “moment” surrounding it that Vulture even crowned 2015 “The Year of the Strap-On.”

On Netflix’s queer-positive Sense 8, Nomi (Jamie Clayton) and Amanita (Agyeman) have amazing sex, after which the strap-on they were using is removed and, in a close-up shot, splashes when it’s tossed to the ground. On Orange Is the New Black (also on Netflix), Big Boo’s (Lea DeLaria) girlfriend is shown dismounting her, revealing the strap-on they were using.

Perhaps most memorably, Broad City’s Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) is thrilled to score a date with her neighbor (Stephen Schneider)—and is even more excited when he requests that she “peg” him using a strap-on. The strap-on itself is as much a featured character in the episode as Abbi, and the episode is a rare instance when “pegging” during heterosexual sex is discussed on TV.

Previous mentions of pegging characterized the act as deviant, emasculating behavior, like when Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) learns that Ralph (Joe Panolliano) likes to be pegged by Janice (Aida Turturro).

On Shameless, a prostitute wears a strap-on to guilt Mickey (Noel Fisher), who fathered her baby, into admitting that he’s gay and “likes it in [his] poop place.” I wouldn’t characterize either of these examples as particularly celebratory, normalizing, or empowering.

The year after Broad City opened the bedroom door—so to speak—into the world of straight strap-on sex, Ryan Reynolds gets pegged by Morena Baccarin in Deadpool, penetration in honor of International Women’s Day. And in a 2020 episode of The Bold Type, the main characters have a discussion about pegging that’s very reminiscent of a conversation that might have happened on Sex and the City. But these sporadic examples hardly amount to a watershed moment—especially when the And Just Like That scene with Miranda and Che garners so much attention it nearly topples the proverbial watercooler over

Is strapping dildos to every TV show our greatest cultural concern at the moment? Of course not. But there is value in de-stigmatization, especially when it comes to sex that might thwart gender norms or feature in queer relationships. Myths and disinformation are what sees the light when something is kept in the shadows, and that spreads into an assumption of perverseness and, with that, shame.

Even the mere discussion of any of this is likely deemed provocative. That’s what TV scenes—ones with Miranda and Che included—help with. They can make sexual expression seem like what it is: ordinary.

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