Evolution of the Single Woman—and Sex—on TV

How sex has changed on the small screen, from no sex on TV in the '60s to hot, frequent sex in the '90s and escapist sex in the present

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That Girl (1966-71)

No Sex The sexual revolution was in full swing, but Ann Marie, the actress played by Marlo Thomas, was a non-combatant. Though she broke ground as an independent woman trying to make it as a professional, that’s the only way she did make it: Ann and boyfriend Donald (Ted Bessell) never knocked go-go boots.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77)

Discreet Sex Moore’s character, news producer Mary Richards, was a TV pioneer, vertically and horizontally. Over 30 and happily single, publicly on the Pill and a proponent of pay parity, Mare showed us that good girls get plenty—they just don’t talk about their sex lives over cosmos, even with BFFs like Rhoda.

Ally McBeal (1997-2002)

Neurotic Sex Some saw the miniskirted lawyer embodied (barely) by Calista Flockhart as a needy ditz. Others considered her a relatable work in progress. Pining for an old boyfriend and searching for true love, Ally worried about her erotic appeal, but she had the gumption to insist on a satisfying sex life.

©20th Century Fox Licensing/Merchandising/Everett

Sex and the City (1998-2004)

Hot, Frequent Sex Right to choose + Jimmy Choos = sexually liberated women walking tall. They were a diverse group: romantic Charlotte, swinging Samantha, practical Miranda, but what resonated was the sexual-angst-to-ecstasy ratio of Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, Carrie. We loved watching her play the field before she made it Big.©

©HBO/Courtesy Everett Collection/Everett Collection

Ugly Betty (2006-2010)

Sweet Geek Sex Hey, chica, America Ferrera’s Betty seemed to say, you don’t have to be supermodel skinny or conventionally chic to triumph as a fashionista or a passionista. With her feet on the ground, braces on her teeth and an office diva on her case, Betty managed a rich, satisfying sex life—and snagged the boss’s son.

ABC via Getty Images

Single Ladies (2011-Present)

Escapist Sex These Atlanta girlfriends are professionally successful, sexually confident, amazingly -accessorized—and still working out man troubles. But if you’re going to imagine yourself entwined in soapy, steamy plots, your TV alter ego might as well be a hip-hop vixen turned professional poker player like LisaRaye McCoy’s character, Keisha. 

Laretta Houston/VH1

Girls (2012-Present)

Sad-Sack Sex For Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, life is not about buying Manolos and dating Baryshnikov. We get it: Among 21st-century twenty-somethings, sex can involve a lot of unglamorous, downright icky boinking. But the opposite of sex object needn’t be sex abject. A preview of season two suggests a more erotically empowered Hannah. 


Next: Three Big Changes Since Friedan Wrote Her Book


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First Published Thu, 2012-12-27 11:45

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