May 21, 2008 — -- You can only watch Samantha Jones bed so many gorgeous guys before wondering if 4-inch heels and sky-high confidence would allow you to do the same.
At least that's what happened to "Lisa" (not her real name). She got hooked on "Sex and the City" when she was a 14-year-old growing up on Long Island, N.Y. It was the same year she lost her virginity. She soon graduated to ordering cosmopolitans at bars she snuck into and cheating on her boyfriend with up to seven other guys -- in one week.
"When you're that age you try to emulate people on TV. Carrie smoked, so I smoked, Samantha looked at hooking up with random people as not a big deal, so that's what I did too," said Lisa, now 22. "It wasn't 'Sex and the City's' fault. I love the show, but I think it made it a little easier to justify my behavior."
It's a twisted version of monkey see, monkey do. For some 20-something women, "Sex and the City," which hits theaters in feature film form May 30, served as Dating 101 -- lessons in how to hook up, go out and live the fabulous lives of Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), no strings attached.
Lisa remembers re-enacting one particular Samantha scene in her own life: Season 3, episode 39, in which the bachelorette-for-life scrunches her face up at her latest suitor and tells him she doesn't like the way he … tastes.
"That was something that happened to me. I used her exact words: 'You have funky spunk,'" she said. "I knew from watching the show that it had to do with something he was eating," so she took a cue from the script and took an ax to a certain item in his diet.
Lisa left her "Samantha" ways behind at 19, when she moved to Utah, became a Mormon, married a man within the church and gave birth to two children. For the first year of her marriage, her husband forbade her to watch "Sex and the City" for fear that it would lure her back to her habits of sex, drugs and one-too-many cosmos.
"I had to sell my DVDs on eBay," she said. "But now it's OK. It took a while to get here."
To be clear: "Sex and the City" can't be blamed for creating a generation of sluts. No one's attempted to quantify how the landmark HBO series changed the way people date and hook up, and both the network and series executive producer/movie producer Michael Patrick King declined to comment for this story on how they believe the show affected women.
But according to psychiatrists, relationship experts and fans, "Sex and the City" changed the way women view hooking up, if not their hooking up habits.
"It did have some impact given that it was a sea change in how women talked about sexuality and what was shown on a network -- full frontal nudity, talking about affairs, vibrators, etc.," said Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociology professor and relationship expert for Perfectmatch.com. "If it's not permission giving, it at least demystifies and normalizes what goes on in women's lives in a more than snickering way."
That's what Angela Hwang, 24, found when she started watching the show in cable syndication, after it went off HBO. She and her girlfriends routinely compare their experiences to "Sex and the City" episodes.
"My girlfriends and I, every single guy we've been with we can relate to one of the guys on the show," she said. "We've all had Samantha moments. We'll say, 'Remember the guy I saw last week? He was exactly like the guy in episode 15.'"
Hwang took away more than just bedroom tips.
"It gives you a sense of independence," she said about the show. "You learn that you don't need to always have someone there. You can have a successful career and girlfriends without needing a guy by your side. There's not one soul mate, there's not one person out there for you."
It seems like the perfect combination of entertainment and education -- a shot of "Peep-toe Manolos will totally turn him on" chased with "You don't need guys as long as you've got your girlfriends!"
But Dr. David Greenfield, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut's School of Medicine, believes there's danger in taking "Sex and the City's" so-called lessons off the small screen and applying them in the real world.
"With teenagers and young adults, there's a certain degree of role modeling that goes on. There's a certain 'if it's done on the screen then it's OK, it's normal,'" he said. "You watch 'Sex and the City,' you see these women go out for dinner, come back, and wake up in satin sheets with a gorgeous guy. Who wouldn't like that? But it doesn't show what goes on under the surface in real sexual relations. Sex is an extraordinarily complex, emotional process. No one wants to talk about that. They're not going to see the reality."
Lisa realizes that now. She's reclaimed her "Sex and the City" DVDs and watches them when she's in need of some New York City nostalgia. And while she's excited about seeing the movie on opening day -- though she'll probably be the only Mormon fan in the theater -- she cringes at the thought of other young women modeling their sex lives after Carrie and Co.
"Now that I'm older, looking back, I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, these women are in their 30s. What was I thinking?'" she said. "I'm not sure I'd want my little sister seeing the movie -- she's 14 -- but I think it's a fun show for people my age now, as long as you don't take it too seriously."