Everything We Needed to Know About Sex, We Learned From 'The Golden Girls'
After nearly four decades since the premiere, "The Golden Girls" (spoilers ahead) is still essential viewing for its depiction of older women talking about sex. The show broke new ground for millennials like me who were born into a world of sexual conservatism and unfavorable attitudes toward casual sex.
Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia stoked our imagination by returning home in clothes they had on the night before, renting dirty movies, spicing up the bedroom with costumes, rating their partners' lovemaking over cheesecake and, as Blanche said, being "jumpier than a virgin at a prison rodeo." Okay, so we didn't always know what they were talking about, but they kept us guessing.
At times, the show was less than open-minded, including the punch lines about Dorothy's brother, Phil, who dressed in women's clothes and countless references to Blanche being a slut—although everyone claimed to be a slut when Burt Reynolds guest-starred on the show. But I digress. Blanche, despite being the most sexually liberated of the group, didn't approve of her brother marrying a man, and, in another episode, confused the words lesbian and Lebanese.
Even so, the ladies found a way to embrace the full spectrum of love. Sophia got to the heart of the matter by saying, "Everyone wants someone to grow old with. And shouldn't everyone have that chance?"
Whether you were around in the 1980s or are new to watching "The Golden Girls," we all feel a claim to this iconic show. The outpouring of love following Betty White's passing is a testament to the lasting impact of these characters who understood the universal language of sex, love and friendship.
Let's time-travel a bit and recall seven of their brightest moments as they won over the challenges of their own era and provide such a foundation for us as we battle our own society's norms.
Sex can be about pleasure
Aside from confirming that sex wasn't some "colossal joke," as Rose put it, the sex education many of us received growing up tended to focus on preventing pregnancy and infection. These shame-based tactics gave an impression that having sex for pleasure was best left in the hands of R&B singers and romance novelists.
"The Golden Girls" didn't shy away from talking about orgasms or whatever it was that Rose said, "Made your eyes go back in your head." In season four, Rose's boyfriend revealed he was impotent. At a dinner date, the couple exchanged an impassioned volley of words, ending with Rose crying out, "Check, please!"
No surprise, Blanche often described her sexual fantasies, showing viewers it's normal to have urges and yearnings. At the same time, Dorothy showed us that marriage was no guarantee of a satisfying sex life.
Consent is not a one-time deal
Two episodes made clear the importance of having open and honest communication with our partners. In season one, Rose was worried about having sex for the first time since her husband's death. In season five, Blanche gave up on sex temporarily after her doctor implanted a pacemaker to help regulate her heartbeat.
In both instances, the women expressed their concerns about having sex, reminding us that consent should be given freely and as part of an ongoing discussion with our partner. Blanche inspired us to ask for what we wanted, even if it meant teaching our partner a thing or two.
The first time doesn't have to be special
"Barry was the man I wanted to be the first," Dorothy said while the ladies reminisced about losing their virginity. Rose had waited until marriage. Dorothy had gotten pregnant the first time she slept with Stan. And Blanche couldn't recall her lover's name, only that it started with a "B."
This hilarious exchange made us rethink the highly romanticized version of the first time we've grown accustomed to in movies and magazines. Whether you're 16 or 60, the first time with a new partner can be as awkward as the farm song Rose used to sing as a child: "I Never Thought I'd Grow a Hair There."
There's more to women than having children
Season two opened with the ladies trying their hand at mink breeding and Blanche learning that she was starting menopause. "It means I'm old. It means I'm not a real woman anymore," Blanche told her therapist. For Sophia, menopause meant growing a beard, and, for Rose, a marginal difference between a hot flash and the weather in Miami.
Blanche had grown up hearing about periods as the curse and menopause as the change. After praising the end to periods and premenstrual syndrome, brought on by menopause, Dorothy had this to say: "I didn't see it as having anything to do with my sexuality." In the final minutes of the episode, a visit from a handsome veterinarian settled what Blanche should've known all along—minks could be too old to breed but not people.
Sexual harassment is not okay by anyone
Two episodes dealt with sexual harassment by someone in a position of power. In season one, Blanche was struggling to pass her psychology class that she needed for a promotion at work. When she asked her professor for help, he offered her an A in exchange for sleeping with him. She refused, using his lechery as motivation to study hard and earn her degree.
Then, in season six, Rose suspected that her dentist had touched her breasts during an exam. When she confronted him, he told her this was a common experience among patients under anesthesia and she was probably just hallucinating. After she apologized to him, he made yet another lewd remark about her breasts. Like Blanche, Rose stood up to her harasser, calling out his despicable behavior for what it was.
Paranoia can spread faster than a virus
In season five, Rose was notified by the hospital where she had undergone gall bladder surgery that she might have been exposed to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and needed to get a blood test. For three agonizing days, Rose waited for her results while Sophia grappled with unfounded fears about contracting the virus. She avoided using the same bathroom as Rose and labeled mugs with the letter R until Dorothy convinced her, along with viewers, that she was giving in to ignorance and paranoia.
Meanwhile, Rose was lashing out at Blanche, saying, "This isn't supposed to happen to people like me," an obvious swipe at Blanche's sexual promiscuity. In response, Blanche had this to say: "AIDS is not a bad person's disease."
Women can carry their own protection
In a Valentine's-themed flashback, the ladies were stocking up on supplies for a romantic cruise. "Condoms, Rose! Condoms! Condoms! Condoms!" Dorothy yelled after Rose misunderstood Blanche's suggestion to bring along protection. Blanche faced down the disapproving looks of the customers and cashier, knowing it was the "morally and socially responsible" thing to do.
During its seven-season run, "The Golden Girls" challenged pop culture norms about women having sex and not having sex. Together, Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia empowered viewers to take ownership of their sex life, free of stigma and shame. And that message is still worth sharing among friends. Long may "The Golden Girls" grace our networks.