On tonight’s episode of The Bachelorette, Becca Kufrin will have the opportunity to get intimate with her suitors—sans cameras—as she takes finalists Jason, Garrett, and Blake to the Fantasy Suite. This sexual expedition is a time-honored tradition in Bachelor Nation—and possibly its weirdest. Though the show is all about finding lasting love, compatibility, and marriage on an expedited timeline, consummation of the love they may find is shrouded in careful secrecy.
It’s not just that the cameras are put down—which, obviously makes sense (although, allegedly, producers have left hand-held cameras on the bed, should the lovebirds opt in). It’s that the show rarely allows for the word “sex” to be uttered on air, and when it does, it almost always misses the mark.
Why? Well, as history has shown us, Bachelor Nation has a repressive relationship with sex. It’s very comfortable suggestively dancing around the topic (it’s a show about marriage foreplay, after all) but not confronting it head on. The franchise is all about drawing out drama and getting contestants to spill the details. But when one of them dares to speak openly about what does—or doesn’t—happen between the sheets, they’re either villainized or ridiculed. Being too sexually active is cause for shame; not being sexually active enough is too. In the end, Bach Nation, a show about extreme transparency, is not quite sure how to handle The Thing that it so often alludes to, so it would rather keep the Fantasy just that—a fantasy.
Remember these incidents, which made it clear that The Bachelor has no idea how to portray enjoyable, consensual, respectful sex?
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One of the most memorable sexcapades in the Bach Nation history books involves Juan Pablo Galavis, the franchise’s 18th Bachelor, and contestant Clare Crowley. Other major players in this narrative: Juan Pablo’s misogyny and all-around terrible personality. Throughout the season, Juan Pablo used his status as a single father to explain why he bowed out of sharing a kiss with certain contestants, telling women, “I don’t want my daughter to see her dad kissing 20 girls.” (Kissing six was more daughter-friendly.) With Clare, though, Juan Pablo was eager to do more than just kiss: after they shared the season's first kiss, they also famously had sex in the ocean after a group date in Vietnam, weeks before his Fantasy Suite episode—which is essentially when it’s cool to finally bone a few remaining suitors or suitresses for the viewers at home, so long as you don't name the act. Here’s how it went down: Clare and Juan Pablo had an amazing time on their group date, when Juan Pablo basically pretended that all of the other women weren’t there. They made out in hot tubs and in Juan Pablo’s hotel pool, and Juan Pablo even gave Clare that night’s group date rose. Empowered by their chemistry, Clare returned to Juan Pablo’s hotel room at 4 a.m. and the two took their lust outside to bang in the ocean.
While Juan Pablo was into it in the wee hours of the morning, little did Clare know, he wasn’t as proud of their chemistry as she was. The following day, Juan Pablo all but chastised her for their mutually agreed upon actions. He said, “I hope nobody knows. It was a little weird for me. I’m too fair with people … Maybe it wasn’t right. I have a daughter. I don’t want her to see what happens, if she sees it.” Clare, who was an obvious frontrunner of the show, was repositioned as a promiscuous foul player. She did make it to Juan Pablo’s Fantasy Suite episode (when, presumably, they consummated their crush again), and she was his season’s runner up. But ultimately, she was happy to be sent home because during their final one-on-one date, Juan Pablo whispered something so obscene to Clare, she said she was “shocked.” "He chose to tell me something that no woman wants to hear. That he doesn't know me and some sexual thing I don't want to repeat. It was insulting and it was offensive." She did, however, reveal that sexual thing, and it was allegedly: “I love fucking you, but I don't know you.”
The World’s 2 Most Famous Virgins
Earlier this season, Colton made headlines when he confessed to Bachelorette Becca Kufrin that he is a virgin. But Ashley I. is the franchise’s favorite and most notable (now-former) virgin. As a contestant on Chris Soules’s season, Ashley admitted that she had never had sex—because she was waiting for the right person (though not for marriage). She was disappointed to find that this negatively impacted her relationship with Chris. “I said it to Chris Soules on that season, and I have to be honest, I didn’t think that he thought it was very attractive,” she recalled. “I think he stopped looking at me as a sexual object at that point—I felt a change in our relationship.” Online, Ashley I’s candid discussion of her sexuality sparked an open discussion. But the show turned Ashley I into a low-key dating pariah and turned her status as a virgin into one of the longest-lasting punchlines; it may as well have been her government-issued name in Bachelor Nation. Each man she dated was applauded for trying to make things work with a female virgin (oh, my!), and then, when she finally had sex, that information was held under lock and key.
Meanwhile, hit former NFL player Colton’s confession was met with utter shock, then support, and finally a rejection from Becca. But the show tried to use it to garner compassion for him. Unlike Ashley I., Colton didn’t feel a shift in his relationship until Becca's friend and Colton's former love interest Tia came back on the show last week and professed her continued lust for him. Had this not happened, Colton’s Hot Virgin status was referenced as a turn on, signaling a respectful, genuine approach to love.
How Vile Is Nick Viall?
During Nick Viall's season of The Bachelor, sex was celebrated in a way it never had been on the show. On his equivalent of tonight’s episode, Nick took three women to the Fantasy Suite, his soon-to-be fiancé Vanessa Grimaldi, the then-future Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, and Raven Gates. Raven’s evening in the suite was made out to be mega-important because there was a lot riding on Nick's shoulders; according to Raven, she had never had an orgasm before.That night, Nick became the first man to give her one. After her first orgasm, she paraded around Finland like it was Christmas morning and she’d been visited by Saint Nick. She told the cameras, “I will say this—Nick is really good at what he does.” It’s hard to say whether Raven’s hint, hint, wink, wink about Nick’s sexual prowess and the supercut of a grown woman riding sleds and playing in the snow after having her first night of good sex did more to infantilize her or to uber-sensationalize their night together.
If you’re a fan of the show, you know that this string of rendezvous wasn’t Nick’s first time in a Fantasy Suite. Prior to becoming a series lead, Nick was a contestant on both Kaitlyn Bristowe's season and Andi Dorfman’s. He finished as the runner up in both. After Andi didn’t choose Nick, he memorably told her in the After the Final Rose special, “If you weren’t in love with me, I’m just not sure why you made love with me.” This one sentence and admission of sex during the sex episode caused such a stir that the many a headline about why he admitted to having sex with Andi swarmed the Internet. But what was most shocking about the interaction wasn’t that Nick revealed what they shared in that room, or even that he felt personally betrayed that it resembled what Andi presumably shared with other contestants in other Fantasy Suites; it was that the franchise gasped at the explicit recognition that what goes on in the three rooms they booked for the Bachelorette to have sex in was, in fact, sex. The Bachelor and its offshoots all but spell out what goes on behind closed doors—but actually spelling it out? Sacrilege.
The Bachelor franchise’s naughty step-child, Bachelor in Paradise, serves as an end-of-summer treat, lest we suffer from Bachelorette withdrawal. It takes cast offs from seasons past and secludes them on a beach in Mexico. An unlimited supply of alcohol is provided along with a revolving door of fresh tail. Like with every show in the franchise, the alleged goal is to find love, but its format—in which, each round, one gender votes members of the opposite gender off the island—encourages contestants to seduce someone (anyone!) quickly … or lose their place. Additionally, the environment provides participants with nearly 24-hour access to one another. Last year, this dynamic—along with the show’s notorious habit of serving a dangerous amount of alcohol—contributed to the show’s biggest, and grossest, known scandal yet, shutting down production for weeks.
Last summer, on June 4, 2017, Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson hooked up in one of the BiP villa pools. The scene was observed by producers, and Corinne’s inebriated state raised concern for one of them. This producer felt that DeMario was taking advantage of Corinne and reported it, at which point production was paused so ABC could conduct an investigation. During this time, Corinne released a statement saying, “I am a victim and have spent the last week trying to make sense of what happened on June 4. Although I have little memory of that night, something bad obviously took place … As a woman, this is my worst nightmare and it has now become my reality.” She also revealed that she was under the influence of prescription medication and alcohol at the time. But by the end of June, both Warner Brothers and Corinne’s lawyers found no wrongdoing on the part of production or DeMario, and Corinne released a follow-up statement clarifying that she doesn’t blame either party for not being aware of her mental state during the incident. “It can look like you’re totally present and totally there, and your mind can just be not anywhere near,” she said.
The show resumed without either of them, and when it aired, viewers were treated to Chris Harrison giving a sex education seminar to the cast. He hinted at what went down between Corinne and DeMario (“a lot of tears were shed”) and asked the contestants to explain how they felt about the whole ordeal (they blame no one), and with that quickly and neatly out of the way, the debauchery was set to begin. The incident was never recognized as a symptom of a larger problem, raising concerns about contestants’ overall well-being. What would have happened if that one producer hadnt’t called foul? And has this happened many times before and gone unreported?
In the end, The Bachelor presents few models of wanted, respectful, meaningful sex between two equal partners. Instead, we see sex a source of shame or a feat for one party or, at its worst, nonconsensual.
Can it finally break out of that mold and into the present day? Becca, lead the way.