Kaitlyn Bristowe is dating 9 (down from 25) men on “The Bachelorette.” Last night, seven episodes into her televised journey towards true love and a Neil Lane diamond, she slept with one of them -- and some viewers weren’t too happy about it.
Consensual sex in the context of a romantic relationship hardly seems like an outlandish concept. But “The Bachelorette” is a show built upon the fantasy that true love and commitment can happen on a 12-week timeline, constrained by a clear set of rules. And one of those unspoken rules, is that sex shouldn’t happen before the show deems it “appropriate.”
As Willa Paskin explained in February 2014, the “sexual ethos” of “The Bachelor” franchise “is that the women are supposed to be relatively innocent and chaste, up until the moment the man calls on them to stop being so.” If Kaitlyn had slept with Nick during the overnight Fantasy Suite dates, which traditionally occur when three contestants are left, it would have been framed and received as acceptable behavior. But having sex after a great date a couple weeks earlier? Quel horreur!
Sex has been spoken about more explicitly in the last few seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” but it still remains a largely taboo subject, weighed down by shamey, scandalized baggage when it is overtly discussed. (See: the way Ashley I.’s virginity was discussed, Nick’s “shocking” sex "confession" during “After The Final Rose.”)
And when sex does happen on the show outside of the pre-approved bounds of the holy Fantasy Suite, it’s nearly always the woman who ends up feeling like shit about it. Kaitlyn’s guilt over her dalliance with Nick drives her to break down in tears by the end of the episode, referring to the whole thing as a "mistake." When Clare Crawley had her ocean rendezvous with Juan Pablo during Season 18 of "The Bachelor," she too ended up in tears. In “Bachelor(ette)” land, consensual sex cannot happen before week nine without regret attached to it.
To state what should be the obvious, sex is often an integral part of getting to know someone romantically -- and falling in love. Prioritizing a physical connection and chemistry with another human being before agreeing to bind yourself legally to him or her just seems like common sense. Kaitlyn and Nick are in the unique position of having their relationship choices being broadcast to millions of viewers, opening themselves up to the judgment of the Internet. But if both parties feel good about a sexual situation, should much else really matter?
As former “Bachelor” contestant Ashley Spivey pointed out, sex -- when it’s not shrouded in shame -- can be a truly empowering experience for a woman:
I think we all need to have a big discussion about how sex can actually make you feel powerful, ladies. #TheBachelorette
— Ashley S. (@AshleySpivey) June 23, 2015
Sadly, the women who watch “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” are integral to policing the bounds of “acceptable” female sexuality within it. Kaitlyn’s Instagrams and Twitter mentions are peppered with comments from young women -- some of them not yet out of high school -- calling her a “slut” and admonishing her for not being “classy” enough. Sexual shame is taught so young and ingrained so deeply that women become complicit in their own oppression.
In the words of Tina Fey’s character in “Mean Girls,” Ms. Norbury: “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores.”
It’s 2015 and I’m writing an article reminding people that women are allowed to have sexual desires -- and act on them. God bless America and its puritanical values.
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