“The Bachelorette” crossed many a boundary Monday night. Not only did audiences have to watch as President Donald Trump announced his Supreme Court pick with the pomp and circumstance of a twisted rose ceremony, but we also were forced to contend with the franchise’s odd obsession with its participants’ sexual histories ― or lack thereof.
Front-runner Colton Underwood geared up to tell Becca Kufrin that he was, at age 26, still a virgin. A rational person might conclude that Colton’s status as a virgin (or not a virgin) says very little about whether he and Becca should continue to date. They have intense physical chemistry, both look like beautiful people who belong on reality television, and both have a dull sweetness about them. But, of course, this is “The Bachelorette,” so the show must lean into our society’s most retro ideas about what being a virgin means ― particularly for a man.
“The Bachelorette” would have us believe that virginity is a virtue, until it’s not. Once some imaginary age line is crossed ― 18? 20? 21? 25? ― it becomes a “big responsibility” for whoever your first sexual partner happens to be. We kindly call bullshit.
It’s time to cool it with this obsession. Let’s make 2018 the year a person’s sexual history ― or lack thereof ― is treated as a value-neutral fact about them. Because that’s what it is.
On this week’s “Here to Make Friends” podcast, HuffPost’s Emma Gray and Claire Fallon, along with E! News editor Tierney Bricker, plumbed the depths of the show’s virginity obsession:
Emma Gray: We’ll get back to Colton, and the fact that Colton is a virgin, which we had known from the teasers, but it hasn’t come up the whole season.
Claire Fallon: And we actually learn about it from the guys back in the suite having a little boy chat about it, and about whether he’s going to have to address it.
Gray: I know that the producers certainly sat them all down and were like, “You must talk about this now,” but it was so weird the way they were talking about his virginity.
Fallon: Yeah. Colton is what, 25? 26? He’s apparently been in one serious relationship. But regardless, it’s not anyone’s business. It made me really uncomfortable the way they were talking about what a “big responsibility” it would be to deflower him...
Tierney Bricker: They called it “the skeleton in his closet.” I think they used that phrase. About his virginity!
Gray: It just feeds into all these weird conceptions we have about virginity, as though you’re one person when you are a virgin and then you cross that boundary and you are another person ― you are released of something, or you’ve given up something, if you’re a woman. On both ends, we have an obsession over someone’s status, and it’s so counterproductive.
Fallon: What I see on “The Bachelor” often is this very specific idea of what an acceptable sexual history is. It’s like, you don’t start too young. Maybe when you’re 18 to 20.
Gray: With someone you love.
Fallon: And then you’ve maybe had a couple sexual partners since then ―
Gray: ― in serious relationships!
Fallon: You’re definitely experienced enough to know what you’re doing, but not so experienced that ―
Gray: ― that you’re a slut!
Fallon: Right, it’s very specific, and it’s like, “Oh no, you missed the boat at 18 to 20! It’s too late, you’re damaged goods now.” It’s especially bad with Colton, I think, because he’s a man. With women, we still get it on the show. Ashley had to defend herself a lot.
Gray: We also do tend to fetishize virginity when it’s a woman’s virginity, because we still have this outdated conception of women as having to be pure, and that virginity grants them that. Whereas men are less manly, more feminine, haven’t asserted their sexuality if they haven’t had sex.
And I thought Colton handled their conversation really well.
Bricker: I did too. And you brought up that men hide the fact that they are, and he said that. I wondered if he did that because he knew he had told his buddies in locker rooms, he’d talked about all his sexual experience, and he’s coming on a reality show saying he’s a virgin. So I liked that he brought up the locker room talk, but I thought that was interesting that he addressed that he’s lied.
Fallon: I’m going to differ with you guys. I don’t think he handled this conversation very well, and it made me more uncomfortable than the fact that he’s a virgin. I thought that it was unsettling that he revealed that he lied a bunch about it, in a locker room setting, and I guess made up elaborate stories about his sexual exploits. That made me really uncomfortable.
Also, Becca was asking him questions that he just wasn’t answering, to the point that it was really unclear to me why he was even telling her.
Gray: Why he thought it was relevant.
Fallon: Right. Was he saying, “This is important to me and I want to not have sex and save that for a later point”? Or was he saying, “This is a fact about me, I’m not experienced but I’m ready and my heart is open”?
Gray: That was the sense I got. How I read the situation was that a producer had really worked him up to being like, “This is a thing about you. You need to share this with her. You can’t go to hometowns and not have said this thing.” So he sort of word-vomited about it.
I do understand why he would say, “I was ashamed of this, and therefore I did make up these stories.” I don’t think it’s great, but it also seems completely realistic, in a hypermasculine setting, that you would feel this pressure to the point that as a 20-, 21-year-old, 23-year-old guy, you would try to fit in really hard. I’m not saying it’s good.
Fallon: I’m just saying, he literally was like, “It was just locker room talk.” And I have a bit of a reaction to that now. I don’t think that I’d necessarily want to be with a guy who’s like, “Oh yeah, in the locker room I say all kinds of shit about women.”
Gray: I agree. I don’t think it’s great. But perhaps it was honest, and that gives Becca the opportunity to decide if that’s something that rubs her the wrong way or not.
Bricker: He said he didn’t think his dad knew [he was a virgin]. That must get in your head, too. You’re about to voice this on national TV, and important people in your life don’t know this about you.
Gray: Maybe we don’t need to have these conversations on national television at all. I walked away feeling like, what does this say about him? Fucking nothing!
For more on our virginity fixation and “The Bachelorette,” listen to “Here to Make Friends”:
Do people love “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise,” or do they love to hate these shows? It’s unclear. But at “Here to Make Friends,” we both love and love to hate them — and we love to snarkily dissect each episode in vivid detail. Podcast edited by Nick Offenberg.