I'm a Bachelor virgin. I've never seen the show, not one of the thousands of episodes over the last 22 seasons. I'm also a virgin. Like, virgin-virgin. So when I saw that this season’s bachelor, Colton Underwood, was one too, I knew I had to tune in and lose my Bachelor v-card.
At the very least, I was interested to see how the topic of virginity was being handled. I mean, for a show that prides itself on being a guilty pleasure, soap-like, sexy romp, were Colton and his lady loves really just going to play Monopoly during the Fantasy Suite moments?
Let me preface this by saying that, no, I don't live in a cabin deep in the woods where I've sworn off technology, and I've read enough issues of Us Weekly to loosely keep up with the show. So, I shared everyone's collective anger when Arie played take backs with the coveted rose, and I was happy when Rachel Lindsay, a woman of color, was cast as the Bachelorette.
Still, I had a lot to learn about the Bachelor world. So I binge-watched the entire season so far over several days (yes, I’m one of those people who lets things pile up on her DVR; Marie Kondo would be appalled). Here are five thoughts that ran through my mind as I explored the seductive world of The Bachelor for the first time:
1. The "virginity" aspect feels like an afterthought.
For a show that’s billing this season on a man who hasn’t had sex, there’s certainly no shortage of sexual tension. I may be naïve (see my second point), but even I'm picking up on all the really-not-so-subtle sexual innuendos. Case in point: Caitlin showing up with a red balloon, popping it with a needle and then saying to Colton, “Now that I've popped your cherry, we don't have to talk about virginity anymore.” Yikes.
Then, there's the kissing-aka endless footage of Colton making out with the contestants–three contestants in the first episode, to be exact, and the most first kisses to ever air in a Bachelor premiere. To be clear, there's nothing wrong with smooching, but it almost comes off like he's trying to prove something or move away from the "virgin" label that is simultaneously being used to sell the show. It's as if kissing all these people on camera is his way of showing that he may be a virgin, but he's not a shy or prudish one.
Anyway, I can't relate to any of this, which is probably for the best?
2. Women never get the same reactions to virginity as men do.
When it comes to virginity, men and women are often viewed in completely different lights, where women reportedly feel both more guilt linked to virginity as well as more pressure to lose it sooner than men do.
Even season 19's former Bachelor contestant Ashley Iaconetti, who revealed she was a virgin for pretty much the same reasons as Colton, says that not having had sex put a huge weight on her dating life. "I started thinking that it made people believe I wasn't someone they could have fun with. Dating me was serious."
While Colton's virginity is obviously part of the show's marketing strategy, he still gets to be the star of the show and sought after. Women do everything from wear sloth costumes to fake Australian accents just to have a shot at winning his heart. Sure, a few lighthearted jabs might be made at his expense, but his virginity is approached as something to be curious about more than an obstacle. I don't think that would be the case if there was a female virgin as the Bachelorette.
This discrepancy became especially clear to me when contestant Heather told Colton that she's never been kissed before. He wasn't repulsed, but he definitely looked shocked. Meanwhile, she seemed very nervous to tell him, and felt like she had to explain herself perfectly (while his reasoning for being a virgin was a simple, "I got too busy with football"). It's a moment when you'd think these two would instantly connect over their lack of experience, but in the end, it just came off feeling lukewarm sweet, and mostly kind of awkward for Heather.
3. Virginity isn't a choice for everyone.
Colton's virginity is a choice: He says he was just too busy to think about sex. Still, it’s clear why someone like him was still picked to be the Bachelor: I mean, his face was practically ready-made for prime time.
And then there are people like me. I don’t look “normal” by any means, thanks to my physical disability. And I’ve never been shy about writing about my own virginity. But a lot of the messages I get come from commenters who think people with disabilities don’t have the same needs and wants as able-bodied people–they say things like, “Your disability and wheelchair will always be in the way,” which is not only hurtful, but also inaccurate and archaic.
This is why Colton's "dramatic journey" feels so forced–he's a conventionally handsome, white, privileged man. The show is trying to be woke, with Colton representing virgins and the season’s tagline of “What does he have to lose?” But he’s a former NFL player, and I’m sure he’s had his fair share of women throwing themselves at him. So, I’m not exactly sure he really represents the same kind of virginity a lot of other people can relate to. I definitely can’t identify with his privilege, especially since his looks or abilities have never posed a problem.
4. Apparently only skinny, conventionally attractive people can find love.
OK, I’ve always taken issue with the show’s unrealistic beauty standards, and it's not exactly news that this is not a representative sample of the average American woman. But still, this season made me want to scream.
Thanks to contestant Demi, we learn that a cougar is now apparently someone in her early 30s. I guess there’s no hope for me then, at the ripe old age of 37... I should probably just call it quits on the whole dating thing altogether!
This ageism, coupled with making Colton the mascot for virgins, just shows how skewed and out of touch the show can be. The takeaway message for someone like me ends up being that I'll never find love. Not something I like mixed in with a show meant to be pure entertainment!
5. I was disappointed...but I also can’t stop watching.
So what’s my verdict? When I mentioned to some fellow writers that I was writing this, one friend said, “I think you may find that, as is often the case during loss of virginity, it’s awkward, disappointing, and sometimes painful for women.”
Interestingly, that pretty much sums up my first time with The Bachelor as well. And yet…I’m still setting my DVR every Monday. For some strange reason, I feel invested in this journey now, however unrealistic, un-relatable, and even occasionally offensive it may be. I admit that I did find myself laughing out loud a few times at the absurdity of it all (Like when Colton says "you remind me of home" after only A COUPLE OF DAYS 🙄). I may relate to Colton less than I ever imagined, but at least Sloth Girl added some fun.
Anyway, I want to see what happens, even if the show isn’t grounded in reality at all. (Maybe all the reality flew away with Caitlin’s red balloon?). After all, as Madonna would say, I made it through the Bachelor wilderness, somehow I made it through. That has to count for something.
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