Here's what The Bachelor got wrong about Colton’s virginity
If you know anything about this season of The Bachelor, you probably know that the leading man, Colton Underwood, is a virgin.
And how does most of America know this intimate detail? Because ABC has been shoving it in our faces since he shared the fact when he was a contestant on Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette. Colton explained to Becca that he was so focused on his career as a professional football player that he never made time for dating — he wasn’t waiting for marriage, but rather for the right person. He also admitted that he hadn’t told many people because he felt pressure to engage in the stereotypical locker room talk of his fellow athletes. While this led to a few shining moments where the franchise addressed the harmful stigmas surrounding toxic masculinity, all of that was upstaged by this season’s obsessive focus on Colton’s virginity. While I didn’t expect a show with the goal of marrying two strangers after a handful of dates to handle the topic particularly gracefully, this season not only indulged cringe-worthy jokes, but actually perpetuated some seriously harmful narratives about virginity and how it relates to sexuality and self-worth.
Nine contestants who openly talked about their virginity have appeared on the show in previous seasons, to varying levels of fanfare. Most of these contestants were women, and this season was the first time that the male lead is a virgin (Bachelor Sean Lowe identified as a born-again virgin and was celibate, but it wasn’t a major part of his narrative). The Bachelor franchise has always had a strange approach to sex — it is only to be had during the “fantasy suite” week, in which the lead can choose to spend a camera-free night with each of their final three suitors. Once the couple closes the door and turns off the lights, the audience is led to assume that they are having sex, whether this is confirmed by the contestants or not. But if the lead has sex with a contestant before that sanctioned night, everyone freaks out. When Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe had sex with contestant Nick Viall before fantasy suites, she was questioned by contestants and viciously slut-shamed by viewers. The show presents a frustrating double bind: if you have sex, you better have it at the “right” time, and if you haven’t had sex, you better have a good explanation.
Here are a few more things The Bachelor got wrong about its portrayal of virginity this season:
Virginity is a social construct
Let’s start with the most obvious problem: virginity is not real! Virginity is based on whether or not someone has had sex, and society usually defines sex as penis-in-vagina penetration — so the only sex that “counts” is the kind that can result in children. So not only is virginity rooted in heteronormative, patriarchal traditions, but it is just a social construct, not any kind of physical status. So when The Bachelor refers to virginity as something that can be “taken” or “lost,” the show is directly buying into this false narrative.
Virginity is truly not that interesting
Just to be clear: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a virgin. Having sex has no impact on anyone’s worth, maturity, or ability to love. But instead of acknowledging Colton’s virginity and simply moving past it, which would have normalized it, the show obsesses over this fact as if it’s the most intriguing thing about this whole season (which, Colton’s fence jump begs to differ). In the trailer for this season, the word “virgin” is said 4 times in the first 40 seconds. From the beginning, ABC focused on the question of whether Colton will remain a virgin, and continued to remind viewers almost every week. In the Women Tell All episode, when eliminated contestants discuss the season, contestant Sydney asked if Colton was still a virgin. As if it’s not weird enough to ask your ex about their sex life in front of strangers, host Chris Harrison asks the women to raise their hands if they think he’s still a virgin. How is this an appropriate topic to casually weigh in on? To really hammer the point of this season home, at the beginning of the finale Chris poses the question “Will Colton find love or remain a virgin forever?” Pretty sure those two aren’t mutually exclusive!
Virginity is not a personality trait
Having sex doesn't say anything about you, and the same goes for not having sex. And while I have watched dozens of hours of television featuring Colton, I could not tell you anything beyond the fact that he played football...and works with sick kids...and is a virgin. Maybe we would know more about this season’s lead if the show focused on literally anything else.
Colton has called the decision to discuss his virginity on national television “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.” On the one hand, yes, toxic masculinity and the stigma around virginity are important topics, but on the other hand, is it really the toughest challenge he’s come across in his 26 years?
Virginity is not the butt of a joke
There have been so many puns, jokes, and innuendos about Colton’s virginity from the host, contestants, celebrity guests, and even ABC itself. Prior to the premiere, a Bachelor promo depicted Colton in the same pose as Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin movie poster, and another featured the tagline “What does he have to lose?” During the premiere, contestants introducing themselves to Colton with jokes about his virginity: one popped a balloon to symbolize the proverbial “cherry pop,” another performed a card trick in which she took his “V-card,” and another dressed up as a sloth because he likes to “take things slow.” While these comments might seem corny or harmless at first, it only takes a little more reflection to realize how truly messed up the premise of these jokes are. Being a virgin is only funny if you believe that it somehow makes a person “weird” or “lesser.” If these people thought it was normal or okay, they wouldn’t feel the need to poke fun at it.
Virginity has nothing to do with attractiveness or sexual prowess
So many contestants express disbelief over the fact that someone as conventionally attractive as Colton could still be a virgin. Since his virginity is not religiously-motivated, which is the most widely accepted reasoning, or related to his looks, the women seem genuinely stumped. But attractiveness doesn’t equate to sexual experience, and their obvious shock and confusion perpetuate the belief that good looking people are more likely to have sex, which is simply untrue. It also overlooks the many possible reasons people wait to have sex — lack of desire or opportunity, anxiety, insecurity, trauma, etc. When Colton shows signs of sexual prowess, the women are equally surprised. After he kisses contestant Caelynn, she remarks to the camera that he kisses well “for a virgin.” Not sure if she realizes that being good at kissing doesn’t have any relation to whether someone has had sex.
Virginity is not an analogy to sexual assault
When Caelynn opens up to Colton about her past sexual assault, he brings up his past relationship with an ex who was sexually abused (which, if you didn’t know, is gymnast Aly Raisman). At first, it seems like he’s trying to reassure Caelynn that he understands how assault can lead to intimacy issues, which is a noble attempt at empathizing. But then he says his ex’s assault is one of the reasons his virginity is “complicated.” By implying that his ex’s sexual trauma is in any way “responsible” for him being a virgin, Colton is making her assault all about him. Aly’s assault is not his story to tell, and it’s certainly not the appropriate story to tell about his virginity.
Virginity is not a measure of someone’s worth
While the main virginity under close inspection this season is Colton’s, the comments around the contestants’ virginity or lack thereof are perhaps the most insidious of all. Contestant Heather has not only never had sex, but has also never been kissed, so in typical Bachelor fashion, this becomes her entire identity. In confessional shots, where contestants’ name, age, and job are displayed, the space where Heather’s job description should be instead just says “Never Been Kissed.” Again, probably not the most interesting or defining fact about her. When she tells Colton about her lack of experience, he says she should be proud because she “know[s her] value and [she is] not going to settle.” So does that mean that people who have had sex don’t know their value or are settling?
Contestant Hannah B. (there are two Hannah’s this season) tells Colton that not waiting for marriage is one of her biggest regrets: “There was a lot of guilt, and it killed me. For the person I want to be with forever, I would have loved to have that for them.” Not being a virgin doesn’t make Hannah B. any less deserving of her future husband’s love. This is not to say that Hannah B’s feelings are any less valid, but it sure sounds like she’s more disappointed in what it means to a potential partner than it does to her. Another contestant, Cassie, reveals that she’s worried about her community or family judging her for not being a virgin after watching the show. Hannah B. and Cassie are both openly religious (not on the show but on social media), so it makes sense that they have some extra pressure to remain “pure,” but their hand-wringing over how Colton or others might see them differently in light of their sexual history overemphasizes the importance of virginity in defining their self-worth.
Image: ET Online