Those of you who aren’t active members of “Bachelor Nation” may not be up to speed on the hype surrounding ABC’s new lead of The Bachelor, 26-year-old Colton Underwood. As the fourth-place finisher on Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette, Underwood was a fan favorite throughout the season with his professional football player-turned philanthropist career and charming good looks. In interviews, Kufrin especially praised Underwood for his sex appeal—much of his screen time with Kufrin featured heavy make-outs and lots of physical chemistry. So, it came as a shock to both Kufrin and viewers when late in the season Underwood admitted on a one-on-one date that he is, in fact, a virgin. The show’s producers immediately capitalized on this revelation. In the weeks leading up to it, advertisements of “Colton’s big confession” and clips of a distraught Kufrin were rampant in promotions.
During the airing of the “huge reveal,” Underwood told Kufrin that although he had previously been in love and was not waiting until marriage, he wanted his first time to be special. He explained how his virginity has been difficult for him, especially as a football player, in which his teammates often perpetuated narratives of sex as a “conquest” necessary to prove one’s masculinity. Immediately following Colton’s confession, Kufrin excused herself from the dinner table and was filmed standing in deep thought, leaving Underwood alone. She appeared shocked, considering Underwood’s virginity a potential deal breaker for the relationship. She eventually returned to the table and thanked him for sharing; their date continued, but how this new information would impact her decisions about Underwood going forward was still unclear.
Eventually, Underwood was sent home as the fourth-place finisher, a week before the “fantasy suite” episode, where contestants are invited to a private hotel room and are typically assumed to have sex. Kufrin mentioned none of this in her parting with Underwood, rather contending that her other connections with the remaining men were stronger. Underwood left heartbroken.
Following a brief stint on the spinoff show Bachelor in Paradise, ABC announced on September 4 that Colton Underwood would be the next Bachelor. Fans on social media immediately began labeling him the “virgin bachelor,” and members of Bachelor Nation deliberated how Underwood would handle aspects of being the Bachelor, including the fantasy suites and whether or not he would find a girl he felt he could lose his virginity to.
All of this discussion surrounding one man’s virginity raises the question: why is so much weight placed on whether or not someone has had sex? The Bachelor production plays right into the societal expectation that someone’s first sexual experience carries an innate importance.
During After the Final Rose, a show where the recently eliminated men of The Bachelorette rehash old drama on live television, several contestants made fun of Colton for never having had sex. A fellow cast-off shouted at Underwood, “Colton, you’re acting like a pussy but you’ve never been inside one.” The Bachelor production allowed for the shaming of Underwood because virginity is a topic that modern-day society sees as intriguing, and thus increases viewership. “Production definitely used Colton’s virginity in order to manipulate viewers’ opinions of him. It made him come off as more intriguing,” The Bachelor fan Ailie Orzak, a sophomore, agreed.
Although Underwood was shamed for his inexperience, he also was made out to be a good guy because of his virginity. This is similar to former Bachelor Sean Lowe’s reputation as “the good guy” because of his “born-again virgin” status. For both of these men, their statuses as virgins were simultaneously ridiculed and used as promotion for their “moral purity.” Whether for better or worse, The Bachelor exploited individuals’ sex lives as false indicators of their characters.
“The Bachelor, however, houses virginity as a measure of moral worthiness. Somehow Colton and Sean are good guys because they are virgins,” sophomore Bennett Fleming-Wood
said. “For a show risked by past controversies like racist candidates and contestants accused of assault and misconduct, picking a virgin to be the Bachelor is treating Colton’s inexperience with vaginal sex as criteria for being a good guy.”
The truth is, The Bachelor production knows that viewers love to gossip about other people’s sex lives. “It’s kind of ridiculous that they dramatized it so much when it’s such a personal decision. It wasn’t fair to Colton for people to judge him for not playing into the social stereotypes of being an attractive male athlete,” said sophomore Deeksha Bathini. These labels produce a societal discourse that feeds into an individual’s insecurity surrounding their sex life.
In addition, virginity as a measure of judgement, according to Fleming-Wood, is worthy of questioning, because, “In reality, virginity is a social construct—it’s totally made up.” She continued, “Sex is rarely just a penis inside of a vagina, but society has decided that it is important to measure whether someone has had sex, and that this is an adequate way of doing so.” In the old-fashioned sense, the status of being a virgin was often used to differentiate the “pure” from the “un-pure.” Nowadays, the term virgin has become one side of a double-edged sword. Virginity is often looked down upon as something to get rid of, yet at the same time, calling someone a slut is considered an insult. The two labels compose opposite ends of a binary, each carrying its own distinct labels and connotations. The dominant expectation is that young adults are sexually active enough to be considered “experienced,” but not to the point of being “trashy” or “slutty.” Despite these expectations, the lines between these labels are not well-defined. This leaves many struggling to toe these undefined lines. Labeling those at the extremes of this spectrum produces a security for those who fall more in between.
Most people will admit that reality TV is nowhere close to real life; however, what we consume as viewers does inevitably influence how we think and live out our daily lives. With The Bachelor’s undue emphasis on virginity, production is manipulating viewers to believe that virginity is not only a big deal, but that it can be a defining aspect of an individual’s character.
In essence, Underwood’s virginity is being used for the purpose of pure entertainment. Virginity is a socially constructed label that modern-day discourse has manipulated to shame people for their choices regarding sex if they stray from the preconceived norm. I am sure that during Underwood’s season, his virginity will be a prevalent topic, because production knows that #BachelorNation will eat it up. I will certainly watch his story unfold along with the rest of The Bachelor fans, but will try do so through the lens of understanding that when production uses Underwood’s virginity as a defining label for who he is, it in effect promotes a culture that is not sex-positive.