Did you know that the latest bachelor, Colton Underwood, is a virgin?
If you watched his turn as a contestant on The Bachelorette, his time in Bachelor In Paradise, or even caught ten seconds of Monday’s The Bachelor season premiere while flipping channels, you probably do because that’s all ABC talks about.
Less than two minutes into the premiere, host Chris Harrison gives a rundown of what viewers can expect to see from Colton’s journey to find love and hints that Colton ‘might lose something along the way.’ This was followed by three more excruciating hours of virginity references that all fell somewhere between good-natured joking and full-blown mockery.
The very first woman to exit the limo and greet Colton bluntly informs him that she hasn’t dated a virgin since age twelve. Another contestant presents Colton with a deck of cards and then steals a card back from him – one with the letter “V” printed on it. And another contestant gives Colton a cherry-shaped balloon (that both Colton and I mistook for a strawberry) and then pops it. Get it, guys?! She popped his cherry! Groundbreaking and hilarious.
According to Colton himself, his virginity is only “a small part” of who he is. Yet over the course of the episode, we are told very little about our new bachelor other than the fact that he once played professional football, likes dogs, and, oh yeah, has never had sex — did you know that? ABC doesn’t seem to realize that the state of a person’s virginity is, in fact, not an actual personality trait.
Based on the promotional trailer for the upcoming episodes, it’s clear that the main narrative this season is whether or not Colton will lose his virginity. Quite frankly, I find this storyline disappointing and demeaning.
Listen, I don’t tune into The Bachelor expecting high-brow fare. We all know the show is not exactly a champion of progression and has been marred by scandal, especially in recent years. Yet somehow, using the state of Colton’s virginity as a “will-he-or-won’t-he” hook still feels like one of the most exploitative things the show has done. What happened to virginity and its subsequent loss being a private decision or conversation between partners? And perhaps a more self-centered question that show producers could ask themselves: is a virginity storyline even interesting enough to be television fodder?
Virginity is a social construct and, frankly, whether Colton has his or not simply isn’t that interesting. That Colton wants to discuss his virginity is certainly his prerogative; however, something feels inherently wrong about treating his sexual status as a punchline. ABC’s exploitation of such a vulnerable admission reflects how shortsighted our society still is when it comes to defining masculinity.
The Bachelor lead is supposed to be, by all accounts, the archetypal male. Colton checks almost all of the boxes that comprise a made-for-TV bachelor: he is objectively handsome, unfathomably muscular (which the show makes him prove over and over again by filming numerous outdoor shower scenes), and has 30 women vying for his affection. The only presumed outlier is his sexual inexperience.
By traditional standards of masculinity, Colton should have turned in his v-card long ago. Therefore, by making a joke out of his virginity, the underlying subtext throughout the course of the show is, what the hell is wrong with this guy that he hasn’t had sex yet?
Ultimately, ABC’s treatment of Colton’s sexual agency is shortsighted, exploitative, and boring as hell. The network had a chance to have a constructive conversation on the stigma of virginity, and instead, it chose to merely capitalize on and perpetuate negative stereotypes and problematic implications. The choice is a disappointing one and marks yet another low for the already dismal standards the show has ascribed to in the past. It has made a joke out of sexual agency and I, for one, am not laughing.
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Photo: ABC/Rick Rowell