My reality TV conversion therapy program might actually be working, because I finally got my boyfriend sucked into the glorious journey of The Bachelor. This season, we have a pretty militant Monday night routine that involves updating our list of contestant epitaphs, reading funny tweets, and stress-pacing in front of the TV. Oh, and then we have sex.
Don't get the appeal? Hear me out. Corinne’s cavalier flirting style makes me want to be more assertive. Kristina’s vulnerability last week made me realize that I have a solid emotional support system, too. Vanessa’s chemistry with Nick is just plain electric. Put all that in a mansion with over-the-top romantic dates and I’m into it. Turns out, bonding over The Bachelor isn't just a great way to make friends at the office, it's also oddly effective at helping me connect with my partner.
I developed this theory during the last Bachelor In Paradise. Call it summer love, but witnessing couples like Izzy and Vinny — and even Carly and Evan — with genuine "connections" that bud and grow over time was convincingly sweet. I started to see little parts of my own relationship play out in the contestants' interactions, and it brought me back to those firsts with my partner. And all they do is hang out on a beach, drink, and make out in bathing suits — cool, sign us up and give us the one-on-one date. The Bachelor has a similar effect, just a bit more immediate, given the single-minded nature of the show. Naturally, I couldn't help but wonder if that was, well, normal.
"This isn't common, but it makes a lot of sense," says Vanessa Marin, sex therapist. "You're watching people very pent up, because they've been sequestered in a house competing for one man. The show is imbued with sexual tension and competition, so it makes sense that it'd fire you up."
Though Nick Viall is one of the most sex-positive bachelors in Bachelor history, forbidden sex is still a strong theme in the show, and when I'm watching, I’m never not thinking about how thirsty they all must be. "There can be a horny element to it, because there's sexual frustration trying to seduce one person," Marin says. The show is also filmed and edited in a way that can seem "porny," with zoomed-in shots, dramatic noises, and strategic blurring. Even Viall himself said that watching the show is basically a game of find-the-boner.
It's easy to get caught up in the show's drama and sexual tension. Watching a group of horny contestants who know that they can't have sex is like a virtual sex fast that ends, in my case, just after the episode ends. "There's always someone who tries to find a way around the rule, which makes the build up to the Fantasy Suite even more intense," Marin says. It's as if my boyfriend and I are living vicariously through The Bachelor, which almost makes us feel like we're breaking the rules too, even if we don't technically have any. That alone can be a major turn-on.
Aside from the overt sexual tension, the words and phrases used on the show (like "have a connection," "see myself falling in love," and "finding love") can get drilled into our heads and, in turn, make us more lovey dovey (and horny). According to a University of Michigan study, watching marriage-themed reality TV shows is associated with believing in "love at first sight" and "idealization." Real life is much more complicated than this, of course, so the escapism shows like The Bachelor provide may just help get me and my boyfriend in the mood.
"One of the things we see with contestants is that they fall in love almost immediately," says Julia Lippman, PhD, co-author of the aforementioned study. "The takeaway is that we just know — as if by magic — that someone is right for us. But in reality, relationships don't typically unfold that way."
Valid point, but is there anything wrong with a little healthy idealizing of your partner before bed? Thankfully, according to Marin, probably not.
"It can make you feel grateful that you don't have to be out there in the weird dating world, even though this isn't really what the dating world would look like," Marin says.
In my experience, when my boyfriend and I are rooting for our favorite contestant, it makes us feel like we're on the same team. We high-fived during Vanessa's first intro, and we were pretty bummed when Sarah with the lob went home. It’s a humanizing exercise in gratitude to see the way gorgeous contestants who seem to have it all react to getting dumped. As Marin says, "Seeing many people try to win over one partner can make you feel grateful that you get to be with your partner and increase attraction."
This can also be not-so-good, though, because someone else’s misfortune should never be the root of your own happiness, Marin adds. And internalizing the show's jealous environment can be a slippery slope. "Jealousy can definitely be a huge motivator in our libidos and get us fired up," Marin says. Feeling small pangs of jealousy when someone flirts with your partner can be an innocent libido booster, she explains, but "full-on jealousy" (which is often presented on the show) can lead to feelings of control and domination.
The best part about watching The Bachelor from this anthropological POV (aside from the great sex) is that I can take the parts of the show that make me feel happy and fulfilled and leave the others. My advice for anyone looking for a similar thrill: Know that what you decide to do in your own Fantasy Suite is totally your call. As for my me and my boyfriend? At the very least, we're there for the right reasons.
While we're arguably more in control of and confident about our sexuality than ever, there's still so much we don't know about female arousal. So this month, we're exploring everything you want and need to know about how women get turned on now. Check out more here.