When Will The Bachelor Stop Sensationalizing Virginity?

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
“Have you guys had an opportunity to talk about "decisions you’ve made for yourself in relationships?” Those words are our first glimpse into the hometown date of Madison Prewett, The Bachelor 2020 frontrunner, and they pop up during the traditional super tease at the beginning of Monday night’s “Week 8.” Madison’s mom, Tonya Prewett, is the one asking that loaded question during a post-dinner chat with her daughter. When a parent uses such heavily emphasized phrases during a hometown, you know they are trying to deploy a euphemism for “Does the lead know you’re a virgin yet?” 
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Just look at 2019 Bachelor Colton Underwood, whose mom asked him within 40 seconds of their Bachelorette hometown date heart-to-heart, “How open and honest and transparent and vulnerable have you been?” Colton’s answer: “Very. I shared the fact that I’m still a virgin.” 
In the weeks — and, honestly minutes — following that 2018 conversation on The Bachelorette, Bachelor Nation was overcome by virginity mania. Colton had a famously panicky Fantasy Suites pep talk with host Chris Harrison. When Colton was named Bachelor, the lead-up to his season was dominated by virgin “jokes” (remember the 40 Year Old Virgin poster?). His season premiere was a three-hour marathon of virginity-themed puns, stunts, and questions. It was exhausting. 
The Bachelor season 24’s treatment of Madison’s decision to “save herself for marriage” suggests the ABC reality show may be growing past its thirst to turn virginity — which is a social construct more than anything — into a seasons-long arc. However, that doesn’t mean The Bachelor is suddenly tackling someone’s decision not to have sex with a responsible and careful eye. 
“Week 8” proves the series can’t help but sensationalize its virgin cast members. 
The conversation around Madison’s sexual history begins in earnest during the final portion of her hometown, when she sits down with her mom. This is a baby step for The Bachelor(ette), since Colton’s sexual history was scrutinized weeks ahead of his hometown date during Becca Kufrin’s season. At least The Bachelor has waited eight weeks to dissect Madison’s decisions. The extremely religious Prewett’s women’s hometown conversation is cryptic, which forces viewers to try to put together the obscure meaning of their discussion like detectives in the Da Vinci Code. Then, finally, Madison says in a confessional, “I am saving myself for marriage.” Bachelor Peter Weber — a man who famously “fucked in a windmill” four times — still doesn’t know. 
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The news of Madison’s virginity isn’t posed as the simple — and possibly boring — subject of a conversation between two adults or a small part of her story. Instead, it is the late-breaking threat to one of the Bachelor 2020’s healthiest relationships and the twist in her narrative that could ruin her relationship forever. That’s a painfully overwhelming attitude around sex, and likely only makes viewers at home who are still waiting to do the deed more anxious — or, even ashamed — about a small part of their personhood. 
You can feel Madison’s fear around the subject permeate her remaining moments with Peter in “Week 8.” Her goodbye conversation with the Bachelor has a hint of melancholy (which he is oblivious to). Peter joyfully tells Madison he is falling in love with her. Madison quietly accepts his kisses in response. “I was hoping to tell Peter that I’m in love with him,” Madison explains in a confessional. “But I’m still trying to figure out if our spirits and our souls are compatible. I feel like a lot’s weighing on that.” 
The underlying meaning here is that Madison is concerned she and Peter don’t line up on their outlooks on sex. It seems obvious she would rather wait to have that conversation when the more intimacy-focused Fantasy Suites week, which is right around the corner, is in full swing. 
That is why, once the “Week 8” rose ceremony is finished and Peter is walking away from his contestants, Madison chases after him. This is her moment to fully share her intentions with Peter, “Next week is Fantasy Suites week. I don’t think Peter knows how much I’m struggling,” Victoria says in voiceover. “I’m not willing to compromise who I am for this.” This is Madison's moment to unburden herself (The Bachelor unquestionably treats Madison’s truth like a crushing burden). 
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“This could change everything,” Madison adds in voiceover as dramatic music plays. Then, the episode fades to black. The possibility of Madison sharing her lack of sexual history with Peter is officially so dramatic in this series, it is worthy of a cliffhanger ending. That means Madison’s virginity is being treated as if it is as fraught and possibly destructive as the Alayah Benavidez fiasco, which birthed multiple cliffhangers over season 24. Yet just one of these so-called “storylines” involved reckless Bachelor judgement, cast-wide infighting, and so many tears. Madison’s personal choices are just that — deeply personal, singular choices. 
The Bachelor is still a long way away from realizing that fact.
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