Fantasy Suites and Gender Roles

Confession time. I am a proud Bachelor fan. I watch the reality series love fest with a vengeance, including all spin-offs and specials. I’ve heard all the reasons I shouldn’t watch this show, so don’t bother trying to convince me to stop. I know the concept is crazy and the possibility of real love fostering in that kind of environment is slim, but dammit it is compelling television. I find myself rooting for my favorite couples, and I talk about the Bachelor or Bachelorette of the season like we’re close personal friends.

Although I love The Bachelor/Bachelorette, I realize certain parts of it are less appealing than others. One aspect of the show that is particularly controversial is Fantasy Suites. After weeks of whittling down to three contestants, the lucky Bachelor or Bachelorette can spend a night off camera with their remaining love interests in a prepared hotel room in an exotic location.

Let me decode that for you: they can have sex because cameras won’t be following them for a few hours! Woohoo!! Emphasis on the word can here, though: just because the couple goes to the suite for off-camera time doesn’t mean they do the deed, people. Plenty of the couples that have been on the show (most notably Sean and Catherine Lowe) just use the time to get to know each other in a way they couldn’t when they were being watched by millions of Americans. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with using that time to be physically intimate either; I’m fairly certain that’s why that aspect of the show was conceived. It makes perfect sense that a budding couple of about two months would want to explore the physical aspect of their relationship. However, the fact that one person is exploring with three people can be a bit hard for people to wrap their heads around.

In my years of watching the show, I’ve noticed that the Bachelorettes seem to get more flack than the Bachelors for being with multiple partners. On the Bachelor, the trip to the Fantasy Suite seems natural and expected; the dude needs to see if he’s compatible with the women he’s been seeing, and audiences celebrate that sexual aspect of the relationship. On Season 14 of the Bachelor, we actually saw Vienna Girardi change into lingerie for Bachelor Jake Pavelka before the cameras left for the night. The sexual nature of the night and their relationship was no secret, and the show relished the interaction, playing romantic music in the background and going on and on about the grand love between Vienna and Jake. Jake’s relationship with the runner-up Tenley Molzahn was less sexual, which was translated to a more boring love affair on air. A good night in the Fantasy Suite for the Bachelor usually determines which relationship will make it past the show, and Bachelor viewers encourage the couple’s sexual exploration.

The Bachelorettes’ off-camera time is not treated as blatantly sexual as the Bachelors’, which is weird because the situations are literally exactly the same except for a gender swap. But on The Bachelorette, the producers are careful to hint at the possibility of a sexual encounter without ever directly asking about that aspect of the night. They focus on the emotional connection, and there is definitely never a time that the man changes into a sexy pair of boxers for the Bachelorette. When I watched this year’s Bachelorette Jojo Fletcher spend the night with two of her remaining contestants, the most direct reference to the possibility of sex happening after the cameras left was the closing of a bedroom door. A bedroom door closing with a light turning off in the distance is very different than a man climbing onto a bed covered with rose petals and a woman wearing nothing but lace. 

And when women on The Bachelorette are ousted for their sexual behavior, they’re condemned. During the infamous showdown between Bachelorette Andi Dorfman and Nick Viall, runner-up of her season, on the After the Final Rose special, Nick revealed to viewers that he and Dorfman had sex, saying “If you weren’t in love with me, I don’t understand why you made love to me.” The live audience was shocked, Andi called the comment “below-the-belt,” and viewers around the world found themselves looking at Andi a little differently. Before the interaction, Andi was revered as one of the all time best Bachelorettes, and her love affair with Josh Murray was the stuff of fairytales. But Nick’s sexual revelation seemed to cheapen both Andi’s relationship with Murray and Andi herself. But why? Why does the decision to see if her physical relationship was as strong as her emotional relationship drag a woman down from the pure pedestal we placed her on? 

And why does her character come into question when this decision is publicly acknowledged?

The difference in the way we view the Bachelorettes’ sexual relationships and the Bachelors’ points to a larger problem in our society. It is just as normal for women to investigate their sexual compatibility with a partner as it is for men, so why are women continually encouraged to keep their sexual desires a secret? We have to find a way to change the sexual status quo we live in. Everyone has a right to choose whether they engage in sex or not. Stay out of other people's bedrooms (and Fantasy Suites).

feature photo by Caroline Sleeper via