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Deflowering & the Rose Ceremony: The Obsession over Colton’s Virginity on ‘The Bachelor’

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you might be aware that this season’s Bachelor, Colton Underwood, is a virgin. The show that champions playing into sexist stereotypes has taken itself to new levels with its campaign on Underwood.

Colton, the blond, beefcake, former NFL player became a major player in the past two seasons of the franchise. On Becca’s season of The Bachelorette, Colton revealed to Becca that he was a virgin, leading her to get up from the table and walk away from him. He received a rose, however, and was sent home after hometown visits when former girlfriend and member of the Bachelor franchise, Tia Booth, told Becca that she still had feelings for Colton in one of the most staged reveals in the history of the show. Tia’s confession, combined with the fact that Becca was the first girl he ever brought home to his parents, sent him packing that week. On Bachelor in Paradise, Tia and Colton once again started things up again, but Colton told her he just wasn’t feeling it and they both left Paradise in tears.

Colton was not most fans’ initial pick to be the Bachelor, but his virgin storyline was uncharted territory that the producers had never entered before. They have proven that they will milk this virgin storyline for all it is worth. And to be quite honest, it is worth very little. It’s uncomfortable to watch a sweet guy have to deal with consistent jokes over a personal life decision.

In a 40 Year Old Virgin-themed photoshoot to advertise for the season, Colton broadly smiles with the caption, “What does he have to lose?” If I were Colton at this point, it would be my dignity. When he confessed that he was a virgin to Becca last season, it was brave and honestly inspiring to see this really attractive, successful man break gender norms. Now, it feels like his moment of strength has been tainted and exploited by the creators of The Bachelor.

Colton says, “I am proud to be the first virgin Bachelor,” a statement that made even the people in the back cringe.

In the premiere, Colton’s virginity was mentioned 27 times, and every time it occurred, the jokes got progressively worse. It was almost impressive how often it came up, which makes me pity the production assistants who had to deal with probably hundreds of other virginity comments they decided were not up to Bachelor quality.

“Will-he-or-won’t-he?” has become the new hook of the show to the extent that each promo hints that he loses his virginity every single week. The ridiculous puns and jokes make the situation even more dreadful. Former Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe joked on the premiere, “Did you know that dolphins are the only mammals like humans that enjoy sex … unlike Colton?” The joke is insensitive, odd, and is honestly really disappointing to hear from Kaitlyn due to her history with backlash for her sex life by “Bachelor Nation.”  This show has routinely made a joke of one man’s personal decision about his sex life and I, for one, am not laughing.

Demi, the first girl to come out, a loud 23-year-old interior designer who the producers make call her mother in jail on the phone, leads with, “I have not dated a virgin since I was 12, I’m excited to give it another shot.” Another contestant, Caitlin comes in with a red balloon that both viewers and Colton swore was supposed to be an apple. She proceeded to pop the balloon and proudly announce “Now that I’ve popped your cherry, we don’t need to talk about virginity anymore.” I thought this was an uncomfortable way of pushing the virginity jokes behind for the season, but apparently this innuendo was far from the last.

Moving forward, contestant Katie tried to do some magic as she gives Colton a deck of cards and snatched one, exclaiming, “I think I just stole your V-card.” I don’t know who I was more embarrassed for: Katie for performing the trick, Colton for having to watch it, or me for having to witness the entire spectacle.

I have to give it to another contestant, Alex, who appears in a sloth costume and shows off her acting prowess as she says, “I heard you take things slowly,” in the longest drawl as she inches towards him. She makes both her speaking and movement so slow that the show cuts for a commercial break as she is still talking, only to return to another 30 seconds of Alex/sloth.

Alex was able to do humor well, but the next contestant flopped before she even started. She pulls out of the limo and says, “So first, you’re going to get lei’d,” draping a lei around Colton’s neck in an unoriginal display. Didn’t she hear from Abe Weissman on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel that “lei’d” jokes are out?

The Bachelor even has fans doing their bidding. At a televised watch party, a fan held a “Utah loves virgins” sign, which felt really, really out of place.

I shouldn’t be surprised, though. No one is watching The Bachelor for high-brow, sophisticated television. Anyone viewing can acknowledge that it is not Downton Abbey. The Bachelor franchise shows have been ridden by allegations of sexual misconduct over the past few years, and the virgin jokes just rub me wrong especially due to this past.

The traditional tagline of “Will he/she find love?” has become interchangeable with “Will Colton have sex?” this season and it feels rather exploitative, even for The Bachelor.

Colton has even apologized to fans numerous times online over the amount of time they spend on his virginity. Even though the show centers around him, it is quite evident that even he cannot handle that his virginity has become the forefront of the show. The Bachelor rides upon Colton and his virginity.

Perhaps if there was not so much of a joking tone on the show about sex or Colton’s virginity, there could be some ground to begin some really necessary conversations. However, this is The Bachelor: serious conversations are only for one-on-one dates, and those are often never mentioned again.

Sex on The Bachelor is an interesting topic to delve into by itself. Besides the inference that sex occurs in the fantasy suite, it is distanced from the rest of the activities on the show. Speaking about sex or consent would marr the very polarized view of relationships that the franchise portrays: after 13 episodes, you get engaged.

Sex in the Bachelor franchise often paints contestants as certain archetypes. As Colton has become the token virgin, former Bachelorette Kaitlyn, the same girl who made the dolphin joke about Colton, was painted as “the whore” on her season. Kaitlyn chose to consensually have sex with future 2017 Bachelor Nick Viall before the fantasy suite—the place sex becomes “appropriate” for the show. This breaking of Bachelorette norms led to Kaitlyn being slut shamed online; it continues to this day. She was viciously chastised for having sex before the designated time and has been labelled as promiscuous ever since.

Sex is a taboo topic for The Bachelor, but somehow, the lack of sex in Colton’s life has become this season’s obsession.

Host Chris Harrison has referred to Colton’s virginity as a “trophy” for them to compete for and obtain in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, claiming that at the end of the season, Colton will no longer be a virgin “If he does his job right.” The idea that Colton is still a virgin has dehumanized him. Colton is a prize because whoever manages to bag him has the pleasure of deflowering “America’s most famous virgin.”

Colton, on the other hand, does not seem bothered that he is a virgin. In fact, he seems irritated that it is all anyone will talk about. “The thing that I stress the most, or at times I get frustrated with, is it’s just a small part of who I am,” he said in an interview. “Instead of it being ‘Colton Underwood, Bachelor,’ it’s ‘the virgin Colton Underwood,’ or it’s always led with or followed by ‘virgin.’ Do I think that’s right? No,” he said. “Because it’s a small part of who I am, it’s like saying, ‘Colton Underwood, football player,’ and I don’t believe that either. I’m a human being. We’re all human beings; we all have parts of our life that make us into a unique individual.”

Besides having a past as a football player, being an active lover of nature, and running a charity to help individuals living with cystic fibrosis, it’s not like Colton has any other discernible traits besides being a virgin? It’s hard to picture a female Bachelorette being treated in such a joking tone due to her virginity—that sort of conduct would be shut down immediately. For a woman, a layer of delicacy would traditionally be put on it. The virgin Bachelorette would be treated favorably with the “Madonna/Whore Complex” and idolized for her chastity. Ashley Laconetti, the other famous virgin of the franchise got backlash for her virginity, but had to play up the part of the weepy, meek virgin. She and fiance Jared Haibon have now become the Bachelor ideal of the perfect, pure couple now. Our cultural narrative portrays female virgins as desirable, but the narrative does not stay true when dealing with men, and that has been detrimental for Colton.

Virginity as a construct became important in determining who the father of a baby was. Despite the fact that once a virginity is lost, there was no true telling of who the father of said child was, it became a common precaution. Men, on the other hand, are not able to become pregnant (lucky bastards), so the construct was not strictly enforced upon them.

For a man, especially one who appears so “all-American” like Colton, his virginity is something to be ashamed about. Men are not supposed to be “pure” or “chaste,” they are supposed to oppose these words as they prevent them from sexual gratification: apparently the only thing men look for. Screw that 401K or paying off those student loans because at least you’re not a virgin.

Today’s world is one where men who refer to themselves as involuntary celibates, or “incels” commit violence, and thousands of men have voluntarily abstained from sex because they believe that by retaining their semen, they receive special powers, the idea of male virginity has been construed to relate only to the men willing to participate in shady online subcultures. Society is unable to comprehend why a guy like Colton is still a virgin, despite his insistence that it was a personal choice. To the eyes of others, his sexual agency does not exist.

According to society, Colton’s virginity prevents him from becoming a “real man,” one worthy of admiration. Having sex is the equivalent of becoming a man. He must assert his dominance over women and engage in what society tells them they cannot. He must delve himself deeply into being a “whore” to regain his manhood, but for him, there will be no consequences.

Chris Harrison even asked Colton about negative reactions over him being the Bachelor: “How much of the negativity and ‘he’s not ready’ do you think has to do with your virginity?” and then putting out the suggestion that people will be believe, “He’s not a man.”

Colton is apparently incapable of looking for a real connection because he is a virgin. In order for him to be the type of man who could be the traditional Bachelor, he must be sexually active. ABC had the opportunity to fight against the image of who the Bachelor could be, but instead, they turned Colton’s sexual agency into a joke.

Virgin shaming is often seen in environments where individuals feel the need to affirm their own masculinity—places like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.

Billy Eichner came to speak to Colton, and he said that Colton very well might be gay because he’s never had sex. Colton did not seem to find it funny; this was a further attack on him because he has not engaged in sex. One does not need to have sex to know their sexuality. Despite the fact that this was a joke—which spawned the amazing idea to do a gay season of The Bachelor (I vote yes: Billy Eichner would be amazing)—it plays into the dangerous trope revolving around men being gay solely because they are not actively chasing women. Shawn Mendes was tortured about this for years, and with Colton, it appears it still is prevalent.  

The brutal treatment Colton has received both onscreen and offscreen due to his virginity only plays further into toxic masculinity. Colton does not conform to the preconceived notions of what makes a “real man” and I applaud him for holding true to that. Others have shamed him because he is unable to be the stereotypical man toxic masculinity demands him to be.

The Bachelor’s treatment of Colton’s virginity is harmful, limiting, and got old before the season even began. I wonder what will happen to Colton after he loses his virginity: will the joke drag on, or will people finally begin seeing him as “a man”?

Elizabeth Karpen

Columbia Barnard '22

Lizzie Karpen is 2022 graduate of Barnard College, the most fuego of women’s colleges, who studied Political Science and English with a concentrations in Film and American Literature. To argue with her very unpopular opinions, send her a message at @lizziekarpen on Instagram and Twitter. To read her other work, check out Elizabethkarpen.com.