What the Netflix show Bridgerton Got Right and (Very) Wrong about Sex: From the Perspective of a Sex Therapist
If you have not heard of the new Netflix show Bridgerton by now, you are either living under a rock or have been fasting from social media for the past two months. In my opinion it has everything you could ever want in a show: incredible wardrobe design, string quartet remakes of Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande, and steamy sex scenes. Bridgerton was introduced to me by my friend Ali—who hooked me with promise of “royal life” and “a bit of soft core porn”. Royalty and sex scenes? Sign me up! And if that is your kind of thing, you should make haste and go watch it.
I could probably write an entire piece just on the wardrobe design, the inclusion and diversity of the cast, and the classical remake of pop songs but who wants to hear about that when we can talk about sex? As a sex therapist, I was already weary heading into the show’s sex scenes knowing how poorly sex is portrayed in television. Surprisingly, there were a lot of things they got right… and unsurprisingly, a slew of things they got wrong. Which is why I am writing this. We need to talk about the misrepresentation of sex in TV and the anguish and unrealistic expectations it can create in our own lives.
Let’s begin with some praise, here is where Bridgerton hit the spot
Double Standards. Bridgerton did a great job of accurately portraying how the societal norms surrounding sex and purity are drastically different for men and women. Bridgerton quickly made clear that a woman would be ruined and become unworthy of suitors if she has any sexual contact with a male (social class plays a major role in these societal expectations in the Regal era). The males, however, have a blind eye turned towards them and their sexual escapades. The “boys will be boys” mentality was fully in place as it seems the men in the show were free from consequences of their actions. This double standard is still drenched in our societal norms today, with men seen as more masculine and desirable because of their sexual conquests while women with multiple sexual partners are labeled as a “slut”. On the other hand, men who have not engaged in sex by a certain age are somehow seen as less of a man whereas a woman is virtuous and pure. How exhausting are these double standards?
Solo Sex. Which leads me nicely to my next praise for Bridgerton: female masturbation! I was taken by surprise with this scene due to female self-stimulation not being something portrayed much on television. Watching Daphne explore her vulva and clitoris (it does not actually show her touching these parts) was so refreshing because women like and deserve pleasure too. Not only is it excellent self-care, it allows you to become familiar and aware of what you like and what feels good. When you know what feels good, you can communicate and show your partner which will lead to a more fulfilling sex life. I know for many of you, the idea of pleasuring yourself is anything but easy. I know it brings up shame, harmful messages from purity culture, and insecurities about your body. You are not alone and like Daphne, there is still time for you to explore your body and break free from the shame that has interfered with you exploring your body.
Lack of Education. The show did an excellent job highlighting the lack of sexual education given to women at that time and if we are being honest, still today. If your parents ever discussed sex or your sexual parts with you in a positive and educational way—consider yourself to be one of the lucky ones. The majority of women I meet have gained most of their sexual knowledge from culture, media, friends, and the church. Those messages have mostly been harmful, untrue and strongly misogynistic. Whether you are a parent trying to navigate discussions around sex with your children or an adult trying to unravel the layers of harmful and unhelpful messages from your youth, we can help you! It should also be noted that often men are just as uneducated as women, such as Simon thinking the pull-out method would keep him from having a child.
Spicy. Lastly, their portrayal of steamy sex was… hot. If someone told you about this show, I am sure they included that there were “soft porn like” sex scenes involved. Between Daphne and Simon having passionate sex on every surface of their new home to the rough, hungry sex shared between Anthony and Siena in the back of the opera house—you cannot deny that, for some, it produced some physiological responses. This show has been a recent topic of conversation in a group I run and is what led to me writing this. In the group, my members had a variety of responses to the sex scenes: Jealousy. Anger. Excitement. Sorrow. These were all words I heard women use to describe what came up for them while watching these sex scenes, which leads me to what was wrong with Bridgerton’s portrayal of sex.
Bridgerton got these things “O” so wrong
Let me begin where I left off, the steamy sex scenes. Yes, they were hot—they got that right but did they look like the sex you and your partner have? Probably not and that’s okay. Each of these sex scenes were choreographed and took many shots to ensure they looked “just right” for the audience. Real sex isn’t choreographed. In fact, there are times where it can feel awkward, we can stumble, and even say the wrong words—or nothing at all. When television depicts sex the way Bridgerton does, we get left with a feeling that there must be something wrong with our sex lives or even our connection with our partner. Here are the realities that Bridgerton left out:
Pain. Daphne went from a virgin to a sex goddess in 24-hours. Her vulva and vaginal walls (along with Simon’s penis) would be incredibly sore and raw from all that sex. Somehow, neither of them show that they are in a bit of pain. We then have the ladders, stone, stairs, grass, desk… all the places Daphne and Simon engage in sex without once fumbling, slipping, falling or hurting themselves. Oh, please. (Side note: I did swoon when the string quartet began playing Taylor Swift and Daphne did a little strip tease in that outdoor structure in the rain).
Foreplay. Simon and Daphne have very little warm up before they have penetrative sex. While sparks and attraction are often running high at the beginning of relationships, there still needs to be some foreplay before you initiate penetration. Let’s normalize and show more foreplay in television! For the majority of consenting adults, foreplay is not only normal and creates more pleasure, but it is needed for lubrication. Without lubrication, sex can be extremely painful. Speaking of lubricant, there is nothing wrong with you if you do not naturally produce enough lubricant for penetration to begin. There is no shame in the lube game. Ask your therapist for recommendations on the best type of lubricant for your lifestyle.
Consent. In episode 6, Daphne does something that is unethical and was obviously nonconsensual during their sex scene. She forces Simon to come inside her, when she knew (and he made clear) that he did not want that. I wish this would have been addressed and discussed more in the show because it reflects something important, which is that nonconsensual sexual acts can happen to both men and women. And that it is never okay. Sexual trauma can have lasting impacts on our sex life and drastically interfere with our ability to enjoy sex with our partners.
Sexual Dysfunction. Simon is about to need a sex therapist to get some help for his apparent premature ejaculation. In at least three scenes, the cameras never cut away from the sex scenes beginning to end, and they both had blissful simultaneous orgasms in UNDER 30 seconds. No wonder we feel jealous. What they are depicting is not reality. In fact, what they are depicting is sexual dysfunction on Simon’s end. Additionally, Daphne made orgasms look so easy when we know they are in fact, not easy at all! The majority of women are unable to orgasm from penetrative sex alone. Most women are able to achieve orgasm through clitoral stimulation but 5-10% of women never achieve orgasm at all. Additionally, it is extremely rare for both partners to simultaneously orgasm. Yet, that is what was shown… over and over, and all under a minute. This is television, not real sex.
While what I have listed is not the exhaustive list, it is quite a few important details that were left out of their depiction of sex. If you are one of the people that watched Bridgerton and felt a pang of jealousy or sorrow, know that you are not alone. What we saw on the screen is nothing more than choreographed humping, fake orgasms, and awkward panting. With that being said, if you are feeling unsatisfied with any area of your sex life, know that you do not need to stay in that place. We have experience and resources to help you navigate the areas of your sex life that you want to improve.
1. Contact Emma Schmidt and Associates to request a free Counseling consultation.
2. Meet with a skilled therapist for Counseling through our HIPAA compliant platform.
3. Begin online Counseling and begin your journey towards mental wellness, health, and happiness.
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The therapists at Emma Schmidt and Associates are skilled relationship and sex therapists. However, that’s not the only mental health service they offer. Our therapists treat general mental health and relationship concerns. We offer anxiety treatment, depression treatment, trauma and PTSD treatment, EMDR, and relationship and couples therapy. In addition to offering online therapy in Ohio, we also offer online therapy in Kentucky, and online therapy in Indiana. Contact our office to learn more about the many ways our team of skilled clinicians can help you thrive.