A Sexologist's Take On 'Too Hot To Handle's' Celibacy Challenge


Netflix's new installation, Too Hot To Handle, incentivizes contestants to abstain from sex — and other forms of gratification — while living together in a tropical hideaway. The so-called celibacy challenge on Too Hot To Handle was hand-picked for 10 contestants who have all been dubbed "horny serial swipers." Can they keep their pants on for a cash prize? Or better yet, should they have to?

Money is on very much on the line, to the tune of $100,000. And all contestants need to do is refrain from kissing, any type of sex, "heavy petting," and masturbating, or dollars will be deducted from the pot. The goal is technically to see if anyone will be able to form deeper connections, which aren't contingent on sex. But the producers are also pandering to the audience, dressing the cast up in bathing suits in order to compete in tongue-in-cheek games.

For some, the situation could be viewed as a fun personal challenge, and a break from routine, Dr. Jess O’Reilly, a relationship expert and resident sexologist at ASTROGLIDE, tells Bustle. "It can be exciting to abstain from physical contact [as it] can build desire and tension," she says. And doing so could potentially result in approaching sex from a different perspective.

While abstaining, it's often easier for couples to have intense discussions about their desires and boundaries, O'Reilly says, and to take the time to better understand one another's needs, fantasies, and values because they aren't rushing to act upon them.

"Making sex 'forbidden' plays into the outdated perspective that sex is somehow 'bad' or 'sinful.'"

O'Reilly says abstinence can create a scenario where, once you finally do hook up, there will be a decrease in performance anxiety because you've built up the desire. But the sex might be extra amazing as a result.

But when you aren't allowed to have sex, it's often all you can think about, Cheryl Muir, a relationship and dating expert, tells Bustle, which is why (spoiler alert) many contestants end up breaking the rules by making out or sneaking away together. "By withholding sex," she says, "[it] becomes the primary focus." So, the opposite of what the producers intended.

This challenge can also, in some ways, send the message that having "meaningless hookups" is wrong. "Making sex 'forbidden' plays into the outdated perspective that sex is somehow 'bad' or 'sinful,'" Muir says, "which hinders us from having a healthy relationship with our sexuality."

There's no right or wrong answer when it comes to how long a person should wait to have sex, and people can adjust their mentality at any time. But designating something "off-limits" doesn't take it off the table. It might even increase your cravings.


Dr. Jess O’Reilly, relationship expert and resident sexologist at ASTROGLIDE

Cheryl Muir, relationship and dating expert