'UnREAL' Doesn't Slut Shame Its Female Characters & 'The Bachelor' Should Take A Few Notes

Bettina Strauss/Lifetime

Part of the appeal of UnREAL is how it continues to shape how we view the Bachelor franchise, which it's very clearly inspired by. There are plenty of uncanny similarities between the two shows by design, as UnREAL aims to show just how manipulated cast members are behind the scenes. But there's one key difference between UnREAL and The Bachelor, and that's the attitudes each show takes to sex. While the Bachelor franchise is still notoriously chaste for a show about dating multiple people at once, UnREAL’s depiction of sex is refreshingly modern.

The premise of The Bachelor is such that one man dates roughly 30 women (it used to be fewer, but ratings being what they are, ABC upped the ante) in order to find a wife. When he's down to his final three, the Bachelor usually invites each date to spend the night in a shared “Fantasy Suite.” It’s there that the two can finally spend some alone time without cameras, the implication being that the two can finally be intimate (the last shot is often of the couple kissing on a bed strewn with rose petals, before they shut the door, making this pretty clear). The Fantasy Suite is the only sanctioned sex on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, and if any contestant chooses to have sex outside of this, as has happened occasionally, they almost always get blowback from other cast members and/or get an edit that shames them for their conduct.

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A good example of this is Clare Crawley — she and Bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis went skinny-dipping during his season of The Bachelor, and while neither party ever confirmed they had sex, it was heavily implied, especially considering how things between the couple deteriorated. Sex is fine, normal behavior for two consenting adults. But allegedly having it before the Fantasy Suite didn’t end so well for Clare — the day after their ocean romp, Juan Pablo shamed her, saying that the two of them should never have done what they did (whatever it was), and you know, he has a daughter, so… she shouldn’t see that. In reality, Juan Pablo was an equal and willing participant in their tryst, and he took it upon himself to make her feel badly because he didn’t want America (and his daughter) to see his sexuality outside of the designated sexy times allowed on The Bachelor.

Even when Bachelor Nation was given a sex-positive Bachelorette in the form of Kaitlyn Bristowe, the show's attitudes towards sex still didn't quite budge from their conservative origins. Kaitlyn was young, fun, and relatable — so relatable that when she couldn’t wait another minute to sleep with Nick Viall on a date in Dublin. But when Nick and Kaitlyn had sex, she was the one who paid for it — Kaitlyn was called a whore (and worse) on social media, and it got so bad that Chris Harrison read some of these horrific tweets on air during the season finale. Guess who didn’t get nearly as much negative attention? Nick Viall. And speaking of Nick Viall, when he confronted Andi Dorfman after her season of The Bachelorette (Nick gets around in Bachelor Nation), asking her why she slept with him if she didn’t know if she loved him, Andi looked like the bad guy for using her feminine wiles to break a man’s heart. And, once again speaking of Nick, on his own season of The Bachelor, contestant Corinne Olympios led with her sexuality, and after initially being interested, Nick cast her aside, seemingly for that very reason. On The Bachelor, you're not allowed to be sexual until you're allowed to be sexual.

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In reality, it’s completely and totally acceptable to get physical with a person that you could be interested in marrying. It’s also acceptable if you’re not interested in marrying that person, but you think he or she is totally hot. This is where UnREAL gets things that The Bachelor doesn’t. On Season 3 of UnREAL, we see Serena sleep with three of her contestants outside of her scheduled time. There’s no Fantasy Suite equivalent here — she’s alone a lot with her men, and she decides to bed a few of them. And… it’s no big deal. Should Serena have slept with all of them? I think she would want to leave out the jockey, since she wasn’t into him from the beginning, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. Because Serena isn’t ostracized or shamed for exploring the physical part of love. It’s just another part of her journey to finding love on Everlasting, or at least in making out with some very sexy dudes while she’s on the show.

UnREAL showrunner Stacy Rukeyser explains that that's all by design. “We don’t really believe in slut-shaming. For us, real women have sex," Rukeyser tells Bustle. "It was important to us that, if you remember the episode where she comes right out and tells Jasper, ‘You didn’t win the bet because I slept with the jockey night one,’ that is… it’s really important to us that women are just sort of defiant about that. You know, we have no interest in perpetuating these sorts of societal injustices towards women.”

It’s an interesting dichotomy in loving The Bachelor as a feminist, because The Bachelor is responsible for perpetuating the myth that relationships have to follow certain paths or, as Rukeyser says, look a certain way. “It’s the princess fantasy that these shows put out there that sort of show this version of what men and women in relationships are supposed to look like, and that is crazy and, in our view, really damaging and destructive,” she says.

Right now, UnREAL is pulling from The Bachelor, but The Bachelor could do well to take some ideas from UnREAL, namely the fact that women have sex, and shouldn't be stigmatized for it. It’s not always in the confines of a relationship; sometimes, it’s just because we’re bored. Or drank too much. Or, you know, are trying to fulfill the overreaching obligations of fidelity and marriage on the reality show we’ve signed up for! One could argue that the women on The Bachelor know what they’re signing up for, but why are we perpetuating these gross, damaging stereotypes of female sexuality to begin with? UnREAL's treatment of women and their sexual lives should be an inspiration to the reality shows it pays homage to.