‘Bachelor in Paradise’ Is Not the Sex-Positive Show It Pretends to Be

‘Bachelor in Paradise’ Is Not the Sex-Positive Show It Pretends to Be

There are two types of reality TV dating shows: the kind where hot horny singles hook up, (Love Island, canceled-too-soon FBoy Island), and the kind where contestants are expected to either propose or get married by the end of the season (The Bachelor, Love Is Blind, Married at First Sight). Bachelor in Paradisean island-themed spin-off that shows ex-Bachelor and ex-Bachelorette contestants looking for love on a beach in Mexico—has long wanted us to believe it is the sexy offshoot of an increasingly prude franchise. But when it comes to sex, or even lukewarm moments, Bachelor in Paradise has never delivered—and last season especially felt like the same grim, sexless march to commitment that we see on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.

Bachelor in Paradise wants to be a show about steamy summer flings, but it fails when its story arcs are forcibly bent toward marriage. As the expectation of commitment on the show has grown, sexual chemistry and sexual tension have faded into the background, replaced by a divide between sexually active contestants who aren’t taken seriously and chaste contestants whose love stories are told with great seriousness. Never mind that, in real life, hot sex can be (and often is) an important part of early relationships—within the Bachelor franchise, you can be looking for sex or looking for a husband but not both.

And thus, Bachelor in Paradise’s identity crisis was born. In the trailer for this past season of Bachelor in Paradise, ABC seemed determined to prove that its sexy summer series was raunchier than ever. The promo zeroes in on the door of the Boom Boom Room (the dedicated on-site hookup room), shows off a contestant’s vibrator, and teases “Paradise’s first threesome.”

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Bachelor in Paradise 2022: The Full Trailer

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Sounds pretty saucy, right? But that teaser is a far cry from how the actual drama goes down. First, there’s the Boom Boom Room, whose cutesy name is a perfect indication of the PG-13 sex references Paradise has to offer. While the season trailer suggested that couples would be trying and failing to hold themselves back from entering the Boom Boom Room all season long, it’s barely seen at all in season 8, and when it is, it’s primarily for married couple Ashley Iaconetti and Jared Haibon, whom we see trying to revive their marital spark night after night. (Um, having an already married couple on a show for hot, horny singles feels like another choice that underlines holy matrimony is the end goal.) This further pushes the Bachelor franchise agenda that sex is mostly something married couples do; contestants like Kira Mengistu and Shanae Ankney, who express open interest in using the room, are soon treated by Paradise editors as comedic relief, contestants whose quests for love should not be taken seriously.

When Shanae says she wants to go to the Boom Boom Room with Tyler Norris, for example, the scene quickly turns into a gag about Jill Chin interrupting the moment and standing in their way—and sets the stage for Tyler to reject Shanae in favor of dating Brittany Galvin. In episode 1, Kira says her biggest question is “how many times I’m gonna be in the Boom Boom Room and with how many people”—but her storyline turns into one rejection after another, and the only time we end up actually seeing her go in the Boom Boom Room is with a stolen vibrator, a clearly staged moment punctuated by loud buzzing as she closes the door.

Within the ‘Bachelor’ franchise, you can be looking for sex or looking for a husband but not both.

The vibrator itself is another indicator of how sexually immature the show has become. When a suitcase supposedly shipped ahead by Salley Carson appears in Mexico, the women inexplicably go through it, find the vibrator (at which point they shriek), toss it across the room, and bring it out for the boys to see like 10-year-olds discovering their first tampon. Kira’s scene with it in the Boom Boom Room is the only indication that anyone on the island even knows what it’s for, but again, her sexual forwardness comes at the expense of her being taken seriously as a Bachelor in Paradise love interest.

When it comes to Kira’s storyline with contestant Casey Woods, the ways in which she’s too sexual for this supposedly “wild” show are made explicit. When she rubs his nipples on the beach, it’s so scandalous that the entire group gossips about it through the night and into the next morning. When Kira tells Casey that her love language is an explicit sexual act—something that, on a show like Love Island UK, would be a titillating (and, let’s face it, hot) gesture—it’s the final straw for her would-be love interest. Casey reports her comments back to Michael Allio and says she’s “too much” for him: “I need a good girl,” he adds.

This is Bachelor franchise thinking at its finest. Casey doesn’t say outright that Kira’s interest in sex rules her out as wifey material, but it’s heavily implied and indicative of the type of game this show has become. He’s far from the only one on the beach passing value judgments on potential matches instead of figuring out who he’s attracted to. While Love Island UK and Too Hot to Handle contestants openly lust over each other, Bachelor in Paradise contestants are weighing age, financial stability, and family plans to determine who they should leave the beach with. And while there’s nothing wrong with choosing a partner based on those things, it’s just not the show that Bachelor in Paradise pretends to be.

The Bachelor has entrenched itself in recent years as a deeply conservative journey toward everlasting love. With the trailer for season 8 of Bachelor in Paradise, the show seemed to be trying to brand itself once again as the sexy summer alternative to The Bachelor. But in the end, the ABC franchise only knows how to show one kind of journey toward love, one in which people anxiously try to lock down fiancés, fret over rejection, and worry more about who wants them than who they want. And there’s nothing progressive or sex-positive about that.

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