Almost no one waits until marriage to have sex.
A 2006 study found that 95% of Americans had done the deed before tying the knot. Even women born during World War II waited for marriage only about one-tenth of the time. (It’s hard to say how many queer people wait until marriage because—not to be too bitter about it—many of us couldn’t even get married until a few years ago. Suffice it to say, it is very rare to meet an LGBTQ person who’s holding out for their wedding night.)
This doesn’t make Bachelor contestant Madison Prewett wrong for choosing to save herself for marriage, but she probably should have broached the topic with Peter a lot sooner than seven days before possibly getting engaged to him. Pilot Pete, after all, became famous for keeping condoms in the center console of his Mercedes and for fornicating four times in a Grecian windmill. (“Grecian windmill,” by the way, sounds like a sex position straight people don’t know about yet.) This is a man whose desire to bone is in his bones, so it shouldn’t be a shock that he will want to milk Fantasy Suite Week for all its worth. If your religion dictates that you can’t get it on, Peter needed to know yesterday. He’s one of the 95%. Madison is one of the 5%.
At the start of this week’s episode of The Bachelor, Madison warns Peter, “If you were to sleep with someone else, it would be really hard for me to move forward with this,” which seems hard for him to hear because he can envision a serious relationship with her but has also clearly been keeping Victoria F. on the show specifically because she is hot. (Nothing else can explain why he would put up with all the drama she has generated.) At this point, Peter could have stopped and reevaluated how he wanted the rest of his season to unfold, but instead, drunk on the Australian sun, he plows straight into Fantasy Suite Week and has sex with at least one (and possibly both) of the remaining women. In a particularly steamy scene, we see him kissing Southern pageant queen Hannah Ann in silhouette against a shower door.
Naturally, Madison is disappointed when she catches wind of his hanky-panky. But can she really be surprised? In the episode’s turbulent final date, Madison tells Peter, “I just can’t wrap my mind around, in a week from now, [you being] down on one knee and six days before that you slept with somebody else.”
That is… literally the premise of the show. In a world where only a slim minority of people wait until marriage, one man dating multiple women at the same time probably isn’t going to choose a fiancée until he has, shall we say, tested the waters. Madison being unable to “wrap” her “mind” around Peter’s behavior is like being confused to discover alcohol inside a bar. She knew what she signed up for, and she’s more than welcome to leave.
Which might be exactly what she does if teasers for the end of the season are to be believed. Peter begs Madi not to “walk away,” but it appears his having had sex in the recent past could be a deal breaker. Again, more power to Madi for knowing exactly what she wants and sticking to it! She deserves a man who shares her view of intimacy! But from a sociological perspective, Madison’s presence this late in the season is fascinating: “Fantasy Suites” are a longstanding tradition on the Bachelor franchise, but only recently has the show begun to more overtly acknowledge that contestants have sex when they sleep in the same rose-petal-covered bed. (In the past, there would just be winky cutaways, but we could never be “sure” the lovebirds sealed the deal.) Shtupping has always been part of The Bachelor—but so, too, has religiosity.
It’s no secret that many contestants on the show come from deeply conservative and religious households. So in a way, it’s been cathartic for a queer viewer like me to watch it increasingly point out that these people are, frankly, just as eager to do the horizontal tango as I was at their age. We live in a country where 29% of Americans think premarital sex is morally wrong—and where 35% who think all forms of same-sex intercourse are immoral—and yet almost everyone in that 29% has had premarital sex themselves.
The Bachelor franchise, in its own unwitting way, has started to point out that discrepancy: These are straight people who love the Lord and talk a lot about their values, but at the end of the day they’re not going to the altar without having gone to the bedroom first. We can quit pretending like that doesn’t happen. We have the proof, all over reality television, that it does.
That’s why Madison’s late-season plotline is so striking: Even against the backdrop of The Bachelor’s inherent conservatism, her choice to wait sticks out. And that means, as a culture, we’re finally starting to admit to ourselves what queer people have known all along: Having sex before marriage isn’t absolutely necessary, but it sure is normal.