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What 'Bridgerton' Gets Right About Sex

Had I known that Netflix's Bridgerton had the sex scenes that it does…I would’ve moved on it immediately.

Culture & Entertainment

Normally, I’m quick to hop on the bandwagon for new shows but with Bridgerton I took my time. I’m not sure what it was but I think I felt disengaged by Shonda Rhimes' Shondaland for a moment or perhaps it was the mere fact that I had enough shows on my roster. Who actually knows but what I do know is this: I avoided Bridgerton like the plague or consumption or whatever disease may have been ravaging them during the Regency Era.


With all my TV shows going off-air soon, I decided to reconsider my position on Bridgerton with the release of the newest season (season two), and it didn’t disappoint. First and foremost, it was a relatively stress-free show which I’ve been leaning into because the world is glum enough but let's not get sidetracked.

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Bridgerton, in all actuality, is a relatively feminist show – as feminist as it can be for the time period. We see women making a way for themselves when there isn’t a way. Above all, we see women taking ownership of their wants and needs (sexually and otherwise) – from Eloise (played by Claudia Jessie) protesting the traditional roles handed down to her, to Kate (played by Simone Ashley) doing whatever is necessary to protect her family. We see the female leads being fierce!

But, hunny, let me tell you this! Had I known that Bridgerton had the sex scenes that it does…I would’ve moved on it immediately.

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They weren’t raunchy or graphic, but they were centered around the feminine. Truly, there was so much that Bridgerton got right about sexuality – here are just a few of the things that I found to be the most significant.

1. Sexual Desire

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Though in that era, it was frowned upon to be seen alone with men (outside of immediate family), much less have sex with them – I think the show still does a great job of identifying sexual tension in a way that’s not too subtle. The show made it clear that sexual desire and lust are not improper emotions to feel – and no amount of virtue can remove the intensity found in those emotions. Granted, depending on the social status of the woman, I noticed that there were fewer expectations of virtue than others but I can’t fault the show for depicting an otherwise realistic dynamic that no doubt occurred for women and their sexuality.

For instance, they waste no time in allowing Siena (Sabrina Bartlett) to express her sexuality in any manner she sees fit because of her social status as an opera singer. They don’t tease the sexual tension out between her and Anthony. There’s even a scene in season one where Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) points out that women are not told in great detail about the act of sex because they wouldn’t be able to get anything done if they had truly known.

2. Woman-Centered Pleasure

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In this show, women don’t just lay there and get fucked, they do the fucking! Siena being aggressive and taking the lead during sex is but one example. Though not under the most pleasurable circumstances, I’d even say there was power in Daphne climbing on the Duke even if for no reason other than to prove all of the moving pieces were…working! Time and time again, we see women going after their sexual desires with certainty and without regret – at least not for the act of sex itself.

In my opinion, what's great about the show is that it doesn’t portray sex as some "dirty" act. I’m not stating that the show is perfect because again, it does have to be somewhat rooted in the reality for women at that time. However, what I would say is they could’ve made this another Regency Era tale where women are sexually assaulted and have little to no sexual autonomy. And Bridgerton does the opposite of that. Instead, women are portrayed at the center of their own pleasure.

3. Sexuality is Fluid

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Although they don’t do a deep dive, they make a brief attempt at highlighting the complicated nature of sexuality for men during that time. Benedict Bridgerton (Luke Thompson) begins to run in a new social circuit (artists, of course, because some cliches must remain) and he finds himself held to secrecy. Not only in regard to the modern sex parties he’s attending but to Sir Henry Granville’s (Julian Ovenden) sexuality.

What I like about their mention of his sexuality is that rather than Benedict being homophobic and completely dismissive, they leave space for curiosity with his character – not necessarily curiosity to partake but to potentially unlearn his ignorance.

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Featured image by Liam Daniel/Netflix

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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