The Bachelorette Vilified for Casual Sex: Why Are We Still So Quick to Shame?

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Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe and contestant Nick Viall talk during the June 22 episode of “The Bachelorette.” (Photo: ABC)

Bachelorette fans and spectators collectively freaked out last month after it was revealed that the show’s star had sex with a contestant early on in the show (that is, before the Fantasy Suite dates).

Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe was immediately labeled as “sleazy” and “low-rent” (among other harsh adjectives) in online comments, which she publicly brushed off.

“I don’t think that’s a crazy thing to sleep with somebody when you’re trying to be in a relationship with them,” Bristowe told Entertainment Tonight at the time. “I’m a 30-year-old woman, and I make my own decisions, and intimacy, to me, is part of a relationship. I don’t know why everyone is so shocked by it.”

The furor died down, only to be sparked again by Monday night’s episode, which heavily played up Bristowe inviting contestant Nick Viall back to her room. Once again, people lashed out on social media, prompting Viall to post the following in a series of tweets:

It’s no secret that sex happens on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Show host Chris Harrison told People magazine earlier this year that that about 67 percent of couples on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette have sex while in the Fantasy Suite (which occurs toward the end of each season).

And, of course, premarital sex happens in real life, too. Research published last year in the Journal of Sex Research found that 18-to-25-year-olds are more likely than the previous generation to report having casual sex. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior earlier this year also found that people (and millennials in particular) are more accepting of the idea of premarital sex. 

Related: What Hookup Culture? Millennials Have Fewer Sex Partners Than Their Parents

So why are people so shocked that Bristowe had sex? Experts say it’s because it was casual. 

Casual sex is “rule-breaking behavior in society, and we are always shocked (yet titillated) by those who break the rules,” clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, tells Yahoo Health.

Atlanta psychologist and relationship therapist Jared DeFife, PhD, points out that we’re a monogamous society and have established rules and boundaries concerning when people should have sex in a relationship. When people like Bristowe and Viall violate them, we tend to, well, freak out, even though it’s really none of our business. 

But why do we care? DeFife tells Yahoo Health that casual sex can actually spark a deep-seated fear in people that the rules of society will break down. 

“Sexual shaming is usually about some sort of fear and concern about powerlessness,” says DeFife. “Because sexuality is fluid and impressionable, there is a worry that it will catch on and get ‘out of control.’” The panic that it can ignite in people is ultimately an attempt to regain control over the status quo, he says. 

That’s right — all because someone else had casual sex.

People who are the target of sex shaming like Bristowe and Viall should take a moment to think about it, says DeFife. If they decide they haven’t violated any of their own internal standards, they should shake off the criticism and move on.

Related: Follow These Rules to Have the BEST Casual Sex of Your Life

But casual sex shaming will probably never go away, says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“Certainly, attitudes toward sex have shifted over the years, but the topic itself seems to always be one in which people have always had wildly different opinions as to what is OK and what’s not OK,” he tells Yahoo Health. “As long as these differences exist, there will always be people who judge and criticize the acts of others.”

And, while experts say there’s nothing wrong with casual sex between two consenting adults, there is a way to keep the shaming at bay — it just unfortunately isn’t an option for Bristowe, at least right now: “Keep it private,” says Mayer.

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