If you’re watching this season of The Bachelor, you’ve learned by now that leading man Colton Underwood is a 26-year-old virgin.
The former NFL player’s virginity is a focal point of Season 23, with ABC using his sexual inexperience as a major storyline. Before the series kicked off on Jan. 7, the network’s promo material included multiple references to his status as a virgin, and even the tag line, “What does he have to lose?”
So far, a few episodes in, Underwood’s virginity has been brought up on group dates and one-on-one dates, at cocktail parties and in conversation with host Chris Harrison. In other words, it’s been talked about a lot.
So why are people making a big deal out of Underwood’s lack of sexual experience? According to Laura M. Carpenter, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University and author of Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences, Underwood’s chastity is “unusual,” and Bachelor producers know that.
“He’s conventionally handsome, he’s an athlete, he’s all these things that signal masculinity, and in our culture, another signal of masculinity is someone with great sexual prowess,” Carpenter said to Global News.
On The Bachelor, where a group of strangers compete for the affection of one person, sexual attraction is the driving force of the show. Watching a virgin bachelor navigate romance is new, and it’s a trait that makes Underwood unique.
“Because we see male virginity as especially strange, or more unusual than female virginity, becomes a story,” Carpenter explained. “It’s a story in part because of the kind of guy that he is.”
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Jess O’Reilly, a Toronto-based sex and relationship expert, said society’s interest in Underwood’s virginity is reflective of our larger fascination with sex.
“Talking about virginity is an excuse to talk about sex,” she said to Global News. “Many of us feel conflicted when it comes to sex, as we feel that we’re supposed to be having it and be highly skilled at it, yet at the same time, we’re judged for our sexuality.”
“The concept of virginity is therefore appealing, as it supposedly offers some clarity without conflict.”
Underwood, who is from Indianapolis, Ind., says the reason he hasn’t had sex is that he hasn’t had the “right” opportunity with the right person. While the athlete insists he’s not “saving himself” for marriage, he is waiting to be in love.
According to Carpenter, Underwood’s beliefs align with the notion that virginity is “a gift.”
“There are these different metaphors that people use to talk about virginity,” she explained. “That virginity is a special gift that you save and give to somebody you love in return for their love and affection is a very common story, and one that more woman subscribe to than men.”
Underwood has admitted that being a twenty-something virgin is uncommon, especially in the world of professional sports. He’s said he has experienced stigma around his virginity and used to lie about sex to peers.
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“The [Bachelor] … is really interesting because it’s playing into this sort of mocking him, sort of praising him … like ‘this is kind of wonderful and special, but it’s also kind of weird,'” Carpenter said.
“In our culture, there are these diverse ways of thinking about sex and about virginity in particular; you can’t just make fun of it, and you can’t just say it’s wonderful. You kind of have to have a ‘story’ for everybody.”
While once embarrassed about his virginity, Underwood, who first appeared on Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette in 2018, and later that year on Bachelor in Paradise, is now leaning into the virgin storyline.
On social media, the reality star has poked fun at himself, while also earnestly answering questions about his decision.
But while Underwood may appear to be OK with his sexual beliefs being on full display, Carpenter said the way The Bachelor is framing Underwood’s virginity is different from how they would position a woman’s.
“Historically, we’ve seen female virginity as more necessary, as almost tantalizing, and there’s this sort of myth or narrative in the culture of men wanting to introduce women to … the wonders of sex,” Carpenter said.
“If it were a woman, I don’t think would be able to quite push so far, about how unusual or strange this is, or that this would be the lynchpin on which this entire season rests.”
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.