Here we are again, friends, for the third night running. Do you know I was once naïve enough to think I could basically take December off from writing?
Alas, I am not strong enough not to give you all my thoughts about this show – especially as it has strayed into a territory in which I have even more expertise than usual (and thus I can’t believe they didn’t call me to consult even more).
When people ask me what my PhD was on, I usually say “romance” as a kind of quick and dirty answer, but if you want to get more specific: I wrote about representations of virginity loss and the way they intersect with popular romance narratives.
My PhD thesis – which became my book The Consummate Virgin – focused on female virginity loss, but you can bet that I picked up quite a bit about male virginity loss narratives along the way (classic occupational hazard). So let’s talk about Wesley.
First thing’s first: Wesley is not the first virgin Bachelor. In the US, we had what we might call an original flavour virgin Bachelor in Colton Underwood in S23 (or in his words, a “full virgin”). While he entered into and maintained a relationship with one of his contestants after the show (Cassie Randolph, for whom he famously jumped the fence, and who infamously took out a restraining order on him after they broke up), he later came out as gay, saying, “The truth is I was a virgin Bachelor because I was gay, and I didn’t know how to handle it.”
There’s also been a born-again virgin, Sean Lowe of S17 – now one of the most popular figures in US Bachelor Nation, largely because he’s one of the vanishingly few Bachelors who’s still together with his winner (Catherine Giudici, with whom he now has three children, and with whom he waited until marriage to have sex).
For Sean especially, virginity was framed through a religious lens. It was also framed, for the most part, extremely positively – as a sign of decisiveness and restraint and respect, for himself and the women. I have an inkling, given how Colton was framed, that some of this miiiiight have come about because he had fucked before and then stopped – they sort of had their cake and ate it too there, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute – but for the most part, his virginity was key to his heroism.
This is very much not what seems to be happening with Wesley. The main reason surely has to be the different levels of religiosity in Australian vs US culture, but there’s a few things going on here, so let’s unpack it.
In her book Virginity Lost, sociologist Laura M Carpenter argues that there are, broadly speaking, three main sociosexual scripts around virginity loss – that is, people tend to view it in one of the three ways:
As a gift: here, virginity is something expressly valued, and ideally, one’s partner should understand the value of the gift being bestowed upon them.
As a stigma: essentially, the inverse – virginity is something to be gotten rid of as quickly as possible, because “virgin” is seen as a stigmatised identity.
As a rite of passage: here, virginity loss is the next step in a logical and natural progression, both in terms of a relationship and also broader sexual maturation.
If we’re going to generalise extremely broadly, noting that this is all very problematic and heteronormative, the first script is typically gendered female and the second male. Culturally, we tend to assume that women will place more value on their virginity while men can’t wait to get rid of it – even as, again speaking very broadly, we drift ever closer to the rite of passage script as the main one we socially endorse.
Wesley, we can assume, as a 32yo male virgin, lives somewhere between the gift and the rite of the passage scripts: he both values his virginity and sees virginity loss as a rite of passage coming after marriage. This already poses a bit of an image problem for him (in a wider, non-religious culture, anyway), because we have a tendency to assume men approach virginity loss from the stigma script.
But let’s hone in on the rite of passage script, which, as I noted, is the one I think we’re coming to endorse more frequently, societally speaking.
One of the major arguments I made in The Consummate Virgin is around the idea of the “right” time to have sex. The twentieth century saw a shift away from marriage as the right time to love.
Now, obviously “love” is a lot more nebulous and difficult to define than “marriage”, which has caused many people much angst. The introduction to my book is called ‘The Lost Virginity of Britney Spears’, which is a classic example of this: when Justin Timberlake did Britney dirty and revealed that they’d had premarital sex, the (smart) PR move that she made was to be like “I thought we were in love”, which discursively positioned her virginity loss as, if not moral, then forgivable, with JT as the villain.
This idea of love being the only acceptable reason to lose your virginity is much more heavily policed for women than for men (this assertion is essentially The Consummate Virgin distilled to a sentence), but let’s think about how this narrative plays out for men – and for Wesley in particular.
(NB: I’m not personally endorsing any of these sexual scripts, by the way. A lot of this is deeply harmful! However, they are narrative lenses through which many people view the world, for better or worse.)
If we consider virginity loss as a rite of passage, as a natural next step in a process of attaining maturity, then staying a virgin well into adulthood becomes… weird. There’s a sense that you can wait too long. If we use a super gross metaphor that people frequently use about virginity, a flower that was once blossoming starts to rot.
When you consider that men are typically considered to be subject to a stigma script – ie. they can’t wait to get rid of their virginity! losing your virginity makes you a man! – this becomes redoubled. Waiting to have sex becomes deeply strange – arguably even perverse.
To circle back to the beginning: this is why I think Sean Lowe got to kind of have his cake and eat it too as a born-again virgin. He had fucked – he’d passed through that rite of passage that makes one a man, even if he felt weird about it – and had made the choice to stop.
Wesley has no such luxury – and while the show isn’t pinning it specifically on the virgin thing (yet, anyway), it’s clear that a lot of what he’s bringing to the table is turning the women right off.
That’s a major theme of tonight’s episode, so let’s get into it.
Remember how we had a cliffhanger last night with Wesley slipping Holly a note? Tonight, we hear what it says.
It’s a love note. Wesley is into Holly, and the letter is all like, “I love our chats, I think you’re so great, heart eyes heart eyes heart eyes”.
Holly puts it fairly delicately, but it’s obvious she is repulsed by this. She uses the phrase “love-bomb-y”, which 1) not wrong, but also 2) truly something you would not generally expect to see on a Bachie season, where the Bachie is supposed to be positioned as fundamentally desirable. I remain profoundly unsure about Wesley as a casting choice, but there’s no doubt that this has made interesting television.
…also 3) love-bombing is often discussed in the context of cult tactics, and… well, you can draw your own conclusions from there.
Luke and Tabitha’s date
There are other Bachies on dates, though! Luke takes a blonde named Tabitha, who looks exactly like Ellie. This man has a type.
They go horse-riding. He starts cracking dad jokes a mile a minute like Aldi Honey Badger. She laughs. He likes it.
I feel like if she was going to be a real contender, they would have spent more time on this.
Ben and Mckenna’s date
I’m really intrigued by the way they’re constructing Ben this season. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of him as bad casting because of his inability to talk about his feelings, but I think what we’re getting here is actually a character arc. They’ve given Ben a clear character flaw, so he has something to overcome – which is much better than some of the “here is a cardboard cutout handsome man” thing they’ve done in the past.
(Like I said last time: they’ve done an Anthony Bridgerton on him. This is pure distilled Bridgerton.)
He and Mckenna go to a closed-for-the-day Luna Park. I hate an abandoned theme park date – I find them profoundly creepy, this is horror movie shit – but putting Ben on a roller coaster probably isn’t a terrible idea. Roller coasters can engender misattribution of arousal – the same reaction they’re trying to provoke when they throw people out of planes, where you mistake fear for attraction.
Interestingly, Ben’s like “attraction’s the easy part!” He and Mckenna have a nice time, but afterwards, when they go to the Espy for a drink, comes the real challenge.
Mckenna explains that she often has difficulty opening up because of her past with a mostly-absent dad. And this time Ben – instead of clamming up or starting to sweat, like he did with Caitlin and Ellie last night – finally cracks and admits that he has trouble opening up because an ex did a number on him.
“I’m lonely,” he admits – which I found very interesting, because this is a) a classic romance hero thing broadly, and b) an Anthony Bridgerton thing specifically. If Ben was wearing a different jacket and he said that his ex-partner was actually his opera singer ex-mistress, this would simply be Bridgerton.
Wesley and Holly’s date
Wesley is psyched to be going on a date with Holly.
Holly is straight up panicking.
He’s taken her to a Brazilian samba class (extremely on the nose there from production: even my man Murray O’Connell, whose favourite saying is “subtext is for cowards”, would raise an eyebrow). They get about two steps in before Holly is like UM CAN WE HAVE A CHAT?!
She lets him down as sweetly and politely as she possibly can, telling him that she just doesn’t feel a spark. Wesley is an over-the-top level of gracious about it – like, he thanks her for breaking up with him – which felt a little much, for reasons I’ll explain more in a minute.
The elephant in the room here, IMO, is less the virgin thing and more the fact that Holly is a scientist. They could have set up a classic (wo)man of science, man of faith thing here, and I’m not quite sure why they didn’t.
Okay, this is why Wesley’s “thank you for dumping me” thing felt so over-the-top it almost turned the corner into sinister for me.
We don’t get any detail on which Bachies have invited which women on this group date (which is a tennis date at Melbourne Olympic Park, where they hold the Australian Open), with one exception.
Wesley invited Holly.
“Oh, that’s so sweet!” Holly says. “He wants to give me the chance to talk to the other Bachies!”
But there’s a flip side to this – which Holly notes, while not diving into what I think is the darker motivation behind it. If you’re on the group date, you’re up for elimination. And Wesley – the Bachie who brought her – is sure as shit not going to give her a rose.
This puts Holly in a position where she has to win over Ben or Luke so profoundly that they give her a rose ahead of women they actually invited on the date. Wesley has essentially set her up to fail.
There are a few little other narrative beats in here. Luke bonds with Lana over their mutual love of cooking. Ben has a nice chat with Amelia. Wesley goes full heart eyes when he chats to a woman named Nella and she mentions the word “faith”.
(He also chats to Brea, who is like BTW I LOVE SEX AND I AM SUPER HORNY ALL THE TIME, which I suspect is foreshadowing for next episode.)
But really, the narrative of this date is about Holly.
Right near the end, she finally gets some time with Ben. They have a pretty nice, albeit not exactly romantic, chat about the environment, before we get into some more personal topics. “I really want to get married and have kids,” quoth Ben. “How about you?”
“Um…” is essentially Holly’s response.
It should come as no surprise that the rose ceremony is also dominated by the Holly narrative.
Ben is handing out the last rose. He has to choose between a woman named Maddison and Holly. And he picks…
…Maddison, who seems like she’s going to do some interesting shit-stirring next episode. Keep your eyes peeled for that.
They show Holly hugging Luke and Wesley in farewell, but not Ben (which I assume is meant to be a visual symbol of their lack of compatibility, not concrete proof that they didn’t hug). They make it seem like Holly and Wesley are going to be great pals now – they actively make plans to catch up in Sydney sometime.
But this is sinister, I’m telling you! Wesley set Holly up to fail in that group date – “oh, you don’t love me? well, fine, just try and make these other blokes love you, then!” – and it worked.
It does, though, give us a nice little arc for Holly, which emphasises the narrative of choice they’re running with this season. In her limo exit, she says she regrets nothing – which, we are to assume, includes dumping Wesley and not lying to Ben about their fundamental incompatibility.
If they ever do The Bachelorette/s, Holly certainly wouldn’t be the worst choice in the world.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this recap – thank you! I assume that means you enjoy my writing, so don’t forget that I’m the author of three reality TV rom-coms. Here For The Right Reasons (Bachelor + the first contestant he eliminates) and Can I Steal You For A Second? (contestant + contestant) are out now; while Not Here To Make Friends (villain + producer) will be out in January and is available for pre-order.
You can also catch me on my website: jodimcalister.com.au