Ever since US Weekly printed the front-page story, “The Virgin Bachelor,” which described Sean Lowe’s born-again virginity and commitment to waiting until his marriage night to have sex, there has been no shortage of conversation percolating throughout the blogosphere. (Apparently sexual self-control from any quadrant whether The Bachelor or elsewhere is front-page news.)
A guilty pleasure of mine, The Bachelor this season has been a different experience than in previous ones. Not because of the absence of bikinis, muscles, cocktail-induced drama, or premature proclamations of love, but because of the absence of . . . well, the “fantasy suite,” if you know what I mean. Contrary to the many surfacing opinions dooming Sean to perpetual “unhappily ever after” because of some inevitable inability to please his future wife, I would like to offer a note of thanks.
Sean’s witness of sexual self-control carries with it a surprising twist. Here is no socially awkward, glasses-clad chap with hair parted down the middle proudly advocating for bodily restraint or in the words of Pete Monash in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, “guarding the carnal treasure.” By all appearances Sean is a successful business owner, comes from a great family, and is fun-loving, adventurous, and easy on the eyes. His historic dating repertoire includes notable figures of equal caliber. Still, his example challenges broader society to reexamine abstinent stereotypes so often embodied in the likes of George Michael’s bland girlfriend, Ann — not Pam, or Ham, or Yam — on Arrested Development, or the cringe-worthy stories depicted in TLC’s Virgin Diaries.
And, for me, it’s about time. Abstinence doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all type of person and it’s great to see a broader array of characters coming into focus in the media. Social scientist Donna Freitas in her book, Sex and the Soul, speaks about the pluralistic ignorance associated with the hook-up culture. Far fewer people are hooking up today than is perceived by their peers, and of those who do, far fewer are enjoying it.
In the words of Tobias Fuecke, “There are dozens of us!” But of those who do hook-up, Freitas describes widespread dissatisfaction lurking in the undercurrents. Promised “all that and a bed of roses” since the sexual revolution, young adults have inherited nearly fifty years of deep-seated misconceptions about how to approach romance. Freitas, who conducted a nationwide survey on the subject, found that many young adults confessed an abiding sense of hollowness and lingering feelings of coming up short. In the end, she finds, millennials who set out in search of romance and fulfillment are instead finding that all that sex brings is, in the famous words of Mick Jagger, “no satisfaction.”
Ashley Crouch is the relationships editor at Verily magazine. She lives and works in Manhattan.