What 'Bridgerton' Gets Wrong About Sex — and Why It Matters
Just three minutes into the first episode of Bridgerton, and you can tell you’re in for a spicy treat. Throughout Shondaland’s hit Netflix series, you’re met with steamy romps atop sturdy wooden desks, oral sexcapades on ladders and in stairwells, and plenty of butts.
And while the series sure does the trick of getting the audience hot and bothered (or at the very least, mildly entertained with the hot goss of the Regency era), it doesn’t always depict sex in the most accurate — or realistic — way. Of course, Bridgerton was never meant to be a sex ed class, but for some people, it very well may serve a similar purpose. Only 28 states and the District of Columbia require both sex education and HIV education be taught in public schools, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. Of those states, only 17 mandate that this education is medically accurate, per the Institute. (Related: Sex Education In the U.S. Is Broken — Sustain Wants to Fix It)
To fill that gap in knowledge, many Millennials are tuning into their televisions. A 2018 survey of 18 to 29 year olds found that the majority of participants got most of their sex education from what they saw on TV or learned about through pop culture. "Education might not be everywhere, but media definitely is," says Janielle Bryan, M.P.H., a public health practitioner and sex educator. "For some kids and young adults, that's the only sex ed they're getting, so the more accurate it is, the more educational it is — and when I say educational, I don't mean boring — the better. Representation matters for a lot of things, and that includes in sex ed."
That’s not to say you should remove Bridgerton — or any other not-so-factual sexy series — from your Netflix queue entirely. Instead, take the racy scenes you're seeing with a grain of salt. “It’s really important to remember this is choreographed sex,” says Jack Pearson, Ph.D., an in-house medical expert at Natural Cycles, a birth control and fertility tracking app. “I think it’s important to acknowledge that real-life sex is a lot more [clumsy]...and I wouldn’t use it as a basis for comparison at all. You should take inspiration from it, but not necessarily use it to judge yourself on how you’re doing in the bedroom.”
The next time you hunker down to binge-watch the raunchiest show of the year — whether it be for your first viewing or your fourth — keep these inaccurate and unrealistic depictions of sex in mind.
The pull-out method is not an effective form of birth control.
Early on in the season, Simon Basset, the handsome and alluring Duke of Hastings, vows to never have children to spite his father and effectively end his family line. So on the long-awaited night that Simon and his new wife, Daphne Bridgerton, consummate their marriage, the Duke pulls off what would become his signature move throughout the season: withdrawing his penis from Daphne mere moments before ejaculation.
Pulling-out may have been an acceptable form of birth control way back in the 19th century, but Pearson says it’s not an effective contraceptive method by today’s standards. “Sperm can be present in pre-cum, and if there is, there’s a chance that pregnancy will occur,” he explains. “[This can also happen] if the man didn’t pull out quick enough and he actually did ejaculate all or parts of the semen into the woman.”
In fact, roughly 22 out of every 100 people who use the withdrawal method become pregnant every year, according to the Office on Women’s Health. (Yeah, that's kind of a lot.) So if you’re actively trying to prevent pregnancy, chat with your doctor about other birth control options that are proven to be more effective, such as intrauterine devices, oral contraceptives, vaginal rings, or skin patches.
Checking for blood won’t tell you if you’re pregnant.
Shortly after Marina Thompson arrives at the Featherington mansion, she’s seen frantically digging through her sheets in search of blood, a sign her period had arrived throughout the night. Unfortunately for the town newcomer, Marina’s sheets are as white as freshly fallen snow, which, in 1813, is considered a definitive indicator that she’s pregnant.
But a missed visit from Aunt Flo doesn’t automatically mean you’re “with child,” as Marina puts it. “Anyone with a cycle is likely to experience irregular menstruation from time to time, so jumping to conclusions if you haven’t bled in over four weeks could get you in a panic for no reason,” says Pearson. “In fact, Natural Cycle’s study with the University College London, which looked at over 600,000 cycles, found that only one in eight women experienced a 28-day cycle.” While serious medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and fibroids can delay your period, even small changes to your health, such as losing weight, amping up your exercise routine, or dealing with stress can affect your cycle, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Not to mention, it’s possible to experience light bleeding or spotting early during the first trimester, particularly when the fertilized egg first attaches to the wall of the uterus (aka implantation), if you have sex, have developed an infection, or your hormones are fluctuating, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Add in the fact that some of the other early signs of pregnancy can be similar to PMS symptoms — including nausea, fatigue, and breast tenderness — and it can be tough to tell if you’re pregnant or not based on intuition or period tracking alone, says Pearson. “But taking that pregnancy test and trying to see your healthcare professional can get you a definitive answer there,” he adds.
You might not orgasm moments into masturbating for the first time.
Not long after Simon tells Daphne about the joys of touching yourself between your legs, the future Duchess lies down on her bed for a little self-exploration. And within moments of running her fingers up her calves and under her nightgown, she climaxes for the first time.
IRL, your first time experimenting with masturbation likely won't match Daphne’s. “Everyone is different, and everyone’s body is different,” says Bryan. “I’m not going to say that it could never happen that fast, but if someone’s masturbating for the first time, it usually depends on how attuned they are with their body and how much they know about themselves.”
That’s why Bryan recommends people of all ages pick up a handheld mirror and give their downstairs area a good, hard look before having a go at yourself. By taking the time to learn your anatomy — including where every part of your vulva is located and what they look like — you won’t have to dig around in search of the clitoris and other feel-good spots while you’re trying to self-stimulate. The potential result: Faster and stronger Os, says Bryan.
For the record, it’s totally normal to masturbate and not climax at all, adds Bryan. “Even when you have more experience with yourself, sometimes it’s just not the day,” she says. “That’s the thing about bodies: They do whatever they want to do. It doesn’t mean the first time [you masturbate] you’re going to have an orgasm, and it doesn’t mean that the tenth time you’re going to have an orgasm.”
You shouldn’t skip peeing after sex.
The audience *technically* never sees the characters’ post-romp routines, but it’s safe to assume they likely don’t hit up the restroom immediately after making love. But doing so is a key tactic to prevent urinary tract infections (UTI), which can develop when bacteria makes its way into your bladder, according to the OWH.
Here’s how it works: During sex and other frisky, pants-free activities, bacteria from the vagina and anus can transfer to the urethra (the tube from the bladder where urine comes out of your body). There, it can multiply and cause inflammation, which can trigger pain or burning while urinating and an urge to pee often (even though not much urine comes out) — the telltale signs of a UTI, according to the OWH. Turns out, Daphne telling Simon she “burned” for him before they jump each other's bones for the first time was a bit of foreshadowing.
That said, peeing after sex can help protect against UTIs, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. In fact, a separate study showed that six months after sexually active women developed their first UTI, the incidence of a second infection was lower among those who reported peeing after sex. “Urinating after intercourse just helps flush out the urethra, where the pee comes out,” explains Pearson. “It just helps any bacteria that might have gotten pushed up there come out.” (Related: Can You Have Sex with a UTI?)
You might not have the same libido as your partner — and that’s OK.
To put it simply, Simon and Daphne go at it like rabbits throughout their honeymoon period. And in every sexual encounter the show depicts, both the Duke and Duchess are equally turned on and ready to get down to business. Spoiler: This match made in libido heaven isn’t something that happens too often in real life — and that’s OK, says Bryan.
“Sex starts in the mind, so if you’re stressed out about something, that can throw off libido,” she explains. “And if you don’t vocalize [your change in libido] to your partner, they just try to jump your bones, it’s probably not going to go as well as it does in Bridgerton.”
It’s also important to remember that if you’re consistently not in the mood when your partner is ready to get frisky, it doesn’t mean you’re unhappy with your sex life or your S.O., says Bryan. “Some people feel like if you’re rejecting sex, you’re rejecting them, and that is not the case,” she explains. “You can love your partner, care for your partner, be sexually attracted to your partner, and the changes in your libido doesn't change that. It’s not about them — it’s the act itself.”
To ensure both you and your couple are on the same page, remind them that they’re not the problem, then start a conversation with them about what’s *really* holding you back, says Bryan. Explaining whatever is going on in your head that’s shifting your mood can help you and your partner find ways to work through your issues, which can help you get your libido back to your normal, she says. (Related: Understanding These 2 Types of Sexual Desire Will Help You Feel In Control of Your Libido)
Sex doesn't need to go from 0 to 100.
Bridgerton’s plot may be slow moving, but the sex scenes sure are fast — so fast that Simon and Daphne typically skip the foreplay and jump straight to penetration. The duo may be aroused enough to comfortably get it on roughly five seconds after kissing, but for the average viewer, a longer warm-up period may be required.
“I often say the biggest sex organ is between your ears,” says Bryan. “So if you’re not mentally stimulated, you’re likely not physically stimulated, and it can be uncomfortable because your body is not producing natural lubrication [at that point]. There’s a good chance if you’re not aroused, penetration could be painful because [your vagina] will be dry.” (After all, Daphne and Simon didn't have lube stationed on their bedside tables.)
Spending a few extra minutes on foreplay can get you mentally and physically ready for the main act. Plus, foreplay can be helpful if you’re engaging with a new partner and are still trying to learn one another’s body, likes, and dislikes, says Bryan. “Because foreplay generally goes a little bit slower, you’re able to have conversations and guide your partner before you go to penetration,” she explains.
You might not orgasm solely from penetration.
By skimping on the foreplay, it's also likely that Daphne missed out on achieving the big Os that the Duke so regularly gets through PIV action. ICYDK, three-quarters of men say they climax nearly every time they have sex, compared to just 28 percent of women, according to a Lovehoney survey of 4,400 people. What's more, only 18.4 percent of surveyed women reported that intercourse alone was "sufficient" enough to orgasm, according to a study of more than 1,000 women published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.
So what does get some women off? Clitoral stimulation, either by themselves or by their partner, and oral sex, according to a small survey of heterosexual women — moves that Daphne rarely appears to experience during sex, hence the overall lack of female orgasms happening in the series. (The fact that the orgasm gap persists even in erotica largely aimed at women is a big ol' sigh.)
And aside from her masturbation scene, the only time it looks like Daphne is truly having an orgasm is during the final romp, moments after they agreed to stay together and create a family. As the moans ramp up, the couple appears to climax at the *exact* same time. It's totally possible to achieve the elusive simultaneously orgasm IRL, but it does require a bit of practice (just ask this writer who made it her New Year's resolution). Plus, it's not likely it would happen after 20 seconds of thrusting. According to the Lovehoney survey, in half of shared orgasm cases, one person tends to reach their "trigger point" and needs to wait for their partner to catch up. TL;DR: You and your partner's shared orgasm might take a bit longer to achieve than the perfect Duke and Duchess'.
Consent is key.
Shortly after Daphne finds out how pregnancy occurs and that Simon *can* have children (he just doesn’t want to), she goes on to create one of the most controversial scenes of the series: Mid-intercourse, the Duchess hoists herself on top of Simon cowgirl-style and, right when he’s about to ejaculate, refuses to let him pull-out — his go-to method of contraception. Moments later, he mutters, "How could you?"
While Simon did consent to sex, he did not consent to coming inside Daphne, says Bryan. Remember, Daphne knew he didn't want to have children (although not the exact reasons why). And even though the Duke didn't specifically yell out, "No, stop," he did say, "wait, wait, Daphne," and looked clearly uncomfortable about not being able to withdraw. “So while Simon did not give her enough information [about this choice to not have children] to make an informed decision, no one’s allowed to violate your boundaries just because it does not work for them," says Bryan. (Related: What Is Consent, Really? Plus, How and When to Ask for It)
During any sexual encounter, continually asking for consent is key. Ask your partner if they're down for the act before you begin, and as you continue to amp up your endeavors, check in with them to make sure they want to continue, says Bryan. “We also say more with our bodies than we do with our words, so if at any point during sex you’re getting body language or facial expressions showing that the other person is uncomfortable, check in,” she says. And if they don’t give you an enthusiastic “yes” — meaning they say “I’m not sure” or “this doesn’t feel right” — stop your activities there, adds Bryan. Remember: You or your partner has the ability to withdraw consent at any time. (And it's always a good idea to check-in after sex — aka aftercare — to chat through anything that did or didn't go well and how you both felt about things.)