Bridgerton and Discussions of Consent

Daphne and Simon dancing.

Let me start by saying that I, like pretty much everyone I know, love Shonda Rhimes’ new show Bridgerton {it’s actually listed as one of my Friday Favorites for January}. It’s sexy, it’s fun, it makes me want to run around shouting things like “make haste” and gives a modern and diverse twist to the period dramas I’ve always favored.

That being said, there is one scene that makes me slightly…uncomfortable. For anyone who’s watched the show, I think you know what I mean, and for those of you living under a Bridgerton-free rock, please note there will be spoilers from here on out.

The Scene

In the sixth episode as Daphne begins to piece together the connection between male sexual fulfillment and conception, she tests her theory by orchestrating events so her husband is forced to orgasm inside her rather than using the pull out method, his preferred form of contraception. It’s done intentionally and without his consent, a clear act of betrayal that somehow leaves the viewer wondering if this is, in fact, rape.

Perhaps the lines are somewhat muddied by the fact that this scene has been greatly toned down from its written counterpart. In the books, Daphne takes advantage of her drunk and slumbering husband, an act that has long been cited by critics of the romance genre as male rape. It’s likely this very critique that convinced the showrunners to make a plot adjustment. However, while they may have softened the events that take place between husband and wife, altering the scenario so the Duke is awake, sober, and happily participating in their sexual exploits right up to the moment of completion, these changes make the scene in some ways more uncomfortable, as the viewer is left unsure exactly how many lines have been crossed.

Is it Rape?

After my husband and I watched this episode together {yes, my husband watches Bridgerton with me. Spouse win.}, we got into a long discussion about whether or not this violation of trust constitutes rape. As the mother of three young boys, it was important for me to hear a male perspective about that particular scene. After a great deal of discussion on the subject we decided to research further and found much of the internet felt similarly unsure. Terms like Nonconsensual Insemination came up, as well as Intimate Partner Violence and sexual assault. And what’s more, there seemed to be a general consensus that the show, hyped as a modernized period drama that “reflects on the world we live in today”, missed an opportunity to delve into important post #metoo movement subjects like assault and consent.

The show seems to want to take on these hot topics, delving into the importance of semantics when it comes to consent. As Daphne later points out, the difference between “can’t” and “won’t” is vitally important when it comes to communication between partners. Simon’s deliberate misuse of the word “can’t” when talking about his inability to give her children, and subsequently using a form of birth control without his wife’s knowledge, makes it impossible for her to give informed consent to their intimacies. It make me question whether there is a single instance of consenting sex between Daphne and Simon the entire series.

The Conversations We Need to Be Having

And yet Bridgerton never fully commits to these issues. Rather than showing the characters dealing with the fallout of their actions before they move forward with their married life, they instead gloss over these acts of sexual deceit {Daphne’s in particular} in the quest for a happy ending. And I can’t help but wonder if we should be talking about this more.

It’s certainly led to some interesting conversations between my husband and I, conversations I suspect will prove important as we raise our three children into adulthood. We’ve always intended to discuss sex with our sons as they grow older, making sure they understand how to practice safe sex and have a firm grasp of the concept that “no means no”, without exception. But it’s clear from the discussions this show instigated that there’s far more to it than I’d originally realized. Intimacy between two partners requires a discussion of boundaries, and trust that those boundaries will be respected. In the wake of the #metoo era, these discussions are more important than ever to protect both partners from entering into any sexual territory they might find uncomfortable. These conversations may occasionally feel awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s my goal as a parent to make sure my children are armed with the knowledge and understanding of the vital nature of this kind of dialogue before beginning a sexual relationship.

So I guess I have Bridgerton to thank for more than a mere eight episodes of sexy late night binging. Its most controversial scene and halfhearted attempt to deal with the ramifications of sexual betrayal remind us of the importance of communication and the nuances of consent.

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Bridgerton and Discussions of Consent. A photograph of Daphne and Simon dancing. Logo: Houston moms.

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Lauren M. is a native Houstonian who now lives one street over from the house where she grew up in Sugar Land. After a brief fling with Austin where she received her Bachelors Degree in English Lit from Southwestern University, she returned home to attempt to write the great American novel {or, you know, the next Harry Potter series}. A short while later a friend recruited her for a kickball league where she met a tall, handsome engineer who quite literally swept her off her feet. After tying the knot in 2014, they soon welcomed their first son Raleigh {October 2015}, and little brothers Renner {January 2018} and Rafe {September 2021}. When not chasing around her three crazy Texas tornados and reveling in the boy mom life, Lauren has discovered a newfound passion for photography and Photoshop, creating whimsical family portraits at @andwhetherpigshavewings on Instagram. You can also find her at @polyjuiceandpixiedust .


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