Like most people with a Netflix account, I’ve just finished watching the whole of Bridgerton. But even though the series has stopped playing out on my TV screen, it’s still going in my head. Particularly the sex scenes.
Contrary to most period dramas, Bridgerton was full of sex. Solo sex, oral sex, group sex, al fresco sex, staircase sex, heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, loving sex, passionate sex – I could go on. It’s no wonder Bridgerton quickly became known as ‘Pride and Prejudice but with a lot of sex and hotter actors’ (or at least that’s how I’ve been describing it to my friends).
But the best bit about the sex in Bridgerton is that it’s all about female pleasure. The entire relationship between Daphne Bridgerton and the (incredibly hot) Duke of Hastings centres on her sexual awakening. It is the Duke who teaches Daphne about masturbation, telling her to ‘touch herself’ at night. She does exactly that, and millions of viewers watch this young woman bring herself to an orgasm for the first time in her life.
It would be undoubtedly impactful to watch this scene of a woman discovering the power of her clitoris in a TV show set in contemporary times, but watching a woman constrained by corsets, laws and social expectations uncover a moment of true liberation and pleasure takes it to another level. It also helps to continue breaking the taboo around female masturbation that still exists in our society today. There are countless TV shows and movies that feature men masturbating, but it’s still so rare to watch a woman touch herself on TV.
Then there’s the actual sex between Daphne and the total smokeshow of a Duke. From the very first time they sleep together, he is considerate, loving and makes her pleasure an essential part of the experience. He asks her to touch herself during sex – something that many women today can still feel shame around – and Daphne manages to move past her initial embarrassment to shamelessly enjoy pleasuring herself during sex. While in the (many, many) sex montages of the couple fornicating everywhere from the gardens to a staircase, the Duke is often seen with his head firmly between Daphne’s legs, giving her orgasms via oral sex.
It’s often graphic, but it’s not gratuitous. How can it be when female pleasure is finally being given centre stage on our screens? It’s too important to be irrelevant, and there’s no real male gaze at play here. We see naked female and male bodies, moving together, giving each other equal pleasure – rather than the tired and stereotypical emphasis on female nudity and titillating shots of a topless woman. If anything, the Duke of Hastings is frequently shot with a female gaze.
Bridgerton doesn’t always get it 100% right. There has been a lot of controversy over a scene where Daphne forces the Duke of Hastings to ejaculate inside her by sitting on top of him. It has been described as a white woman raping a black man. The show does acknowledge it’s not consensual – afterwards the Duke asks ‘how could you?’ and Daphne replies ‘You took advantage. You seized an opportunity, so I did the very same.’ The creators could arguably have gone further by having the characters confront this in more detail, but at the very least it does still create a conversation about women taking sexual advantage over men – another taboo that is rarely discussed.
And it cannot be denied that Bridgerton is out to break taboos. Not only does the show explicitly shine a light on female masturbation, orgasms and consent, it does the same with periods, or to use the parlance of the time, a woman’s ‘courses.’ Women are seen searching their beds for red stains to see if they’re pregnant or not, and when (spoiler alert) Daphne gets her period after hoping she’s pregnant, we see her reaching into her dress with a tissue and pulling it out with a visible, large, wet, red blood stain.
In a world where most TV adverts still shy away from using red liquid to demonstrate the efficacy of sanitary products, this is huge. It’s something that was also done recently in the BBC’s I May Destroy You, where a man is seen pulling a bloody tampon out of a woman before they have sex. In both scenes, I noticed myself almost squirming at the sight of the blood, even though it’s something I see myself every single month and have done since I was 11.
But my instinctive reaction is exactly why it’s so important that shows like Bridgerton break these taboos and normalise female bodies. It isn’t just to educate men and remind them of the importance of female pleasure, it’s to remind us as women of our right to orgasms, of how essential it is to have a sexual partner who is dedicated to that goal, and that just like Daphne, we should never feel any shame about the nature of our bodies. If anything, we should be celebrating them just as much as Bridgerton does.