‘The Golden Bachelor’ says fantasy suites on his season will be ‘quite different.’ Why experts hope the new show will shatter ‘taboos’ around sex, aging.
“We all benefit from seeing a healthier portrayal of sexual relationships and behavior across the board, in all ages.”
Updated Thu, August 17, 2023 at 9:26 AM EDT·6 min read
The Golden Bachelor star Gerry Turner is 71 years young — and sparking conversations about sex and intimacy later in life. (Brian Bowen Smith/ ABC via Getty Image)
Gerry Turner is ready for a second chance at love — and possibly, sex.
The 71-year-old star of The Golden Bachelor, the latest spinoff of the Bachelor franchise premiering in September, will soon hand out roses to a group of female suitors (all of whom are 65 and older). It’s the first cast in the franchise’s 21-year history where young singles in their 20s and 30s aren’t the centerpiece.
Turner, a retired grandfather of two, spoke on the subject recently, telling Entertainment Tonight that fantasy suites (where the star offers contestants an overnight date, away from cameras) will look “quite different” from past seasons, simply because of his age. He elaborated on Monday’s episode of The Bachelorette: The Men Tell All, saying that “there’s a lot of steps that I and a potential partner would have to go through to get to that point to make [fantasy suites] a comfortable situation.”
As experts explain, while the spinoff might challenge the perceptions society has about sex and intimacy in one’s golden years, it could also help shape our views about aging overall. Here’s why.
Old people are sick of being the ‘butt of jokes’
Until recently, older people with vibrant sex lives onscreen are often the “butt of jokes,” rather than something to aspire to, Ellyn Lem, author of Gray Matters: Finding Meaning in the Stories of Later Life, tells Yahoo Entertainment.
That’s especially true in animated shows like South Park and Family Guy, which Lem says are notorious for “making fun of older bodies” by exaggerating saggy breasts, cellulite, age spots and wrinkles on cartoon characters designed to give “false ideas” to young people about how their bodies will age.
“It’s supposed to be disgusting and shaming,” which contradicts the lived experiences for most people, Lem explains. “From my research, I’ve found that a lot of older people do gain acceptance of their body. Age spots and wrinkles, they’ve really come to terms with that. They’ll say, ‘When I was younger, my body was for other people,’ but when they’re older, their body is finally theirs.”
Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda have been lauded for their portrayal of two feisty, sex-positive older women in Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. (Amanda Edwards/WireImage)
Even though nearly 17% of the U.S. population are 60 and over, according to the latest census numbers, they are dramatically under-represented on TV — especially older women, who comprise just 3% of major characters on both broadcast and streaming programs, respectively, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film.
That’s not to say we haven’t made progress, Lem notes. Shows like Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as two older women who create a line of vibrators for seniors; And Just Like That…, the Sex and the City spinoff delving into the romantic lives of older female characters; and One Day at a Time, the Norman Lear-led Netflix show starring Rita Moreno as a grandmother who loves good sex, have “opened the door” towards depicting healthy intimacy late in life.
That’s a far cry from hit shows like Golden Girls, for example, which Lem says was groundbreaking in its own right for showing vitality over 50, despite Rue McClanahan’s Blanche being written as a “sex maniac” so that audiences can laugh at her expense. That doesn’t necessarily serve women for the better in the real world, says Lem.
A step forward, yes, but more work needs to be done
Despite viewers’ fascination with the fantasy suite, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have been criticized for its stance towards sex in the past.
In 2021, for example, Katie Thurston’s season of The Bachelorette saw mixed reactions for her sex-positive attitude after discussing her vibrator on a first date. Before that, on Hannah Brown’s season in 2019, she and contestant Peter Weber had sex in a windmill — four times. She was later shamed about it by contestant Luke Parker, who she ultimately sent home. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn Bristowe admitted to sleeping with contestant Nick Viall while filming her season in 2015. Years later, she defended Brown after the windmill revelation, writing on Twitter: “Women can have sex if they choose.”
The show has also been called out for its lack of diverse casting and for displaying “anti-fat bias,” leading to the founding of Roses for Every Body, a campaign advocating for body diversity in the show’s casting.
“We see young, attractive people chosen for shows, and that is what is seen as sexually attractive,” Rachel Needle, executive director of the Whole Health Psychological Center and co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, tells Yahoo Entertainment. Not to mention, “sex is often happening under the influence of alcohol and, in certain ways, it’s guiding younger people into thinking this is all that is attractive. For those lacking comprehensive sex education, which too many do, this is what they see as how sex and relationships should be.”
While producers haven’t shared additional information about The Golden Bachelor, including names of the female contestants (ABC chose not to comment when reached by Yahoo Entertainment), Roses for Every Body cautions viewers to not be complacent.
“Will The Golden Bachelor surprise us and finally cast all shapes and sizes? If they do, it will be a cause for celebration, but also concern,” they proclaimed in an Instagram post. “What would this say about the franchise’s view on fat bodies — that it waited until The Golden Bachelor spinoff to cast them?”
‘Age diversity in reality TV is lacking’
Reality TV should be held to a different standard than scripted shows when it comes to age diversity, says Needle, because they have a unique opportunity to show life “as it really is.”
“Most of us are sexual beings from birth to death,” she says. “We all benefit from seeing a healthier portrayal of sexual relationships and behavior across the board, in all ages.” The larger problem is that “age diversity in reality TV is lacking. In The Bachelor, we see a lot of flirting and sex, or implied sex. But in shows with people who are older, we don’t see much of it. And when we do, it is displayed differently.”
“Think of advertisements for erectile difficulties and low sexual desire or libido,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Many people in later ages are having sex and not experiencing these difficulties.” To compensate, older people are “often talked about as ‘cute’ rather than as ‘sexy.'”
Shows like The Golden Bachelor have a chance to “influence our society and individual perceptions and norms around sex and aging” in a more positive light, Twist notes.
As for Lem, she hopes the show will offer a clear, precise message: “It’s not over until it’s over.”