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We all know that feeling – you’re halfway through your new steamy book, sexual tension grows, your cheeks burn red, and you pray to some superior being that nobody on the train can see what you’re reading.
Or perhaps you’re watching the latest teen drama show, enjoying the secret glances, the innuendos, the awkward touch of passing hands that gets dispelled quickly only to be replaced with a hotter, heavier, hornier scene later in the episode.
But what happens when they finally do it? When the gleaming, perfect fictional bodies collide and just do it – they finally fuck. That’s when it all goes downhill.
While critics are yawning at the prude-ish lack of sex in the second season of Bridgerton, I’m wondering if this season isn’t actually hotter.
To me, the second instalment of the ever-growing world of Bridgerton was just as steamy as its predecessor even though there was little to no explicit erotica. The first season shocked the nation and the world with its pretty in pink regency drama, Gossip Girl plot, and, what was it, oh yes – a whopping 15 sex scenes.
Audiences around the world blushed, giggled, and shrieked, watching a hot and heavy romance develop between protagonists Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and the Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page).
The show broke records immediately, becoming Netflix’s most popular English language TV show of all time, setting the bar high for Season 2.
The second season, set in a kind of 1800s upper-class London, tells the story of Daphne’s elder brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), Viscount Bridgerton and head of the Bridgerton family. To fulfil his duties, he must marry and overcome the emotional trauma of losing his father – in comes Kate (Simone Ashley) and Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran), the latter of which hopes to marry some rich nobleman. The three embark on an (entirely predictable, but incredibly enjoyable) love triangle.
Critics soon did their job, finding everything to criticise about Season 2: not enough sex, not enough fun, a show so entirely different that it deserved another name… the list goes on. And some viewers were disappointed too.
On Twitter, journalist Ria Amber Tesia says: “Slow burn was great, but perhaps went on for a little too long.”
“It’s so much more boring than Season 1. MUCH less interested in this season, can’t believe there’s no steaminess,” says radio producer Jemima Carr-Jones.
But then why is it such a success? How has it beaten Season 1’s record? Surely it’s not just the leftover clout from Season 1 – people are still watching, and perhaps they enjoyed this season’s subdued sexuality even more.
If you look at the trending romantic tropes – in both the classics and modern erotica, from Romeo & Juliet to A Court of Thorns and Roses – you’ll find enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, the love triangle, forbidden love, soul mates… But the catharsis in the story is the struggle, the moments the protagonists can’t be together, the moments in which they almost are but some fateful event interrupts at the last moment. We love the jealousy, the jesting, the change in perspective – the sex is actually just a natural, logical outcome of such tension and energy.
“The first season of Bridgerton was mostly compelling due to the aesthetic of the sex scenes and the amiability of Daphne and Simon,” says Inês Ribeiro, a film direction student and fan of the series. “However, I think that a good slow burn with the tension, frustration, and banter tops any other romance trope.”
“Kate and Anthony have it all: from the ‘I can’t stand you but I can’t lose you either’, to the complexity of both personalities, to the most palpable chemistry. To me, the yearning is the best part of any enemies to lovers story”, she says. “I just love having to bite my pillow in order to contain the frustration I feel.”
While many of us will undoubtedly find ourselves throwing our hands up in exasperation multiple times during the second season, in the end, it creates a strange feeling of closure – and a much heavier desire to read the book series than the first season. Yes, Season 1 gave us Simon’s popular “I burn for you” quote – but Season 2 hit us with the “You are the bane of my existence… and the object of all my desires.” Season 1 was a flicker of a match, Season 2 was a slow, slow-burning candle.
Who wants to be told a simple “I love you” when you can be THE BANE of someone’s existence?
“At first, I was frustrated by the lack of sexually intimate moments shown in season 1, because it was that satisfaction, to see what happens after ‘The Kiss’, that made it different to everything else,” says actress Paige Prior. “However, season 2’s intensity meant that I was constantly wanting more and felt a need to binge the series, craving the satisfaction season 1 gave me. I was expecting the sex and therefore, when it didn’t come, I wanted it more. I think both seasons used sex to the best advantage to play with the audience.”
Indeed, many people prefer the anticipation or emotional lead-up to sex than explicit representations of sex. It might be why some prefer reading an exciting romance to watching porn – it leaves more up to the imagination. Or why some people find it hard to sustain long-term romantic relationships after they’ve had sex with a partner – where’s the mystery gone?
At its core, the second instalment of Bridgerton tells a truth: nobody’s sexual journey or relationship needs to be the same. Daphne and Simon had so many scenes of explicit sex because they were an essential step in her self-discovery as a young woman and in the development of their relationship. But Anthony, Kate, and Edwina, already stuck in a tricky love triangle, are playing on a different level, no more or less emotionally complex.
It is a vexing season for sure, but one to rile the emotions of those who prefer subdued sexiness to blunt sex scenes.
Enjoyed this article? Read more here: Meet the erotica BookTokers: Why people are celebrating their love of smut