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Juan Pablo Galavis is the current heartthrob of The Bachelor, ABC’s reality dating show, with 27 women clamoring for his attention and love. According to his bio on the show’s website, the single father claims The Bachelor will help him find his wife and a stepmother for his daughter. He also says that what his daughter wants more than anything in the world is a brother and a sister to complete their family. Wow, that’s a tall order.

It’s evident that Juan Pablo has big hopes and dreams for the unnatural dating experience he has embarked upon. It makes you wonder if he is aware of his counterparts’ track records. In the past 17 seasons of The Bachelor, only one Bachelor, Sean Lowe of season 17, is set to marry the woman he proposed to on the show. The lack of romantic success on The Bachelor isn’t really surprising when you consider that the entire season only takes between six weeks and three months to film. That is a ridiculously short amount of time to find and commit to a life partner, especially when the majority of that experience is spent dating and engaging in physical intimacy with multiple women, simultaneously.

The lack of romantic success on The Bachelor isn’t really surprising when you consider that the entire season only takes between six weeks and three months to film.

Yet we watch, we wait, we hope, we talk about it with our girlfriends, and we might even wonder what it would be like to be one of the bachelorettes vying for his attention and love. We’re also not alone. This season’s opening night boasted an astounding 8.6 million viewers, the program’s best premiere in 3 years, and was ranked as the night’s most-watched TV series. With such a devoted following, we need to look closer at how these reality dating shows are really influencing us. We might like to think that it’s just pure and simple entertainment, but the research is showing that it can impact our hearts, actions and minds in the areas of dating and sexual relationships.

Scholars have found that young adults who watch reality TV shows that focus on sexual relationships are more likely to have one-night stands than viewers who do not watch these shows. Research has also discovered that the more reality dating programs people watch, the more likely they are to view dating as a game and to buy into stereotypical sexual beliefs. Translation: they are more likely to believe, for example, that a woman needs to use her body to attract a man, that dating is all about appearances, and that men are only after one thing – sex. This makes sense, seeing that a study of 64 hours of reality dating shows found that the three primary themes that frequently occur (an amazing 14-15 times an hour) are: (1) women are sex objects, (2) men are sex-driven, and (3) dating is a game.

Research has also discovered that the more reality dating programs people watch, the more likely they are to view dating as a game and to buy into stereotypical sexual beliefs.

The verdict is in. The messages on romantic relationships that we watch on television—reality dating, romantic comedies and dramas, soap operas, etc.—can negatively color our perceptions of sex and love. Studies have acknowledged that greater exposure to these messages leads young women, in particular, to expect sex to occur earlier in relationships, to have more permissive attitudes about sex, and to have idealistic expectations about marriage (e.g., that marriage will have a great deal of romance, passion, and happiness; and, that the wedding day will be the best day of their lives).

So, as we swoon over the new Bachelor and watch a steady stream of made-for-TV romance movies on Hallmark and Lifetime, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves that these views of love, sex, and marriage are rarely images of reality. They are simply framed and edited in a way that’s meant to engage and entertain us. For those of us who are marriage bound, or who are already married, let’s remember that, according to scholars, unrealistic, romanticized notions about married life have a huge influence on people’s satisfaction with their marriage and desire to get divorced. Most of us know from experience that marital love isn’t always about romantic feelings and physical attraction, but rather commitment, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and patience. We know that it can be wonderful, yet challenging at the same time.

We also might wish we could share some of our collective wisdom with Nikki, a current contestant on The Bachelor, who recently said about marriage, “I want that head-over-heels in love, can’t get enough of each other feeling, and I don’t want that feeling for, like, two weeks in the beginning. I want that feeling forever.”

Oh, Nikki, maybe you’ve been watching too much television.

What do you think? Has watching reality dating shows impacted your view of sex and relationships?

Image via Jeremiah & Rachel

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6 comments

  1. “Let’s take a step back and remind ourselves that these views of love, sex, and marriage are rarely images of reality. They are simply framed and edited in a way that’s meant to engage and entertain us.” Amen!

    I’ve been careful in what in the romance movies I allow myself to watch because I know that they paint a false picture of love and what a real relationship should be like and they always give me expectations that are unrealistic. I think even though people know and understand that most of what goes on in this show is merely for entertainment purposes they still get so caught up in it and allow it to affect their perception of real love.

    Great article!

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