Netflix’s new drama Bridgerton will definitely be the sex positive cup of tea for many viewers. The Regency series is produced by Shonda Rhimes, the producer Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, who once again hangs her name on a feminist, powerful, and very sexy project. In his eight-part run, Bridgerton touches all those basics, and then a few, especially in a refreshing masturbation scene centered on women.
Healthy depictions of female pleasure on screen are more common these days, with some historical dramas on the small and big screen showing the way forward. Nevertheless, clitoral and vaginal stimulation is still largely new in the genre. Over the years, the mainstream media has replaced impressive images of virgin fruits or flowers, which have been dazzled by perfectly neat fingers. Although they are suggestive, such symbols of female masturbation aim to disinfect a moment that should be funny, explosive, and chaotic.
In Bridgerton, the heroine who plays solo turns into a revolutionary narrative to reveal the sexual hypocrisy of double standards.
Created by Chris Van Dusen, this inclusive and delightful camp series revolves around the London wedding market of the 1800s. Young women are pushed by their mothers to secure the best match. Unfortunately, they receive little or no information about what happens after tying the knot.
Sex — in the form of heteronormative male-centered “marital relationships” — is often hastily reduced to something women have to endure rather than enjoy. Unmarried ladies who dare to give in to their instincts almost instantly lose their status and are victims of a system that still considers virginity to be a woman’s most desirable quality. Even more than a considerable dowry.
While men are free to engage in liaisons, respectable young women are ashamed to suppress their impulses. Their sexuality is constantly monitored, they are left in the dark about how their body works. However, the same bodies are highly sexualized, stuck in evil corsets and petticoats intended to address men. Dealing with the noise of meat among these layers is another thing that is almost never addressed.
Bridgerton’s protagonist, Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), is no exception. At least, until she made a deal with Simon, Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page). When they claim to be doing well in the market, Daphne is introduced to the pleasures of masturbation. In Art of the Swoon, a steaming and explicit dialogue trigger the young woman’s sexual awakening.
“I laugh at the absurdity of how little moms tell their daughters,” Simon says as he walks around.
“They don’t tell us anything,” Daphne confirms.
She seeks advice, aware that only a false pretender would tell her the truth. While it may seem problematic for a man to order a woman how to feast on herself, the sequence is respectful and sensual. When the Duke realizes that Daphne has never masturbated, the atmosphere becomes tenser. Full of anticipation, the exchange lays the foundation for the second half of the season, perhaps sexier.
“When you’re alone, you can touch yourself… everywhere on your body, wherever it gives you joy,” Simon tells Daphne.
“But especially between the legs,” he whispers, dramatically accelerating the heart rate of half the audience.
The next scene is a crucial moment for Daphne. Bridgerton presents the viewer with the symbolism of the flower open on the nose. It is significant that the heroine leaves behind the white rose that Simon gave her following her advice. She begins to gently touch her body, then pulls up her nightgown. The camera follows her with every move, while slowly but surely grasping the center of her pleasure.
Unlike other traditional depictions of masturbation, bridgertons doesn’t hesitate to focus clearly on Daphne’s body and face when he reaches his peak.
This funny cut seals the deal for this scene that ends with the young woman playing the piano the next morning. After experiencing her very first orgasm, Daphne is relaxed and manages to complete a song she had to deal with. Curiously, her mother congratulates her on her “finish”. Although a man has told her how to touch herself, Daphne takes full responsibility for the present moment.
In addition to Bridgerton, a number of other costume dramas have also depicted female masturbation in recent years. In the outlander episode “Surrender”, Caitriona Balfes Claire thinks of her lover Jamie while her husband, Frank, sleeps. In such a sexy and female-focused show, this masturbation scene seemed a bit lackluster.
Unlike Daphne, Claire is a modern woman who has already made love and knows what she loves. But the moment is full of guilt and shame, as she is torn between family responsibilities and exciting adventures in another time and elsewhere. Later in the episode, she tries to do well by snorkeling with Frank, although it is clear that she is not having fun.
Much like Bridgerton, The Great on Hulu is a very funny, sexy, not quite historically correct period drama. The series about Catherine, the future Empress of Russia, has her best character in Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilov). In “And You, Sir, Are No Peter The Great”, Elizabeth gets it in public and looks at a statue of the late Emperor Peter the Great. The Dolly focuses on the character masturbating on the stairs of the palace, the scene observed from the statue’s point of view.
Especially in Bridgerton, the masturbation scene is not only played for laughs as in The Great, nor to bridge the gap between two lovers as in Outlander. This is certainly not an invitation for a man to participate, as is the case with Reign.
This is Daphne’s moment and her only one. An act of self-solicitude to understand their desire and, ultimately, regain power over their bodies. That’s not to say that masturbating couldn’t improve a couple’s sex life. On the contrary. When Daphne and Simon get married, he asks them to show him what she likes in his room. This is a very modern exchange, which is only possible because Daphne knows what she wants and how she works at this stage.
This utilitarian and sensual masturbation scene is part of Bridgerton’s broader and necessary conversation about consent and sex positivity. Not bad for another historical drama.