What's 'Bridgerton' Without the Sex?

Season 2 of the Netflix show betrays its romance roots by barely acknowledging or indulging women’s sexual desires that the genre is celebrated for.

kate sharma and anthony bridgerton season 2
(Image credit: Netflix/Marie Claire)

Dearest readers, the time has come for another season—of Bridgerton. In honor of the highly anticipated return of the Regency-era romp, we’re digging up all the sex, scandals, and secrets of the Netflix show. Sorry Lady Whistledown, Marie Claire’s Bridgerton Week is about to be the hottest read in town.

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Bridgerton season 2.

Season 1 of Bridgerton was full of hot and heavy action. It was sexy and provocative. That was, in no small part, what we loved about it. But after a full year of waiting patiently for season 2 of the Netflix adaptation, all we got was a whole lot of repressed longing. Not only does it take until the last moments of the eight-episode run for our romantic leads to actually get naked, but the entire tone of the show is decidedly less steamy. 

Season 2 is based on the Julia Quinn-penned book, The Viscount Who Loved Me. Like in the book, the show focuses on Anthony, the eldest Bridgerton sibling. Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) has decided to leave his rakish ways behind him and do his familial duty by choosing a wife. He decides to pursue the “diamond” of the season, Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran), but is constantly stymied by her shrewish older sister Kate (Simone Ashley)—who is, of course, Anthony’s true love.

Don’t get me wrong, both Bailey and Ashley can sell the hell out of a tortured gaze and a seductive graze of the fingers. And Chandran as Edwina is a delight, even if she doesn’t get a real personality until the final couple of episodes. But dragging out this slow-burn love affair and making us wait until three quarters of the season for Anthony and Kate to even kiss was a mistake. There is such a thing as too much foreplay, you know. 

Even worse, all those titillating early flirtations and side-plot dalliances that made season 1 so risqué are now gone, which is a disservice not only to horny fans, but to the very romance genre the show is meant to honor. The book this season is based on still has plenty of steamy sex scenes to keep the reader engaged until Anthony and Kate finally get it on. By cleaning up all of the indulgent, borderline porny sex, fans are left instead with a kooky meditation on Regency-era feminism and marital politics. If we wanted that, we'd read Jane Austen. 

The romance genre is not just about acknowledging women’s sexual desires but also indulging them, and a TV series that intends to adapt the genre should stay true to that. As with all genre fiction, there is an element of wish-fulfillment in romance. But unlike science fiction, fantasy, superhero, or mystery—genres coded male, in other words—romance has rarely ever been taken seriously enough to warrant straight film or TV adaptations, despite being one of the most popular and best selling literary genres. No one is denying that there is sex, sometimes over-indulgent sex, in those other genre adaptations, as well (hi, Game of Thrones), but there is real value in a narrative centering sex from a woman’s perspective rather than just boobs and doing it doggy style. 

We read historical romance for the heroine who is so overcome by desire that she’s willing to cross the bounds of propriety to fulfill that need. Romance novels don't punish or mock their heroines for these desires—or for acting on them—but treat them as normal. We got that in season 1 of Bridgerton—which helped make it a breakout hit. And it's all there in the book that the second season is based on, too. 

So, why does season 2 wait until the show's final moments for Kate to get to this propriety-crossing moment, and why does she nearly kill herself in shame immediately afterwards? 

Anthony Bridgerton emerges from the water in a season 2 scene

Anthony Bridgerton gets wet in season 2, but viewers were largely left high and dry. 

(Image credit: Netflix)

You don’t need to have your main characters constantly going at it to make a show sexy or to stay true to the romance, of course. The first season made its horniness evident early on with the Duke’s innuendo-laced flirting (like when he told Daphne to “touch herself"). There’s also plenty of sex in season 1 side-plots thanks to the libertine Bridgerton brothers. Remember Anthony's extremely hot interludes with his opera singer and Benedict's orgies? (The most action Benedict gets in Season 2 is one topless art school model.)

While Season 1 took its time with its sex scenes, season 2 rushes right through. By the time we get a proper sex scene—in the final 12 minutes of episode seven, to be exact—I was too irritated to even enjoy it. It felt perfunctory, historically not the best sex ever, inserted just to make sure fans didn’t riot. 

If we're going to wait that long, the sex could have at least felt like a final burst of cathartic passion. But by the time we get to it, the show is nearly over, and the love triangle was barely believable anyway. Bridgerton isn't exactly a will-they-or-won’t-they kind of show. It’s a romance—we already know that Anthony and Kate will—which made the increasingly nonsensical plot obstacles keeping them apart grating rather than exciting. I’m sorry, does this show expect me to care about Benedict’s art school while I’m still waiting for Anthony and Kate to move beyond a lingering hand-hold? 

So, yes, we do finally get our happy ending, with Anthony and Kate having sex very properly within the bounds of marriage, as we always knew they would. But, after so much waiting, I was left, in short, unsatisfied. 

Kathleen Walsh

Kathleen Walsh is a freelance writer and editor whose work focuses on culture, dating, and feminism and especially where all three intersect. Her writing can be found in the New York Times, InStyle, Teen Vogue, and more.