When Netflix renewed Bridgerton after Season 1, it was with the tantalizing promise of more sex. Sure, there would be a dizzying number of glitzy balls, string covers of Harry Styles’ pop bangers, and beautifully made gowns, but those were considered appetizers. Sex was its main course.
But when Season 2 premiered, the Shonda Rhimes-produced Regency drama had switched gears — setting the internet abuzz with thinkpieces and reviews blasting the show for its newfound “modesty.” Some demanded to know where, exactly, all the sex had gone. Others claimed it just wasn’t horny enough. The discourse got so heated that stars Jonathan Bailey (Anthony Bridgerton) and Simone Ashley (Kate Sharma) emerged to defend the lack of on-screen shagging. Insistent on proving that the show had snuffed out all the raunch and romps that made its first season so memorable, critics had overlooked all of the toe-curling, thigh-clenching passion of the season’s driving romance.
Season 2 of Bridgerton is actually filled with just as many erotic scenes as Season 1, if you reconsider your definition of sex. Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., an author, certified sex therapist, and psychology professor at the University of Florida, tells Elite Daily the idea that sex is limited to only the act of penetration stifles pleasurable experiences had by male-bodied and female-bodied individuals, as well as gender nonconforming and trans people. “We use the word ‘sex’ and ‘intercourse’ as if they were one and the same. And we use the word ‘foreplay’ for everything leading up to it as if it's just the lead-up to the main event,” Mintz says.
In reality, sex is much more complex. According to Mintz, society thinks of sex on the gender binary in that it overvalues cis male sexual pleasure. But if we were to turn the tables and, for example, value cis women’s sexual experiences, we’d “call foreplay ‘sex’ and intercourse ‘post-play.’” “The language we use is really important and reflects this overvaluing that we need to get away from,” Mintz says. “The definition of sex does not need to include penetration or orgasm.”
Knowing this, Season 2’s slow-burn focus on the physical manifestation of attraction and its heroine’s enjoyment of oral sex feels all the more revolutionary. Bridgerton isn’t just giving us sex — it’s giving us a new way to think about it.
A 2017 study from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University found that only 18% of cisgender, straight women can orgasm from vaginal penetration alone. (Because this study focused exclusively on how people with vaginas achieved orgasm, the experiences of transgender folks and some members of LGBTQ+ communities were likely excluded.)
But many people need different types of stimulation — manual, auditory, cerebral, and emotional — especially if orgasm is the goal. This is why the build-up in Bridgerton’s second season matters a hell of a lot more than any rain-soaked sex marathon in Season 1. While fans might have fallen head over heels for Regé-Jean Page, this season we’re meant to lust for the connection Kate and Anthony have — one that feels unique, visceral, and all-consuming.
Bridgerton’s intimacy coordinator, Lizzy Talbot, says the “Bridgerton way” is all about championing the female gaze. “Not everything has to be extremely active or penetrative to still be sexy,” Talbot says. “It's the space in between. That's the exciting thing. This season, we've really seen what a build-up can do for establishing character and a long-term relationship.”
From hand grazes to longing looks, Bailey and Ashley relied on multiple senses and choreography to showcase their characters’ almost animalistic attraction to one another. But the most significant physical movements that conveyed their palpable tension? Breathwork — the panting, sniffing, and synchronized breathing they perform throughout the season.
According to Mintz, bringing breathwork and smell into the picture is a subtle way to show chemistry between two people, and paying attention to things like sound and scent can also intensify desire and sexual tension. “Attending to one’s senses enhances mindfulness, which enhances orgasm,” Mintz says. “We know that a partner’s scent can be arousing, and that sounds are a turn-on. Sight and sound play a role for [everyone].”
Bridgerton’s choice to spotlight more forms of sex than just penetrative is exciting. It’s why fans held their breath every time Anthony inhaled Kate’s scent — before entering a museum or at afternoon tea in front of her entire damn family. It’s why the pinky grazes (a subtle nod to certain Hindu wedding rituals that signify love and commitment) and hand fondling — after a failed church wedding, during a climactic sexcapade on the Bridgerton family lawn — felt just as charged and raw as any medley of short sex snippets from Season 1. And it’s why that pivotal bee sting scene, though altered from its book form, felt just as earth-shatteringly erotic, panic-attack-induced synchronized breathing and all.
Season 2 took its time drawing out the pleasure and giving its romantic leads the space to yearn (and burn) for one another. Talbot reiterates some of those charged scenes — like Anthony’s declaration of lust for Kate in the library — centered around choreographed breathwork. “We're always talking about breathwork whenever we're doing any intimate scene,” Talbot says. “Because when you're breathing together, you're far more connected. It's a different type of intimacy.”
This type of intimacy is necessitated by the season’s storyline. While Season 1 of Bridgerton focused on a sheltered woman’s (Daphne Bridgerton, played by Phoebe Dynevor) sexual awakening, Season 2’s romantic leads are more experienced and confident in what they want in the bedroom. Because this season veered away from its book counterpart early on, Talbot had more freedom to choreograph the more intimate scenes, choosing to take an unexpected route when it came to Season 2, Episode 7’s rendezvous between Kate and Anthony — one that takes place in the family’s garden after a heated argument forces both to finally act on their attraction. This time, she was determined to expand audiences’ ideas about intercourse by approaching it from a decidedly feminist point of view.
“Kate is guiding Anthony because she knows exactly what she wants,” Talbot says. “I think we get to see a different side of Anthony there, which is so wonderful because we don't see that side of him when they are sparring. You see that complete desire to give Kate pleasure. When you see that you’re like, ‘That could be it. That's why this guy could be a potential husband.’”
Talbot worked with Bailey and Ashley to ensure they both felt comfortable enough shooting these intimate scenes. And mimicking oral sex and displaying it from a cis woman’s point of view required a clever workaround. “The barrier we use the most is actually this memory foam pillow that I picked up on a flight from London to New York,” Talbot says. “It’s a kidney-bean shape and it’s inflatable. I'm reluctant to give the name in case there's a run on them.”
Mechanics aside, both Mintz and Talbot hope that Bridgerton’s drawn-out, cerebral approach to sexual intimacy this season — one that doesn’t solely rely on heteronormative penetration and instead showcases how the senses can be instrumental in building attraction and sexual tension — can broaden fans’ minds about what people find sexy and why.
“Regardless of women or men, the biggest sex organ is your brain,” Mintz says. “Think of the brain as the conductor of the orgasm orchestra. Pleasure can't happen without the brain working.”
This time around, Bridgerton asked fans to do more than ogle at attractive people ripping their clothes off. Instead, Season 2 encouraged viewers to reframe their ideas of sex and intimacy by focusing on all the elements that go into it. It’s not about just having your cake and eating it — it’s about enjoying the process, the time it takes to make and bake it, too.
I doubt even Lady Whistledown could argue with that.