How 'The Bold Type' Is Changing the Conversation Around Sex and Sexuality on TV

Showrunner Amanda Lasher and stars Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee and Meghann Fahy talk with THR about why it's important to push the boundaries on the Freeform favorite.
Courtesy of Freeform

After nearly two short seasons, Freeform's The Bold Type continues to draw praise for its portrayal of young, career-driven women experiencing true-to-life situations surrounding love, sex and their careers. Since its debut last year, the Freeform dramedy has proven to be a transformative series for the way in which its characters navigate sex and sexuality.

In series premiere, viewers were introduced to best friends and Scarlet magazine colleagues Jane (Katie Stevens), Kat (Aisha Dee) and Sutton (Meghann Fahy), whose relationship has no boundaries when it comes to normalizing conversations around sex and sexuality.

"We're starting a dialogue about this stuff, where before, I think, in generations past, a lot of these things have been taboo to talk about," Dee tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I love that we get to be messy and talk about all that stuff on the show."

Before the #MeToo movement and fall of Harvey Weinstein, The Bold Type took a nuanced look at power dynamics in the workplace through Fahy's Sutton. When the series launched, Sutton’s relationship with Richard (Sam Page) — an older man and member of Scarlet's board of directors — is depicted as a clandestine affair. The storyline is quick to establish that their relationship is respectful and consensual, though they mutually decide to keep it from everyone (outside of Jane and Kat), given Sutton's role as a low-level assistant. While the storyline could have gone in a very different direction, season one showrunner Sarah Watson opted to tell a different story, Fahy says.

"It's a very mutually loving and respectful relationship that Sutton and Richard have," she says. That set up a season two storyline in which Scarlet institutes a corporate policy that would allow Sutton and Richard to openly date. When the duo opts to go public, Sutton is the target of workplace gossip and claims that she's sleeping her way to the top and it leads her to question her decision to pursue a relationship with Richard.

"The story we're trying to tell here is that even if you do have a loving, respectful relationship with a person who is a superior of some kind to a woman, you can be viewed a certain way in a negative way,” Fahy says. The issue persists in the second episode of season two (now airing on Freeform) as Sutton wonders whether she earned her job in the fashion department by being a flirt after she is slut-shamed by colleague Mitzi (Katharine King).

At the same time, Sutton's boss, Oliver (Stephen Conrad Moore), taps her to spearhead a photo shoot with male models because men seem to like her. “There's a stigma still that comes along with dating somebody who is in a more powerful position than you are and who is in the same company that you work for. We wanted to call attention to that, examine it, and say, 'Why are we doing this to people? And why are other women perpetuating that?'"

Apart from power dynamics, one of the main plotlines throughout The Bold Type’s tenure has revolved around Kat exploring her queer identity after she realizes she has feelings for photographer Adena El Amin (Nikohl Boosheri).

"I've always seen sexuality as something that evolves throughout your entire life,” Dee says. “It's not like you turn 18 and you know exactly who you are because you're legally an adult now. And it's not often that you get to see people in their 20s still navigating that.” By season two, the two queer women of color are officially a couple as The Bold Type leans harder into portraying realistic the challenges and questions that arise following Kat's coming out. 

Season two opened in June with Adena calling Kat out for her unwillingness to perform oral sex — and her refusal to even discuss the matter. It allowed Kat to explore her insecurities about the subject and ultimately led to a candid dialogue about a topic that isn't often addressed on mainstream TV shows.

"Even when [characters] have a frank conversation about what they need from their partner in the bedroom, I don't think there's any show where I've ever seen two women have a conversation where it's like, 'OK, look, I love you, but I need this from you right now,'" Dee explains. “We can all learn a little something about Adena asking for what we want.”

The Bold Type — one of the cornerstones of Disney-owned Freeform's rebranding to focus on "becomers," young people who are experiencing first love, first jobs and more — has helped inspire viewers to open up when they may be scared or unsure and ask for help when they need it. The couple's candid conversation leads to one of the show's (and network's) boldest sex scenes yet: When Adena and Kat have their long-awaited moment in the bedroom.

"I always directed a lot with queer sexuality where there's always cutting away; the camera doesn't stay on the action per se,” season two showrunner Amanda Lasher tells THR. “And it wasn't about being gratuitous, it was about wanting to show that and normalize that.”

The Bold Type focuses on sex positivity for all three of its central cast members, but it's also particularly concentrated on Jane as she becomes more comfortable with sex in general. During season one, Jane is tasked with writing an essay about her best orgasm, but she struggles to do so because she’s never had one.

"I've talked to so many women who are like, 'I've never had [an orgasm] either, like I've always thought something was wrong with me,'" Stevens tells THR. "To watch the show and see that's a character experience is comforting.”

With the help of a Yoni egg and her former love interest Ryan (Dan Jeannotte), Jane masters the orgasm and continues her own sexual awakening in season two. She finds herself opening up to one of her male allies from Sutton's shoot, Ben (Luca James), and they begin seeing one another romantically. But as Jane discovers Ben's religious beliefs, she encounters a new hurdle, because she lost her faith when her mom died after battling breast cancer. Jane hesitates to get close to Ben because of it, but when the relationship evolves, she makes sure he believes in premarital sex.

"I think that's an interesting conversation, because people see sexuality differently, they see sex differently,” Stevens notes. “It would be interesting to touch more on it and to have a character who is religious and maybe doesn't believe in premarital sex, and what that looks like."

With The Bold Type already renewed for a third season, Jane, Kat and Sutton’s stories will continue to push boundaries. “One of the things that the writers and I have been talking about is this idea of sexual fluidity: how Kat doesn't define herself and doesn't put a label on herself,” Lasher says. “Being able to explore all aspects of your sexuality, and deepening that."

The Bold Type airs Tuesdays on Freeform.