Lifestyle

Opinion: ‘Married At First Sight’ has some serious consent issues that make me physically sick

Switching OFF.

Married At First Sight is the reality TV show that has us all glued to our screens, frantically Instagram-stalking contestants and reading every single piece of speculative news on the couples we've become borderline obsessed with. Love it or hate it — whatever your opinion on the show is — you can't help but agree that it is TV gold, pushing ratings through the roof and making celebrities out of these brides and grooms.

But have you ever watched an episode and felt somewhat jarred by what was going on in front of you? Has a piece of action on screen ever sat funny in your stomach and made you really concerned about the contestants involved?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, you're not alone.

I have been watching this season of the show, as I have with every other season, and felt physically sick about the message the programme promotes — that consent is irrelevant in a relationship.

Obviously, this is a strange, isolated context for a relationship, and it's so overly produced that I almost don't want to compare it to real life — but the truth of the matter is that these are real people on the show, put in somewhat real relationships, and who are now dealing with real problems.

Rewind back to the first-ever episode of the season: the wedding episodes.

We are given very little context of the relationships before we're off to the big 'I dos' where two strangers meet, exchange vows and are heavily pressured to kiss one another.

Red flag number one.

Feeling pressure to be physical with someone is a consent issue. Arguably, it's not coming directly from the partner, but instead from the congregation, the celebrant and the production team — but there is still an inherent lack of: "You may now kiss the bride… if you're both OK with that, and it's totally fine if you're not. No biggie. You do you."

Shortly after the wedding, the newlywed couple head to their honeymoon suite — which is conveniently a one-bedroom, one-bed, situation. Again, encouraging physical intimacy without a check in to the contestants about how they feel about sharing a bed with, or even being left alone in a room with, a complete stranger they know nothing about.

The same one-room, one-bed, rule applies for the rest of the show — including when the couple 'moves in together' to the MAFS flats in Sydney. This is paired with a regular 'check in' with the newlyweds to see whether they've done the deed yet, shoveling more pressure on the couples.

Skipping forward a few episodes, we found ourselves watching the horror show that was 'Yes Week', and dear god this was a shit storm for consent issues.

The premise of 'Yes Week' is that one partner (selected by the 'experts') gets complete control over their spouse — dictating what they do, where they go, what they eat, what they wear, EVERYTHING.

This is such a dangerous message to promote, because no one in a healthy relationship should hold all the power and put ridiculous, selfish demands on their partner that they simply have to abide by. Rather than the show encouraging communication, consideration and respect, they showcased power imbalances and a complete disregard for consent.

Another HUGE problem with Married At First Sight and it's shoddy attempt at promoting consent is in their usually fiery and controversial commitment ceremonies.

The commitment ceremonies happen each week and are a rather new addition to the show, offering the couples the chance to air their problems to the experts (whilst in front of a whole camera crew, the rest of the MAFS cast, and, of course, the whole of Australia). Once they've had their bizarre therapy session, the couples are asked to vote whether they would like to stay or leave the experiment and their for-TV-marriage.

Though this seems like a productive conversation that gives contestants the chance to opt out of this reality TV environment if they so choose, it's actually quite the opposite. The consent-fuckery-loophole is that if one votes 'leave' and the other votes 'stay', the couple must remain on the show and in their relationship.

NEWS FLASH: That is not how relationships work.

If someone wants to leave a relationship, they should be able to walk out that door straight away and not be forced into staying with someone who they don't want to be with — or, even worse, someone who they are scared of.

The fact that Married At First Sight demands that individuals stay in a relationship that they are not consenting too is terrifying and frankly quite damaging to both the poor sod who is forced into staying, and the whole of the country who is watching this thinking that this 'expert'-approved method is a good one to abide by.

The fact that this season isn't even over yet and we have come across so many red flags and the show is still promoting that there is "much more drama to come," makes me truly fucking worried that shit is just going to get worse. More consent issues, more questionable ethics, and more damage done to the contestants and the viewers.

Hate to use Dean as an example of my feelings right now, but his face here pretty much sums up my feelings towards Married At First Sight. A big fat NO from me.

If you or someone you know needs to talk about any of these issues, contact ReachOut, RAINN or Lifeline for support and advice