In some ways, Ted Lasso was exactly what everyone needed during the pandemic. It’s funny, heartwarming, redemptive, and a pleasure to watch. The pandemic has had many people feeling low and a show like this can help bring a little humor and happiness into our lives.
But there is an aspect of this show that needs to be addressed: sex. While the show is free of explicit scenes, sex is frequently a topic of discussion in one form or another. Central to the plot are the problems of team owner, Rebecca Welton. Rebecca has recently separated from her husband, Rupert Mannion, after his unfaithfulness and various sexual escapades with younger women are revealed. Rupert is a nasty character who continues to exert his influence over the AFC Richmond franchise, while lording it over his former wife, Rebecca.
The show clearly portrays Rupert as the bad guy, and Rebecca’s grief and anger over Rupert’s actions take up much screen time. When Ted Lasso joins the team as the coach, he becomes a sympathetic ear for Rebecca, even defending her against Rupert’s schemes. We also learn that Lasso has his own experience with divorce. In the first season, Ted and his wife, Michelle, are trying to make their marriage work. We don’t learn the exact nature of the problem in season one, only that Michelle doesn’t have the same feelings for Ted that she did when they first got married. Episode five ends with Ted telling Michelle that she doesn’t have to try anymore. Michelle comforts Ted by telling him he isn’t giving up on the marriage, he’s just letting her go.
Episode seven has Ted signing the divorce papers to make it official. The episode ends when a friend of Rebecca’s walks into Ted’s hotel room to sleep with him. The next time we see Ted, he is wrestling over his decision about whether he should have slept with her, especially after just getting divorced from Michelle. His friends blow it off, asking him the simple question, “Did you have fun?” This, it seems, is all that matters.
Meanwhile, team superstar, Jamie Tartt, and the fading team captain, Roy Kent, are vying for the affections of Keeley Jones, a model and the team’s marketing director. At the beginning of the show, Keeley is dating Jamie. However, she eventually breaks off their relationship because of Jamie’s lack of commitment and his habit of flaunting himself in front of other women. The day after the breakup, Keeley visits Jamie’s house to make up with him, only to realize that he has already slept with another woman.
Roy, seeing an opening, starts taking an interest in Keeley, but Keeley remains unsure of his affections. So, when Jamie visits her a few weeks later, she willingly sleeps with him, despite what seemed like a potential relationship with Roy. This infuriates Roy until his coaches tell him to get over it, grow up, and ask Keeley out. Roy, too, it seems has slept with many women over the course of his life, so he shouldn’t be bothered. Roy goes back to Keeley and states that he’s gotten over what happened between her and Jamie and wants to go out with her.
It’s about What Feels Good
What’s the point of detailing all of these messy relationships? There are several directions we could go with this. We could talk about how in the show, sex really doesn’t seem to mean much—it’s cheap, it’s fun, and it’s not a big deal in the long run. We could talk about the shallow view of marriage—if you’re not feeling it anymore, it is fine and even right to get a divorce. We could talk about problems associated with hook-up culture, the effects of divorce on children, or the fragility of a commitment that is based solely on feelings. But beyond all this, there is something else to notice.
Throughout the show, Rupert is portrayed as the villain. Most people would agree that his actions are disgusting and wrong—being unfaithful to his wife by fooling around with much younger women. The character sort of makes you sick, and he is supposed to. Meanwhile, we are meant to laugh about and enjoy the sexual escapades of the other characters. So, on the one hand, the show celebrates the unhindered sexual expression of most of its characters. On the other, it condemns Rupert for cheating on his wife and sleeping with younger women. But if unhindered sexual expression is the rule, what makes Rupert’s actions wrong?
Of course, there is a key difference between Rupert and the other characters. Rupert was married while he was sleeping around. Furthermore, the other characters in the show aren’t trying to hurt anyone, while Rupert clearly intends to hurt Rebecca with his actions. Perhaps the outrage that is directed toward Rupert, both by characters and by the audience, signals that even secular culture doesn’t think that sexual expression should be totally free. If it hurts someone else, then it’s wrong.
Perhaps this also reveals that secular culture still finds some measure of value in the concepts of marriage and commitment as well. In fact, Keeley recognizes how important these things are and eventually drops Jamie because of his lack of commitment. But then again, even when she is nearly in a relationship with Roy, she’s happy to sleep with Jamie. So while the show wants to hold the importance of commitment, it undermines this by promoting the view that ultimately, sex is about doing what feels good to you. To examine another example, Michelle leaves Ted because she can’t generate the feelings anymore. The show portrays their divorce as a tragic, but ultimately, right thing. That is why, minutes after signing his wife’s divorce papers, Ted Lasso is sleeping with another woman. He is later applauded for this, since he had fun. It felt good.
Again, it is important to note the key difference—Rupert was unfaithful in his marriage, while Ted remained faithful during his marriage, and the other characters have not made any such commitment to marriage. The show (rightly) wants us to see the actions of Rupert as evil; but by promoting sexual liberation and downplaying commitment to marriage, it has left us little ground on which to criticize Rupert.
Ultimately, the actions of all these characters originate in the same idea—the idea that sex isn’t all that meaningful—it doesn’t really matter who you sleep with or when you sleep with them, so long as it’s fun, feels good, and no one gets hurt. But you cannot promote unhindered sexual expression and then be surprised and shocked when people use this freedom to have sex with anyone they want to, regardless of who it hurts. Yet, that is exactly what the show asks us to do.
The show also fails to address how sexual escapades, such as those of Roy, Jamie, Keeley, and Ted, can have just as damaging consequences as the actions of Rupert. The physical, emotional, and psychological toll of hook-up culture is enormous. Sex is among the most intimate experiences that a person can have, so when it is treated with flippancy, it is only natural that people will get hurt. The show encourages us to laugh along as the characters stumble through their sex lives, but it ignores the negative effects of hook-up culture.
Is There Another Way?
Ultimately, if we wish to avoid the destructive consequences of hook-up culture and the horrible scenarios like the one created by Rupert (and there are many such real life examples we could list), then we must find our way back to meaning and purpose for sex, beyond merely personal pleasure and satisfaction. This is where the Scripture can help us. It teaches that sex is profoundly good and meaningful ( Genesis 1:28; Song of Solomon; Matthew 19:5); that sex is intricately bound up with commitment ( Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 5:15-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5); and that sex is not primarily about what we can get from one another, but about self-giving love (1 Corinthians 7:1-5; Ephesians 5).
Of course, if we follow the Christian way, we will also experience pain—the pain of waiting till marriage for sex, and for some, never experiencing sexual intimacy. This pain is not something to be sniffed at or brushed aside. It is real and it hurts. It is a heavy cross. But we do not have to carry it alone. The same One who says, “take up your cross” (Matthew 16:24) also invites those who are weary to come to him to find rest (Matthew 11:28-29). When we pick up the cross, Jesus comes alongside us and carries it with us. The kind of pain that we experience in following Christ in this way is a pain that can sanctify us, opening us up to God and to others.
I realize that this barely even scratches the surface of a Christian view of sex and relationships, and it leaves a whole host of questions unanswered. This is not the place to dive headlong into those things. For that, we encourage you to interact with the resources below. For now, it is enough to become aware of how the view of sex that is often celebrated in our culture ignores the negative effects of unhindered sexual expression, offers no adequate foundation on which to condemn abuse, and so often leaves us sick with hurt. For those who know this hurt firsthand, healing is possible, and there is grace, far beyond what you can possibly imagine.
Sign up here to receive weekly Reflect emails in your inbox!