If last night's episode of the Bachelor was any indication, it seems like there will be a lot of hype about having sex this season, because, as so many people reiterated last night, Colton is a virgin.
But the Bachelor has a history of making a big deal about sex, and exaggerating people's sexual histories for the sake of television. Remember when Raven Gates revealed that she, like 10% of women, had never had an orgasm before? Producers made it seem like she was a space alien! Another sex-related topic that also rarely comes up on the show is sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Last year, writer Amy Kaufman shed some light on how the Bachelor handles STIs in her book Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure. Kaufman details the intense process of getting on the show, which includes a health screening. Producers comb through every personal health issue that the contestants have, from their mental health history to the medications they use. According to Kaufman, contestants even have to submit blood and urine samples so they can test for drugs and STIs.
Anyone who tested positive for an STI would allegedly be taken out of the running, and this happened a lot. In fact, the most common STI they would come across was herpes, Ben Hatta, former assistant for Mike Fleiss, the creator and executive producer of Bachelor, told Kaufman. "And sometimes you’d be the first person to tell a contestant that they had herpes," Hatta told Kaufman. "You’d be like, 'Uh, you should call your doctor.' Why? 'We’re not going to be able to have you on our show, but you should call your doctor.'"
Considering that an estimated one in six adults have herpes in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence among prospective Bachelor contestants tracks. You can get genital herpes by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a person who has it, and often partners will not have visible sores, so they may not know that they have it, according to the CDC. Herpes can also be spread through saliva, if the person has an oral herpes breakout, which means you could get it from kissing — and we know how much kissing goes down on the Bachelor.
Obviously it behooves producers to know about the contestants' STI status. But the thing is, discussing your STI status with a partner before you even kiss (which, BTW Bach, requires consent) is totally possible — and it's a reality that people with STIs have to face. "Some people prefer to have this conversation right away when they begin dating someone, and may not want to be with someone who judges them for having an STI," Kristen Lilla, LCSW, a sex therapist and sexuality educator told Refinery29. "Other people do not want to be judged, and may feel embarrassed or even guilty, so they might prefer to wait until they get to know someone and have established some trust before discussing it."
The sex-positive and shame-free way to normalize these conversations would be to show people addressing STIs on television. Assuming, of course, that they are comfortable sharing this intimate information to millions of people. Considering the other "taboo" topics the show has hit on, why wouldn't they? Oh, right: the Bachelor thrives on selling an unrealistic world in which nobody has STIs and everyone is there "for the right reasons."