From The Real World To Too Hot To Handle: When Did Reality TV Get So Sexual?

This April, in the midst of a global pandemic that has left millions of people self-isolating, many unsure when (or if) they’ll ever have sex again, Netflix premiered its most sex-fueled reality show yet. Too Hot to Handle is a competition series, fueled by the tension of telling a cast of half-naked hotties that they can win up to $100,000 — as long as they don’t have sex during a beachside retreat. When Hot co-stars are given the literal green light to hook up without losing a chance at the prize money, they pounce on the chance like it’s the holy grail. 
Too Hot to Handle isn’t alone in its on-screen carnality — the rest of the current reality TV landscape is equally sexed-up. The last Bachelor lead, Peter Weber, is best known as the man who “fucked in a windmill” four times in a single overnight date. The Bachelorette star waiting in the wings, Clare Crawley, took a deeply controversial swim in the ocean years ago on her Bachelor season. In June, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills teaser trailer revealed an alleged affair between two Housewives.
It would be easy to conclude that reality TV has never been more sex-obsessed. Yet, a deep dive into the last 30 years of the genre reveals that assumption isn’t true. Reality TV has always been buoyed by our carnal desires and may have been even sexier at the dawn of reality TV (remember The Newlywed Game asking the wildest place couples have ever “made whoopie?”). After all, if you’re trying to get a fledgling new genre off the ground (like reality TV in the early ‘90s), nothing sells better than sex — the realer, the better. 
With that in mind, we put together a guide to the greatest hits of American reality TV’s most sex-positive moments, from the horniest TV shows to some of the most boundary-pushing explorations of sexuality ever televised. Keep reading for all juicy details.
In its early days, reality TV was an easily mocked amusement that “serious” people talked about in hushed tones. Today, it’s an Emmy-awarded genre in its own right, and perhaps the most important and relevant form of entertainment in a world where we document and distribute every moment of our lives in high definition. But now, against the backdrop of anxiety-inducing headlines and societal upheaval, the previously low-stakes genre provides welcome relief (See: Hyori's Bed & Breakfast ), cultural commentary (see: Survivor ) and an examination into how the country got here (see: Vanderpump Rules). In 2020, there’s truly no escape from reality, whether it is playing out on our screens or outside our door.

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