The stigma of having it is bigger than the health risks.
To be one of the 25 or so women who compete to score a ring on The Bachelor each season, applicants go through a lot of scrutiny: Their backgrounds are investigated and photos sized up, and finalists are given a long personality test.
But there's one surprising test they have to pass to make it on the show: an STD test. Which STD is responsible for sending most women packing? Herpes.
According to a New York Post excerpt of Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure, many hopefuls find out that they cannot participate on the reality show because they have herpes. Amy Kaufman, an LA Times staff writer and author of the new book, writes that a positive herpes test is the “top reason applicants don’t make it onto the show.”
“As soon as the medical tests came back, you’d see that herpes was the biggest thing,” Ben Hatta, who was the show creator's assistant, told Kaufman. “And sometimes you’d be the first person to tell a contestant that they had herpes. 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.’”
While herpes isn't a diagnosis anyone wants, it's puzzling that it's enough to send potential contestants out of the running—considering how common the virus is and how harmless it ultimately is from a health standpoint.
One out of six adults between ages 18 and 49 have genital herpes, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which estimates that 776,000 people are infected every year in the U.S. Genital herpes is typically caused by (HSV) type 2, while (HSV) type 1 tends to cause oral herpes, though either type can cause lesions on either body area.
Herpes is not the most common STD; that honor goes to HPV. But one in six makes it a popular diagnosis, one that's probably eliminated a lot of Bachelor-worthy women. While people are advised to be tested regularly for STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, the CDC doesn’t recommend that people take a herpes blood test—unless they show symptoms or fear they might be infected. False positives are possible, the CDC says, and the psychological impact can be a lot to deal with, since herpes is so stigmatized.
Besides how common it is, doctors generally agree that herpes isn't all that big a deal. It's usually a “manageable infection without long-term physical health consequences,” Christine Johnston, MD, associate professor of allergy and infectious diseases at the University of Washington, previously told Health.
While the sores herpes causes can be painful and annoying, they typically clear up after a week or two. Herpes can cause recurrent outbreaks, but anti-viral meds can reduce their frequency. Many people who test positive for herpes never even have an outbreak in the first place, according to the National Institutes of Health, and most people who have it don't even know that they're infected.
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Washington Center for AIDS and STD, shared similar sentiments in a previous interview with Health. "I don't know why genital herpes has this pariah, fearful component to it," Handsfield said. "People are more afraid of herpes than they are of chlamydia, and in the long run chlamydia is more likely to cause serious damage to their reproductive and general health than herpes ever is."
“Genital herpes does not usually result in serious outcomes in healthy, non-pregnant adults,” reads a CDC fact sheet. “More often, the stigma and shame from a genital herpes infection can be more troubling to someone who is infected than the disease itself.”