On the 23rd season of “The Bachelor” last year, Colton Underwood infamously jumped a fence after the love of his life, Cassie Randolph, temporarily got away. The two are still happily together (after a very brief split), but the show gave the former football player more than just a girlfriend: It helped him figure out his sexuality.
In his new memoir, “The First Time: Finding Myself and Looking for Love on Reality TV,” Underwood, the first virgin Bachelor, opens up about his confusion over his sexuality, as he had spent much of his youth questioning whether he was gay — something he didn’t have clarity on until “The Bachelor.”
“[The show taught me] that I’m straight and I’m very, very attracted to Cassie and women — but it would have been OK if I was the other way too,” Underwood told “Entertainment Tonight” (watch above). “I think that’s the biggest message I have for people. I was stuck in a hyper-masculine culture with football, growing up in a faith-based family and walking with God, and that saying, ‘Hey, I can’t walk with God and be gay.’ And that’s not true. And saying, ‘Hey, I can’t play football and be gay.’ And that’s not true. But I lived within those boxes and within those walls and within those areas because that was what I was told.”
Underwood, 28, revealed he was a virgin on Becca Kufrin‘s season of “The Bachelorette” before he was named the Bachelor for Season 23. He recalls seeing headlines almost immediately afterward speculating if he was gay.
“[The show] helped me confront that feeling because you guys probably didn’t pay attention to it as much as I did, but even when I was announced [as the Bachelor] or even people said I was a virgin, there were headlines saying I was gay, saying I was closeted, saying that I’m doing this for attention,” he said. “Even now, I still battle gay rumors when I’m with Cassie, but that’s how it was for me as a young kid in grade school and high school, and I can deal with them now.”
In high school, a rumor went around about Underwood being gay after he broke up with his girlfriend. “It even got to my mom, where my mom was pulled me aside and said, ‘You know what? We’d still love you if you were gay.’ I was like, ‘I appreciate that, but I gotta figure this out,'” he shared. “It was a little awkward.”
Underwood doesn’t resent the speculation and understands it “because people, sometimes when they don’t understand, they have to get from Point A to Point B somehow, and that’s a line they draw and that’s just what they do to make sense of things in their mind.”
He says he “never acted” on his confusion, but the most frustrating aspect was being unable to talk about it with anyone, including articulating why he wanted to wait until marriage to have sex. “I really didn’t know if there was an answer that I should be saying or shouldn’t be saying. Why can’t I just say, ‘It’s because I’m a Christian, because I believe you should wait till marriage?’ Because that’s not 100 percent accurate. That’s not the 100 percent sole reason why I’m a virgin,” he explained, adding that he later realized it was a host of reasons. “Between my parents’ divorce in college sort of messing me up, between being bullied in grade school and high school and literally Googling, ‘Am I gay? Why don’t I want to have sex?’ and then internalizing it all and sort of moving forward with football — I think it’s a mixture of all those. … Now that I can look back, that’s what made me, me.”
Underwood adds that he’s “so grateful” to the “Bachelor” franchise for aiding in his self-discovery and hopes his book, which was released on Tuesday, could do the same for anyone similarly struggling. “If anybody takes anything from this or is going through this, if I help one young man or one young woman go through something that they’re struggling with — to let them know that they’re not alone — then I consider the book a huge success,” he said.