Debunk beds: what false info about "anti-sex" cardboard beds at the Olympics shows us about the spread of misinformation.

The beds are made out of cardboard for sustainability purposes and have nothing to do with sex.

Did you hear about the “anti-sex” beds made of cardboard that the Olympic athletes are going to have to sleep on?

If you’re anything like me, you probably saw a handful of bewildered tweets, TikToks, and… whatever is happening on Facebook these days. Wild, right?  What a mess! These Olympics, am I right or am I right, folks?

There’s just one small problem: it’s not true.

The beds are real, and yes they’re made of cardboard, but this has nothing to do with COVID or a desire to keep athletes from getting it on.

In early January 2020, back when COVID was just something that sounded like a rejected name for those “Two movies in one” DVD packages you’d find in Target, The Associated Press reported that beds at the Tokyo Olympics would be made of cardboard.

The single bed frames will be recycled into paper products after the games. The mattress components — the mattresses are not made of cardboard — will be recycled into plastic products.

The mattress is broken up into three distinct sections, and the firmness of each can be adjusted.

The idea was to use materials that could be remade after the Olympics and Paralympics. But the cardboard frames and supports should give the rooms a spartan look.

Organizers showed off the beds and a few other furnishings on Thursday at their headquarters. The entire Athletes Village complex will be completed in June. The Olympics open on July 24 followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 25.

“The organizing committee was thinking about recyclable items, and the bed was one of the ideas,” Kitajima explained, crediting local Olympic sponsor Airweave Inc. for the execution.

Organizers say this is the first time that the beds and bedding in the Athletes Village have been made of renewable materials.

The cardboard bedframes can hold roughly 440 pounds.

So where did the “anti-sex” bed rumor start?

I can’t seem to find the original tweet (perhaps it has been deleted? If it’s still up and you know where it is, please link it in the comments of this post and I can add an update), but it seems like this July 14 tweet got the ball rolling on the “anti-sex” narrative.

American distance runner Paul Chelimo tweeted a photo of one of the beds. Others cracked a few jokes at the idea that the world’s greatest athletes wouldn’t be able to manage to get intimate without a bed frame.

Irish gymnast Rhys Mcclenaghan demonstrated the durability of the beds by jumping up and down on them.

News outlets need to do a better job, even when it comes to largely inconsequential stuff like whether or not the cardboard bed frames at the Olympics were created with stopping sex in mind.

New York Post’s article on the topic, “Athletes to sleep on ‘anti-sex’ cardboard beds at Olympic Games amid COVID,” does little to correct the record about the frames’ true purpose.

Lustful Olympic athletes should think twice before making the bed rock in Tokyo.
The world’s best sports competitors are set to spend their nights on cardboard beds — allegedly designed to collapse under the weight of fornicators to discourage sex amid COVID-19.

Olympic officials — who already warned 2021 Games participants to avoid two-person push-ups because of the coronavirus — have set up 18,000 of the cardboard beds in the notoriously sex-crazed athletes’ village, according to Dezeen magazine.

Olympic athletes have never shied away from hanky-panky, but officials have warned it could spell particular trouble this year amid the pandemic.

The 100 percent recyclable cardboard beds were designed by the Japanese company Airweave.

But officials are apparently aware it’s going to take a lot more than the makeshift berths to keep players out of the pole position.

The Post cited an article at Dezeen magazine that actually debunks the entire premise of what the Post published.

The bed frames are made from recycled cardboard, while the modular mattresses are made from polyethylene fibres that the brand says can be recycled an unlimited number of times.

The sleeping equipment had to align with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games' sustainability plan, which aims to deliver a more sustainable event and showcase innovative concepts and solutions that will have a legacy after the Games.

"The concept was to make a lightweight, easy-to-assemble mattress and meet the Games' Sustainability Plan," Airweave told Dezeen.

Other outlets, like Vice, repurposed old articles to fit the “anti-sex” bed narrative on Twitter. The article itself isn’t about the cardboard beds (it’s about condoms), but on Twitter, Vice’s account tweeted, “Oh, they will also sleep on ‘anti-sex’ cardboard beds,” with a link to it.

Oddly, the June article promoted by Vice links to an October France24 article that reassures people that the beds can support the weight of two people having sex. From France24:

Randy athletes worried that eco-friendly cardboard beds could curtail their sex life at the Tokyo Olympics can breathe easy -- they're sturdy enough, say manufacturers.

While the snug singles at the athletes' village underline Tokyo's commitment to sustainability and delivering a 'green' Olympics, fears they could fold under pressure look to be unfounded.

Australian basketball player Andrew Bogut raised the alarm when he tweeted: "Great gesture...until the athletes finish their said events and the 1000's of condoms handed out all over the village are put to use."

But the beds can withstand a weight of 200 kilos (440 pounds) and have been through rigorous stress tests, makers Airweave told AFP.

"We've conducted experiments, like dropping weights on top of the beds," said a spokesperson.

"As long as they stick to just two people in the bed, they should be strong enough to support the load."

The Washington Post published an article about the beds, but didn’t note until seven paragraphs in that “the reason behind the use of cardboard in the Olympians’ beds was not, at least officially, to prevent activities other than sleep.”

Other outlets like Sports Illustrated (“No, Olympians Aren’t Sleeping on ‘Anti-Sex’ Beds in Tokyo”), The New York Times (“‘Anti-Sex’ Beds in the Olympic Village? A Social Media Theory Is Soon Debunked”), and NBC’s Today show (“The cardboard beds at the Olympics aren't meant to prevent sex — here's the truth”) did a much better job putting the story into context.

To be clear, the Olympic organizers do not want athletes to be socializing during the games due to COVID, but the beds aren’t part of a hostile architecture plan. An athlete playbook urges athletes to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact,” which would presumably include… you know.

“Why does this matter?” you may be asking. The answer is that it tells us a bit about how misinformation spreads on the internet and how media outlets set values aside for the sake of traffic.

Social media companies don’t do a great job of surfacing accurate information. Some of that is on readers for failing to do a cursory fact-check before sharing information, but most of the blame can be placed at the feet of the social media companies and the media outlets that jump on a trend instead of focusing on the truth.

You probably think I’m being a buzzkill. You’d be correct. Because while the purpose of the cardboard beds doesn’t ultimately matter, these same sloppy journalistic tactics are regularly used in stories of much greater importance.