Only Pigs Say No to Condoms

Amanda Marcotte

In American pop culture, explicit sex is fine, but explicit discussions about making sex safer are out of bounds.

A couple of weeks ago, while enjoying an adult beverage at a local pub, I had a
rare opportunity to feel pleased with a marketing campaign. And no, it wasn’t
the Lone Star beer campaign that employs a little tongue-in-cheek
Texas chauvinism to hawk its wares.

This one was for Trojan condoms. First, you see the posters in
the bar’s bathroom: A picture of a barful of pigs hitting on reluctant women,
with one man talking to one very interested woman. It’s a reference
to the TV ad campaign that compares men who
refuse to use condoms to barnyard animals.

To reinforce the message — "Evolve: Use
a condom every time" — the bottom of the pint glasses had little
pictures of pig noses in them, with the Trojan branding and slogan on
the reverse.

It’s a brilliant strategy,
and could only be better if they had condom machines in the bathrooms.
This pub isn’t cruise-y, but a lot of people go there
on dates. So Trojan is still grabbing people with a safe sex message
right before they get into a situation where unsafe sex often happens–after
a date that involves drinking alcohol. The ads use humor to take
the edge off, but also bluntly address one of the most significant unspoken barriers to getting people to use condoms every time: a lot of the time, women are afraid to request or men actively resist condom use. The uncomfortable
fact is that men have more of the responsibility for use with condoms, but
women run a greater risk in unprotected sex. (I’m sure it works the other way around, but I suspect the responsibility/risk
ratio means that it’s more common that men resist and women cave.) This is too explicit?

All I could think while examining
this marketing campaign was, "Why haven’t we seen more of this?
Campaigns like this should be in high school buses and coffee shops,
too. Plus, this should have started long ago." But America is in short supply of the sort of common sense that says that
condom ads should be located where people are in danger of having unsafe sex,
and that said ads should bluntly address barriers to using condoms properly.
When the first ads from this campaign came out, CBS and Fox balked
at showing them.

You can’t blame prudery.
Fox aired this blunt advertisement
for Victoria’s Secret lingerie during the 2008 Superbowl.
The meaning–this underwear
is a preliminary for the Hawt Sex right after the game!–couldn’t
have been more explicit. I’m not a prudish person by any means, but
watching model Adriana Lima flop around and spread her legs while wearing
skimpy underwear in front of my friends, and suffering the knowledge
that this was supposed to inspire middle-aged sports fans around the
country to rip off their team jerseys and hump their wives atop king-sized
beds, well, it all made me blush pretty hard. To Fox, that was acceptable,
but a Trojan ad where everyone kept their clothes on and innuendo was
employed more effectively was somehow off-limits.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Of course, Fox explained the
decision in bluntly anti-woman tones, arguing the use of condoms
to prevent pregnancy offended their network standards.
Presumably, the Victoria’s
Secret ad is acceptable, as long as the viewer thinks she’s posing
half-naked as if to say, "Oh you hot football fan studs, impregnate
me now."

I shouldn’t be surprised.
Obvious double standards like that fly under the radar of far too many
people. I’m thinking specifically
of the popular right wing blogger The Anchoress, who in a bizarre
tirade
that was
presumably about how everyone should shut up about sex, made it clear
she meant, "Everyone but me because it’s different when it’s me."
But maybe she should have re-thought sharing information like this:

    I like various positions!
    With the lights on and off! In the daytime and the nighttime! In the
    ocean and in the windowseat! I like sex on Sunday mornings! Can I get
    an "AMEN" for Cunnilingus? AMEN for cunnilingus! Can I get a "You
    know how to whistle, don’t you" for Fellatio? "You know how to
    whistle, don’t you?" Can I get a "Ride’em Cowboy" for my husband?
    Yippeekayae! Can I get an "arghghghghg" for Readi Whip and maraschino
    cherries? Arghghghghghg! What, no brownies?

Which just made everyone wonder
if she’s so right wing because she suffers from a staggering lack
of imagination. Contrast her entitled attitudes about her own
sex life with her brutal lack
of generosity for others.
If you can follow: if you’re an American married right wing nut,
then you get to have sex in various positions with extremely silly nicknames
and you get to pat yourself on the back for it. But if you’re
from Myanmar and your community has been ravaged by a typhoon and your
access to health care is limited, then you deserve to die of AIDS for
"Ride ‘em Cowboy." Got it.

This double standard–where
explicit sex is fine but explicit discussions of safety make people
squirmy–must play a huge role in inconsistent condom use.
The squeamishness around the Trojan ad is just one example. For
once, we have an ad that has the potential to help educate people about negotiating for condom use as well as sell a
product.

Another example that comes
to mind for me is the role of lubrication in condom usage. A
recent episode of "Sex Is Fun" alerted me to this problem.
Many people, women especially, think they are allergic to latex who
aren’t because they had bad reactions to condoms, including pain or itching.
In fact, many of them simply aren’t using enough lubrication.
So now you have a situation where women are shunning condoms because
of these side effects, when a bit of accurate, straightforward, and, yes, explicit education would go a long way.

But even the more explicit
lubrication ads for companies like KY dance around the nitty-gritty
of how you should use their product with a condom. This is not because they don’t see the sales potential in that,
I’m sure. It’s because of the double standard. You can
talk about sex explicitly, but you can’t talk about safety.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.