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
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.)
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.
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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
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
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.