The year is 2013. The research shows that 95 percent of Americans have had premarital sex. In fact, it’s downright common these days for people all over the political spectrum to recommend premarital sex as necessary—that it won’t do to marry someone who you haven’t road-tested for sexual compatibility yet.
Despite all this, however, Trojan was apparently worried about people griping about the evils of premarital sex, and so, as a preventive measure, made sure the actors in their new ads who are shown as sexually active all have prominently displayed wedding rings. I applaud Trojan for choosing to make ads that show couples actually getting it on in their ads: One of the ongoing problems with getting people to use contraception consistently is that it’s often perceived as unsexy. Condoms particularly suffer unfairly from a reputation of being mood-killing devices. Ads that turn up the sexiness factor can help counter that.
But ads that obnoxiously remind the audience that the couples in these ads are married ends up undermining the “condoms are sexy” message. It’s not because audiences are anti-marriage, of course, but because we’re too busy wondering why Trojan felt the need to beat us over the head with the marriage thing to pay attention to the sexiness of the ads. You can practically hear in your head the meeting where it was decided to make a big deal out of the marital status of the sexy couples in the ads. After all, no one is against married couples having sex—though a lot of people are against them using contraception!—so it probably just seemed easier to use married couples to avoid that avenue of complaint. But however understandable it is, the problem is that the too-obvious “don’t worry, they’re married!” message in the commercials reinforces the notion that there’s something wrong with people who aren’t married having sex.
Most of us who are sexually active and not married are going to watch these ads and feel judged and icky about our choices, and that’s not a feeling Trojan really should want associated with their products. This is particularly important when it comes to marketing condoms, because while many married couples certainly do use condoms as their primary form of contraception, they are even more popular with younger and unmarried people, because of the dual function of preventing both disease and pregnancy. Teenagers particularly like to use condoms, whereas older people are more likely to prefer hormonal contraception, IUDs, or even sterilization. Sexually active teenagers are already bombarded with messages from a number of sources that being sexual is wrong or dirty, and condom ads carrying that message just makes it all the worse.
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But really, the problem here isn’t Trojan. Their choice to make a fuss over the married status of the couples in their ads is reflective of a larger problem in American society, our widespread hypocrisy about sex. Even though premarital sex is nearly universal in our society, disapproval of premarital sex continues to be a problem (though thankfully one that’s declining). Sixty-three percent of Americans believe that sex between non-married people is morally acceptable, which is up from where it was in 2001, but is still disturbingly low, particularly when you realize that nearly all of the people who disagree with the concept of premarital sex nonetheless have had it.
I highly doubt most of those people who both have had and disapprove of premarital sex regret their own choices. As is common with moralizing hypocrites, a lot of them have an acute case of Special Snowflake Syndrome, where they believe that it was okay for them to do it, but they just think the rest of you aren’t mature or sensible enough to handle non-marital sex. The anti-choice movement needs this sort of thinking to exist, in fact. Most of the people who get involved in anti-choice activism must have engaged in the contraception use and non-marital sex they like to scold the rest of us for. To live with that cognitive dissonance, they have to come up with elaborate rationales for why it’s different when it comes to their own lives.
You also have this problem when it comes to abstinence-only education. Nearly everyone who promotes abstinence-only did not practice what they preach, but this kind of hypocrisy is so normalized in American culture that it tends to pass without mention. That needs to change. If Trojan ran ads that showed unmarried couples having sex, yes, they would get complaints, but the rest of us need to laugh at the complainers for being the ridiculous hypocrites they are. Instead, everyone trembles in fear of these hypocrites and their hypocritical moralizing, so much so that Trojan is clearly afraid of even having the conversation about unmarried couples having sex.
This isn’t just because hypocrites are annoying, either. When it’s considered mainstream and legitimate for pursed-lips prudes to make a fuss over the supposed evils of “promoting” a behavior in which 95 percent of Americans have engaged, that does serious harm to people’s mental and physical health. The entire controversy over the birth control benefit requiring insurance plans to cover contraception without a co-pay is fueled by this hypocritical, idiotic posturing over sex. The employers who don’t want to offer plans that cover contraception are basically afraid that doing so endorses sexual choice-making of which the owners disapprove, but that they, statistically speaking, probably have engaged in themselves. So, in order for hypocrites to strike a pointless moralizing pose about behavior that they know in their hearts really isn’t wrong, women don’t get the full health care benefits for which they nonetheless have to pay. It’s ridiculous. It’s great that Trojan is showing happily married couples who still have the hots for each other in their ads, but they need to release more commercials showing unmarried couples—who are a huge customer base for them—as well. If it provokes the whining of hypocritical prudes, so what? As long as we confront the anti-sex faction directly, they tend to lose. What are we so afraid of?