Recently I received a flurry of indignant e-mails from Planned Parenthood, decrying the refusal of FOX and CBS to air a condom commercial. Not condom commercials in general, just one in particular. Planned Parenthood urged me to contact everyone imaginable, demanding that this commercial must be aired so people can protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Now, I believe in sexual freedom and informed decision-making, and I’m aware of the importance of condom use in situations other than lifelong monogamy…but I get suspicious when someone urges the broadcast of a particular message without giving me any specifics on what that message actually is. I made a mental note to find out the exact content of this commercial before I did any protesting on its behalf.
Before I got around to searching for that information, I happened to follow a link from one blog to another and found this anti-abortion activist’s post about the controversy. Isn’t it ironic that this person some would label “anti-choice” was my first source of clear information so I could make an informed decision about this ad? [UPDATE: At the time I wrote this article, the ad could be viewed on Trojan’s site. It seems to be not there anymore.]
Here’s a summary of the ad: Women in a bar are surrounded by pigs who are coming on to them, but the women aren’t interested. One of the pigs goes into the restroom, buys a condom from a vending machine, and turns into a man. [Other people’s summaries have said, “an attractive man,” but in my opinion he’s skanky-looking.] When he emerges, the woman who rejected him before is now interested. The screen says, “Evolve. Use a condom every time. Trojan.”
1. A pig is a pig even if he’s wearing a condom. Somebody who’s been a “pig” to you will not be magically transformed into a caring, responsible sexual partner by his purchase, or even use, of a piece of latex.
2. Planned Parenthood should not be advocating promotion of the idea that picking up people in bars for casual sex is a good idea. Condoms decrease the odds of STD transmission, but not to zero–they can break, and they don’t cover every part of the body that may have a contagious lesion. Even with a condom, what is implicitly about to happen between the two people in the ad is risky.
3. A person who knew nothing about condoms and saw this ad still would know nothing about what condoms actually are, what they’re for, how they’re used, anything. He’d think that buying this product is a way to get laid and that this product makes casual hookups okay. It is this, not any concern about “indecency”, that makes me hope children don’t see this ad. It is not educational or informative in any way Planned Parenthood should support.
4. Planned Parenthood’s statements on the issue claim that “for sexually active people, condoms are the best way to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.” Huh?? They know that’s not true! Their own Website shows that condoms are only 85% effective against pregnancy and says, “Hormonal, intrauterine, and surgical methods of birth control offer greater protection against pregnancy than condoms.” Best defense against STDs, yes, but against pregnancy, no. This is a very irresponsible statement for them to make.
5. Planned Parenthood urged people to complain that the networks would “reject a condom ad that focuses on pregnancy prevention.” It’s true that Fox said in its rejection letter, “Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy.” and it’s true that that’s a stupid policy (what do they think contraceptives are FOR? Since when is pregnancy not health-related?) but where did either group get the idea that this ad promotes pregnancy prevention?? It doesn’t say one word about pregnancy.
6. It’s true that the same TV networks that rejected this ad broadcast programs full of casual sex, ads using sex to sell all kinds of products, and ads for erectile dysfunction drugs; therefore, they are a bunch of hypocrites. This does not mean that Planned Parenthood has to jump on the lewdness bandwagon! Just because the ad promotes use of condoms doesn’t mean it’s 100% good.
The last of the messages I received from Planned Parenthood did include a link to the ad. But the earlier messages and their Webpages on the subject [links to these pages removed after they became obsolete] encouraged people to protest rejection of the ad without seeing it for themselves. It seems we’re supposed to believe that condom manufacturers are “on our side” and thus we have to stick up for them no matter what they do. No thanks!
I don’t think the ad should be banned. I just don’t think it should be supported as if it were some kind of noble, educational, common-sense message. The appropriate response from Planned Parenthood, in my opinion, would be to work with Trojan to make more tasteful, sensible, informative, effective commercials. They could start with a scenario in which the prospective sex partners actually know one another, for instance! Or maybe Trojan could work with PCI Media Impact, which does TV and radio programs in other countries about realistic characters making sensible decisions.
Planned Parenthood really disappointed me on this issue, but overall I think they do mostly good work. In looking around their site for the above links, I was pleased to find that they now have this page on sexual outercourse and that their table of contents for birth control lists “behavioral methods” as the first general category.
Also, the other news about Planned Parenthood I’ve seen recently is that they’re providing post-abortion counseling, an important component of pro-choice programs. A representative of an anti-abortion group that also provides such counseling is quoted in the article saying it doesn’t make sense for a group that thinks abortion is an acceptable choice to provide counseling for those who’ve chosen it but have some problems afterward. Well, gee, a lot of anti-abortion groups offer support services for women who decide to continue pregnancy and become mothers; does the fact that motherhood can be difficult mean it’s the wrong choice?
Anyway, I hope Planned Parenthood remembers that it can aspire to more than casting condoms before swine.