Media Watch: ABC’s Desperate Hypocrisy

James Wagoner is the President of Advocates For Youth.

It's no secret that ABC hosts one of the most popular shows on television, Desperate Housewives. It's also no secret that the show's popularity is driven in large part by sex—lots and lots of sex. All kinds of sex! [img_assist|nid=2640|title=Desperate Housewives|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=219|height=165]Connected and unconnected; protected and unprotected; healthy and unhealthy; bonded and unbonded. Well, you get the point.

What few people realize, however, is that ABC's "anything goes" approach to the show's content stands in stark contrast to the network's policy of censorship when it comes to the show's advertising. While the network relies on sexual content to propel ratings, it bans the advertising of condoms around the show!

Why? Does ABC honestly believe that the condom, the most effective disease prevention tool for sexually active people, is too controversial? Oh, and broadcasting images of bondage is not?

As public health advocates, we are constantly bemoaning the fact that the U.S. has the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease in the western world. Part of our problem is that our culture is terminally conflicted around sexuality. We celebrate the sensational aspects of sex and sexuality while entangling the public health aspects of the issue in a straightjacket of fear, shame and denial.

Rubbing salt into this social wound, the January 15 episode of Desperate Housewives implied repeatedly that condoms are ineffective. Yet, according to the CDC condoms are "highly effective" when used correctly and consistently, particularly in preventing pregnancy and HIV.

We understand that a show like Desperate Housewives is designed to entertain. But with an audience of more than 20 million people, it also has the responsibility to get its facts right. That the network further compounds the error by prohibiting condom advertising because it fears controversy—is shameful and hypocritical.

Let's stop this nonsense. Shows such as Desperate Housewives are enormously popular. Their sexual content drives ratings up—ratings that ABC then uses to sell its advertising time. ABC should lift its ban on condom ads around these shows. Otherwise, the network will continue to set the standard for hypocrisy when it comes to sex, culture, and public health.

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