Only Pigs Say No to Condoms

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.

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
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.

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  • invalid-0

    SooEEEEEEEEEEEE, piggy-piggy-piggy!

    That ad is _priceless_! <]:-D

  • invalid-0

    To me, the ad still isn’t good enough. Just one? A single condom? That’s unacceptable. It implies that he’ll use it for the one time he thinks he’ll get vaginal intercourse, but for any oral and/or anal he looks forward to, he’ll go without. To me, if you want to advertise for safe sex, you have to posit safety precautions against both pregnancy and STD’s.

    And even in this ad, grabbing the condom wasn’t about safety, but a way of breaking down her barriers. The wear-her-down method of obtaining compliance and calling it consent. It just barely passes because she smiles when he has the condom, but even then, there is a very large difference in the behaviors between men who are smart about making it so they’re not accused of rape and men who are smart about not raping. Know what I mean?

  • amanda-marcotte

    To put on one 30 second spot. I mean, I think a lot can be accomplished with pithy humor, but considering the resistance they got for this minimum attempt to encourage male responsibility for contraception, they’re probably scared to push harder.

  • invalid-0

    I liked the ad, and the brand extension onto the pint glasses was very clever. if you can use humor to carry a message, it’s likely to spread much further than a heavy-handed approach.

    And I agree, in a 30 second spot it’s simply not going to be possible to cover every base.

  • invalid-0

    I love the premise of the Trojan Evolve campaign–which is focusing specifically on young people and asking them to make responsible sexual health choices. My organization is partnering with the Trojan Evolve bus tour (which stops in San Francisco on Wednesday at Justin Herman Plaza in case y’all want more clever condom action, please forgive the self-promotion) and interestingly, some of our other (progressive) partners have objected to this ad. Folks have said that it is anti-man. Personally, I think it is anti-guy-who-won’t-use-a-condom and I’m pretty in favor of that stance.

    But I do think men’s failure to use condoms is often more complex than simple piggishness. Many of the young men I’ve worked with–and they are the target demo for this ad–get worried that if they have a condom their partner will think they ‘expected’ to have sex, and it’s better to have it ‘just happen’ in that whoops-I-slipped-on-a-banana-peel- and -now-we’re-doing-it kind of way. Of course a thirty-second ad can’t address all of that, but I think it’s important to remember that young men are multi-dimensional and vulnerable–to rejection, insecurity, self-esteem and body issues–when they have sex, even if it manifests differently than with women. And that addressing those issues are going to be the most effective way of promoting healthy sexuality. Thanks for a great post!