Changes to condom and pregnancy advice advertising?

// 26 March 2009

A review of advertising codes could lead to an end to the ban on condom adverts being shown before the 9pm watershed and enable pregnancy advice services to advertise on the radio for the first time, The Guardian reports today*. While condom ads could be shown before 9pm, they would be kept away from programming aimed at younger children. The proposed measures are aimed at helping tackle teenage pregnancy rates.

These sound like sensible suggestions to me: while we all know condoms exist, advertising them more openly might help reduce some young people’s discomfort at buying them, and it would be great to increase the profile of non-biased pregnancy advice services such as fpa or Brook. However, I’d be concerned that despite a caveat stating that organisations must make it clear if they do not provide abortion referrals, anti-abortion pregnancy advice services like LIFE, BVA (British Victims of Abortion – nice) and Care could still reach young women and spread their lies about so-called “Post Abortion Syndrome” and the non-existent link between breast cancer and abortion. There will be an 18 month review before any changes are put in place, followed by a consultation with the public, so I assume any concerns could be raised at that stage.

For those who haven’t heard of it, anti-abortion groups claim that “Post Abortion Syndrome” is a health condition caused by having an abortion, akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, there is a whole wealth of evidence which asserts that PAS does not exist, and it is not recognised by either US or UK psychology and psychiatry professionals. Where psychological problems are recorded post-abortion, these stem from the particular circumstances surrounding that woman’s abortion – negative reactions from family and friends, social stigma, religious convictions, poor pre and post abortion care etc – and being preyed on by groups determined to make women feel guilty about having an abortion and turn them into victims probably doesn’t help either. Which would be why I rip down any posters I see advertising these manipulative, anti-women “advice” services, and why I really don’t want them to get any airtime on the radio.

*UPDATE: The Times and The Mail are both reporting (in their own special, anti-abortion way) that pregnancy advice services could also advertise on TV. And in the most reassuring news I’ve heard so far today, a spokeswoman from Life claims that they ‘will never be able to afford to advertise on television’. Good stuff.

Comments From You

Moon of AquaMoon // Posted 26 March 2009 at 5:07 pm

This is a different approach using mass media to endorse comprehensive sex education. But once again, I have a problem with all sex edu focusing on girls/womyn and pregnancy. The responsibility should be on both boys and girls. Just as there are teen parent schools here in the U.S. for girls, those schools should also be for boys, because they get a chance to still go to ‘regular’ schools without the stigma of having a baby.

rita // Posted 26 March 2009 at 6:14 pm

I struggle to understand why it gets so complicated to openly educate and tackle topics like abortion, teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, in britain/europe.

I say this because in africa, usually we have people coming in and advocating for these topics to be publicised and tackled in a straight forward manner, on television through plays, open discussions, on radio, and are also introduced in the school carriculum, but here things get so complicated yet there is alot of technology and funds. I am always in shock at the amount of teenage pregnancies and i cannot stop comparing it to that in africa where there are less funds and technology. Condoms are advertised like they advertise phones here. I am not sure how wide spread HIV/AIDS is here, because i never hear about it, but if they could advocate for advertising condoms, then they would try to kill two birds with one stone (teenage pregnacies and HIV/AIDS). We learnt about condoms in school and i think the older we grew, the less sensitive the topic grew. It was brought up in topics, eg, advantages and disadvantages of teenage pregnacies, then we brain stormed, and then next, how can we prevent it, kind of way. They never went in to details of how to use them depending on what age, but we knew the preventive methods in our heads, then it was up to us in the future. But these are topics we did exams on as well in “general paper” (more of social topics, than the usual biology, maths physics etc..). Have not studied here so i do not know the school system.

I am tempted to compare PAS to PND. I have not heard of PAS before although i have known someone who has had an abortion and was affected psychologically by it, even though she tried to wear a mask.

Aimee // Posted 26 March 2009 at 7:04 pm

I sawhis being debated on Loose Women today. I had to turn it off, it was THAT offensive. That dark haired pseudo liberal woman who likes to harp on about her drug taking days was all “It will encourage a more promiscuous society” and “it will send out the message that it’s okay to get pregnant because you can have an abortion or take the morning after pill”..

… yeah, as opposed to “it’s not okay to have sex ever cos if you get pregnant then you’re DONE FOR you shameless tarts”…

and would someone tell her that the morning after pill doesn’t unpregnate you!

*apologies for impromtu Loose Women rant*

Jennifer Drew // Posted 26 March 2009 at 11:09 pm

Ah but here in the UK we must on no account mention that taboo phrase ‘male responsibility’ because as we are constantly informed by the mass media, women become pregnant all by themselves. Amazing is it not – males have no part in human reproduction. This is why only women and girls are constantly under male surveillance and exhorted not to ‘get themselves pregnant or contract an STI or HIV/Aids. Men however, do not have to worry about responsible male sexual behaviour because reproduction, STIS and HIV/Aids is apparently not applicable to them.

Safer and responsible sexual activity does not mean taking a moralistic stance wherein men are absolved from any sexual responsibility whereas women are defined as either ‘madonnas or w…….’ Since condoms were designed for male wear then obviously males should be targetted rather than constantly exhorting and expecting women to try and convince unwilling male sexual partners to wear a condom. Given human sexuality continues to be defined from the male-standpoint wherein male sexual pleasure is positioned as superceding female sexual pleasure. Asking and expecting men as a group to actually listen and respect a woman’s wish for the male partner to wear a condom if he wishes to engage in heterosexual penetrative activity is problematic given men still have greater social and economic power over women.

Far easier to make women and girls responsible for mens’ and boys’ sexual behaviour rather than going to the root of the problem which is how male sexuality continues to be constructed as one of endless need without any responsibility.

Laura // Posted 27 March 2009 at 11:12 am

Jennifer Drew,

“Since condoms were designed for male wear then obviously males should be targetted rather than constantly exhorting and expecting women to try and convince unwilling male sexual partners to wear a condom.”

Have you actually seen any evidence of this? Because in my experience of an admittedly very poor sex education programme at school, and from what I’ve seen in NHS adverts etc, this isn’t the case: both men and women are encouraged to make sure they use condoms for penetrative sex. In my own experience and in chats with friends about sex, this doesn’t seem to be the norm either.

I’m sure there are men out there who refuse to use condoms, but I know there’s women who dislike them too, and I will admit that I’ve been in situations where I’ve been drunk and not bothered, relying instead on the pill. Yes, that’s a very stupid thing to do, but when you’re horny and not necessarily thinking very straight this kind of thing can happen. I just don’t think lack of condom use is solely or even mainly due to men refusing to use them. For teenagers there can be a big embarrassment factor about both buying and using them, and I think more widespread advertising of condoms and challenging anti-sex attitudes will help change this. As for adults, well, we just do stupid things sometimes – it doesn’t help that condoms can be uncomfortable, dry you up and split or come off – and while that’s no excuse for having unprotected sex, sometimes we don’t do the sensible thing.

As for this:

“Asking and expecting men as a group to actually listen and respect a woman’s wish for the male partner to wear a condom if he wishes to engage in heterosexual penetrative activity is problematic given men still have greater social and economic power over women.”

Maybe I’m just lucky in the men that I know, but I really don’t think men, as a general rule, have any problem with being expected or asked to use a condom. I certainly don’t know of any who would see this as an affront to their masculinity or view the woman in question as uppity!

But perhaps other people have had different experiences?

lisa // Posted 27 March 2009 at 12:27 pm

From a continental european perspective British Sex Ed seems to be in a real mess – far too much focus on the technicalities and almost taboo silence on the practical consequences of sex (everything from pregnacy, through STDs to emotions).

Why is it so difficult for British adults to tell children the following :

1. Sex has consequences – pregnancy, STD and emotional attachment etc.

2. If you don’t feel old enough to deal with the above then you’re not old enough to be having sex. (There’s nothing wrong at this point with saying to teenage boys that they will have to pay for their child, abortion, girlfriend’s STD treatment etc – even if it means handing over all their Saturday job money, selling their mobile, computer games and that they will pay for the child for 18 years and so on. Likewise there’s nothing wrong with telling the girls that abortion is not a walk in the park, too frequent use of morning after causes health probs, STDs can make them infertile and they might become emotionally attached to the boy and so on. – Why pretend otherwise ? why encourage them to think it’s just a bit of fun ? it’s cruel and irresponsible to ignore these risks surely ?)

3. There are practical steps they can take to minimise the consequences BUT none of them are 100% effective (again the brutal truth) and some of them have negative side effects too (side effects of hormonal contraceptions, condoms and diaphragms altering the pH balance in the vagina leading to recurring episodes of thrush etc). A significant problem in the UK and US is the pressure put on young teenage girls to provide sexual services to their male peers and older men – their immaturity and inexperience make more vulnerable to this pressure rather than less – and yes males (inventive as ever) have been known to use promised condom use as a further argument as to why a girl should stop being ‘difficult’ and ‘just spread’. This is sexual harassement and abuse – and most 14 year old girls are uncomfortable with it. They want less pressure and a couple more years to come to terms with their developing sexuality. Sex ed should be helping them, not offering them up as toys for the boys or even worse making them feel there’s something wrong with them for wanting to wait a bit longer. Continental teenagers take sex very seriously, are older when they have their first sexual experiences and have already talked about and agreed a safe sex plan with their partner beforehand which brings me on to my next point.

4. Alcohol/drugs and sex do not mix. British adults set very bad examples here. If you’re not sober enough to drive a car, sign a contract or make an informed decision about a major purchase, you are NOT sober enough to make your first immature decisions about sex – especially a no condom/condom one. Alcohol/drugs lower inhibitions and encourage risk taking so teenagers (not the most cautious generation) are more likely to go ahead and have unprotected sex whilst drunk or stoned. If adults don’t warn them against drunken unsafe sex they may as well not bother giving any sex ed. The reason why British adults don’t ? Is it because far too many of them misuse alcohol/drugs and have unsafe sex themselves and don’t see anything wrong with it. This is again odd from a continental perspective – as alcohol/drugs often have a numbing, paralysing effect so decrease sensitivity but it appears to be so popular young women have even been heard to say they are not ‘drunk enough to have sex’ ?!

By the time teenagers are teenagers it’s too late. All of the above should be a continuous process from the first time a 3 year old asks where babies come from. In other European countries contraception, STDs including HIV, are in the sex ed books for these age groups. It’s the only way for this information to be deeply embedded for when it’s needed.

David // Posted 27 March 2009 at 5:44 pm

Laura, sadly I don’t share your faith in malekind to use condoms when they think they can get away without them, espeically when drunk. I have several friends who have had ‘scares’ (some unfounded, some founded) because their partners refused to put a rubber on. I think it’s sad they didn’t stop them, but it does happen.

I work in a university and I see quite a lot of people claiming that normal condoms are too small for them (they wish!) or that they have a latex allergy. I’m skeptical about both, especially when it usually seems to be men justifying why they don’t use condoms.

I don’t necessarily think it’s nasty behaviour on the part of men, but they do get in the way of the flow a little bit and even the thinnest ones do interfere with feeling a bit.

I think advertising on TV would increase condom usage greatly, for simple economic reasons. The more packets that get sold, the more money the condom companies make. I, for one, think that linking condoms to desirability would do wonders for condom usage. Advertising would also help women understand that most men who claim they’re too big for condoms, or that they’re allergic to them, are just trying it on; even if they are, there are other condom options too.

Kathryn // Posted 28 March 2009 at 6:50 am

I have to disagree with your comment about PAS. Abortion is not always an empowering feminist choice; I was forced to have an abortion by my abusive soon-to-be-ex-husband. I struggled for months and months with what I now realize fits the descriptions of PAS. I am still pro-choice after my experience and I believe that for many women abortion can be a good thing, but even if it is entirely your decision and you are sure it is the right thing to do, you are still going to struggle with the emotional aspects of abortion before and afterwards. I think it’s important to acknowledge this and provide help and services to women who have chosen to have abortions. It’s equally damaging to say that there’s no such thing as PAS as it is for pro-life groups to sensationalize it.

Ladylaxton // Posted 28 March 2009 at 7:08 am

I think that advertising of condoms and abortion adivce is a big step forward for the UK. We have to get out of the mindset that if you talk about sex to kids then they will do it as it’s just not true! Everyone – teenagers and adults – deserve to have access to information and advice about sex, contraception and abortion as it will help them make informed decisions about their sexual health.

I also noticed LIFE and SPUC claiming that they ‘survive on a shoestring’ and couldnt afford to advertise on TV…..that is just not true!

Aimee // Posted 28 March 2009 at 10:44 am

David, you don’t think it’s “nasty behaiviour” to be willing to jeapordise a woman’s entire future because it might interrupt a man’s “flow, or impede his feeling a little bit?

George // Posted 28 March 2009 at 12:41 pm

@ Lisa

1. Heterosexual PIV sex has the consequence of pregnancy, not ‘sex’ in general. Thinking otherwise encourages people to think that the only sort of ‘proper’ sex involves PIV penetration, which has big consequences for teenage sex lives. Moreover, it erases homosexuality. Also, “emotional attachment”?! I really don’t buy that sex *causes* romantic feelings – isn’t this putting the cart before the horse, and backing up the myth that women only have sex because of lovey-dovey commitment urges?

2. Um, I reckon that it IS “just a bit of fun”! Point is, teaching responsible attitudes through going “You’re all gonna be infertile with no Playstation and then fall in love with someone who doesn’t love you back!!!!” seems a bit too much like guilt-tripping. What about changing the tone from shaming to informative? Women have enough hang-ups about their sexuality as it is.

3. I’m slightly perturbed that you think that all 14 year old British or American girls get constantly harrassed by older men, and that this is a problem confined to the anglocentric world. I’m also intrigued that you think that this stems from pressure on young girls to offer up sexual services. Odd.

4. Fair enough. I think we must remember that often it isn’t the woman’s choice, however.

5. You have toddler’s picture books about condoms?!?!?!

Anna // Posted 28 March 2009 at 10:48 pm

I dunno – personally my partners generally tend to offer to use a condom and it’s me that doesn’t like them..

Laura // Posted 30 March 2009 at 11:02 am

Hi Kathryn,

I’m sorry you had such an awful experience, and I’m not surprised you feel terrible about the abortion given the circumstances. However, pro-life groups assert that PAS is a medical condition directly caused by the abortion process itself, while non-biased researchers have found time and time again that women who experience these kind of symptoms or depression after having an abortion do so because of the situation surrounding the abortion, rather than because of the abortion itself. Being forced into having one is a typical example of this.

I’m not denying that you have experienced problems which fit the description of PAS – no one is saying that women cannot feel bad or depressive after having an abortion – but by saying that it is a specific condition caused by abortion itself, pro-life groups are attempting to scare women away from having abortions, and to get abortion criminalised. What we should instead be doing is helping women to make the right choice, giving them support before and after the procedure and aiding those who are in violent or abusive situations.

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