25 July 2012

AIDS 2012: No, objectification of women is NOT OK!*

* Yes, even if that's your way to get people to use condoms!

We attended a non-commercial satellite session yesterday morning TUSA07 Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About Pleasurable Safer Sex but Were Too Afraid to Ask. Instead of having a very early (7:00 AM, mind you) breakfast and a conversation about bringing pleasure and sexuality back to all the people-scaring prevention messages, we got

This how MYX Annaïs recounts her experience:

On Tuesday I woke up bright and early to attend a session at the International AIDS Conference titled Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About Pleasurable Safer Sex but Were Too Afraid to Ask. The session was led by Pleasure Project which “builds bridges between the pleasure/sex industry and the safer sex world by avoiding negativity, and by ensuring that erotic materials include examples of safer sex, and that sexual health materials include pleasure as a key element”.

To say I was excited is an understatement; you see I make it my personal mission to talk about pleasure whenever and wherever possible. In a society that sexualizes everything and everyone we seem increasingly scared to acknowledge our right to pleasure. Yes, we have the right to pleasure, whether it be physical or sexual pleasure, to the immense pleasure you may get from being in bed with a tub of ice cream… But back to the point at hand, I believed this session would look at how we can position condoms (and indeed other forms of contraception) within the sphere of immediate sexual pleasure. In other words, I was hoping this session would address the idea that condoms can and are sexy and can and does enhance sexual pleasure.

Instead, I heard from two representatives from DKT (a family planning services, and reproductive health products provider for the developing world) about how they have advertised and marketed condoms in recent years. I’ll give you all two guesses on how they have gone about doing this. Not that you need any clues, but the first clue is naked women. Yup, it turns out if you want to sell condoms you have to objectify women and reduce their sexuality and pleasure to a tool to excite men. Below are a couple of examples of the ad campaigns DKT Brazil have employed, they don’t look all too different to beer, perfume, or car commercials do they? Now I understand that selling condoms kind of requires sex and I’m not against that at all, what I am against is the idea that a woman’s sexuality is only good for the pleasure of a man.

When asked by a YSAFE member why images that reinforce negative images of womens’ sexuality, race, and beauty, were being used, they responded with (and I paraphrase) ‘Well everyone else is doing it so why can’t we? And we all know SEX SELLS!’ Now I don’t know about you, but that it the laziest answer ever. So what, because everyone else is presenting women as an object of mens desire in the media you can too? Wouldn’t it be a greater accomplishment to portray sexual pleasure as something for all partners? Wouldn’t it be better to illustrate safer sex within the confines of a healthy relationship?

What are your thoughts on the ways in which DKT are marketing condoms is it different from how women are represented in the media as sexual objects?

The right-outside-the-session example on how "DKT does not objectify women".

You can respond to this on Facebook or Twitter, and share your excitement or disagreement about the way it has been done in campaigns they do. Oh, an they have a Twitter account too, in case you are interested...

Nevertheless, while ranting and raving about this, we still love The Pleasure Project that does a wonderful job transforming the "if you use a condom, all the hot babes will jump on you" discourse into an honest dialogue on safe and pleasurable sex. So, our hope is that this is just an unfortunate hook-up they've had with DKT.
Or, Pleasure Project could do some training for DKT just to make sure they finally get the difference between performing hegemonic heterosexuality in a "sexy" way and actually bringing the sensuality back to safer sex.

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