Durex Condoms: A Hundred Million Reasons Not To Use Them
Durex. This is enough. I’m done.
I looked into Durex after reading a tweet from their South African twitter that was horribly violent towards women.
I won’t even analyze that, because I don’t have to analyze that for anyone who has a head. Rape is not okay ever, not even if she won’t stop talking.
After reading about how quickly Durex threw their South African PR company under the bus for the tweet (named and shamed and all), I was curious about how Durex usually operates, since they sold this as a grievous error made by an outside party. What I discovered is that this is actually par for the course for Durex.
First of all, I’m going to say that for a while, I really enjoyed Durex advertisements because they were explicit. Trojan ads tend to lean more towards the absurd—remember the Trojan Games campaign?—while Durex ads tend to be directly sexual. I also want everyone to recall the absolute hullaballoo over the Trojan “Evolve” ads featuring the males as pigs until they get a condom, at which point they turn into handsome, well dressed men (the condom is the glass slipper of our generation). If you google “sexist Trojan ad” there are pages dedicated to this campaign and how horribly sexist (they mean prejudiced) it is against men.
Both companies are decidedly heterosexist to a huge extent. Durex USA’s twitter (more on Durex tweets in a moment!) features a sex positive Position of the Week feature that is very clearly directed, always, at heterosexual couples. The directions come in two parts; one for the man and one for the woman. There is also a picture used to go along with the directions.
Okay, I can see some positivity in this. Durex doesn’t gloss over what condoms are meant for. There’s no shame here, and the directions are straight forward for 140 characters. You will be using this condom for fucking. You will not be staring into one another’s eyes in a restaurant, you will not be walking along a beach, and you will not be in the Olympic Games. You’re going to be fucking. People fuck. Get over it.
Everything else…downhill. It’s like they made every possible decision to make these as homophobic as possible. While it might be impractical for twitter to write out a description of Actor 1 that is inclusive every time (the egalitarian, yet penetrating partner!), every last one of these is for heterosexual partners. There is no sex act that doesn’t feature penetration. Even though these could be adjusted for lesbian couples, or gay couples, or couples who don’t have penetrative sex for whatever reason, Durex goes the extra mile to make sure that you know a MAN and a WOMAN are having sex—they put boobs on their stick figures. I’ll repeat that, because it could stand to be repeated. Boobs on their stick figures. They don’t have hands or feet, but they have boobs. It’s honestly a little bit obscene.
Durex USA’s twitter then features this little gem.
Just so you know, while there was no date attached to the twitter screen capture from DurexSA (other than 7 hours ago), the article came out on November 26, 2011. The original capture of the issue came from Feminist SA on November 24, 2011. The capture above is from November 5, 2011, so this is not ten years between fuckups. In fact, this one predates the SA tweet that Durex disavowed post-haste.
This tweet is rape-y. If someone doesn’t want to have sex, then the answer is to respect the fact that they don’t want to have sex. There are plenty of reasons people don’t want to have sex; they are all valid. From the medical to the psychological to the practical to no reason at all that you can discern…forcing yourself to “have sex anyway” is pretty much the antithesis of a safe sexual environment and an enjoyable experience.
Furthermore, even without the rape culture context, who wants to have sex with a partner who is merely tolerating you? Or a partner who is in pain in that bad way? Or one who is actively upset about something else? Giving up because you don’t feel like arguing is not consent and it feels like shit. Any sexual relationship is about mutual satisfaction and partnership, though these things look different depending on the situation. “Just get it over with,” isn’t mutual satisfaction and partnership. It’s forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do.
If we’re referencing the loss of libido that has happened to just about everyone, then this is horrible advice based on shaming the partner who just doesn’t feel up to it. In the context of a relationship, it’s true that sometimes our sex lives go south. You get sick, you get stressed, you get tired, and suddenly the libido is gone. When one partner suddenly loses interest, ignoring the change and resigning yourself to your fate is pretty much what not to do. If you don’t want to have sex, and you’re unhappy about that, you speak with your partner. You decide whether you want to fix the issue. You discuss the possible causes. You decide whether you want to speak with your doctor. You create an environment that is healthy and happy for your body, no matter what that may be. You should not just lie there, frustrated and angry, resenting the person having sex with you.
Also, forgive me, because I don’t mean to medicalize a lack of sex drive, or to say every time you don’t feel like having sex, you should sit down with your partner, listen to some whale song on the stereo, have some herbal tea, and have a good processing session. I realized as I was writing that I was treating this like a problem to be solved, and this is because the language of the tweet is medical (Sex will cure that); it frames your desire not to have sex at a particular time or with a particular person as a sickness that can then be cured. Maybe you just don’t feel like fucking. That’s a fine idea. Don’t have sex. These are your parts, you have the agency.
The same way there is no shame in wanting to have lots of sex with lots of people, there’s no shame in not wanting to have sex, either. There’s nothing positive about having sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you. There’s nothing positive about wanting your partner to give up, give in, and give exasperated consent so you’re technically not raping them.
This is 101 stuff.
And it gets worse.
Durex also likes to make jokes about penis size. They seem to enjoy sticking endowments on stick figures, because, along with the boobs, they also have a figure with a third leg, winkwink. There’s also an ad featuring a set of footprints that are heading away from the camera, and and a line is drawn in the sand between the feet. It’s about a giant penis. I get it.
Then we get to this, from about 3 years ago.
Which I guess is what happens when you use your penis to shut her up as suggested?
And then we get to the ads that are the antithesis of safe sex. I actually don’t understand how a condom company let these things fly. Isn’t the usual point of a condom to prevent STDs and pregnancy?
I am reduced to gesturing wildly at the screen, people. No. No condoms are so tough that you can do this to them, even if you can fit it over your entire head. Do not do this with your condoms. A condom is made of latex or rubber, not reinforced steel. Do not stick sewing needles in your condoms. Do not put anything sharp near your condoms. Always check your condoms for tears, rips, or holes before use. Please have safe sex. Actual safe sex.
And now…for the crown jewel of Durex.
A snappy analysis is located at The Gloss, but I really want to fine tooth comb this one.
Leave her pleasantly puzzled.
Just out of curiosity, would any of you be pleasantly puzzled by the notion that your partner may not have followed your requests to keep you both safe? I am pleasantly puzzled by things such as the New York Times crossword. I am less pleasantly puzzled by “Did I actually consent to this?” I would file that under “possibly life-altering tragedy.”
For those of you in the audience who see this as a coy joke, it’s also a double standard joke. There is a grand cultural myth about women who lie about their birth control to trap a man. If you are male and your female sexual partner lied about using birth control and became pregnant, how pleasantly puzzled would you feel? What if your partner lied about their STD status or presented you with phony results? Feeling a little bemused? I didn’t think so.
Birth control sabotage is deadly serious and actually quite common.Nearly 20 percent of women at family clinics across northern California reported that their partner tried to coerce them into having a child, sometimes using methods such as poking holes in condoms or flushing birth control pills down the toilet. Birth control sabotage is also a common form of domestic abuse, and while the studies of this are newer, the numbers are alarming. I’ve provided two short overviews, but Google is full of information here.
If you don’t use a condom when your partner requested that you do so, that is a rape. If a woman consents to safe sex with you and you deliberately ignore her request, you don’t have consent. Consenting to having sex with a condom is an entirely different act from having sex without a condom. “I don’t want to have unprotected sex,” is “No.” Consenting to one thing does not give a human being blanket consent to your entire body.
For those of you who think that this is no big deal, because it’s a condom ad so the missing partner in the picture clearly wore the condom, this ad also plays heavily on female sexual embarrassment. It says that it is better for a woman to wonder what is going on with her own body than for her to speak up. It denies female sexual agency, makes her body something that is acted upon until sex is over, and only then may she think about whether her consent was taken seriously. I don’t know about everyone else, but if I had some doubts about whether my partner was possibly exposing me to serious health risks, I’d sit up and make sure. This plays on the message that a woman’s job is to be a peacemaker. Don’t rock the boat. Nice girls don’t. Or if Nice Girls Do for the sake of a condom ad, they certainly don’t talk about it. Better to bite your nails the next morning rather than to risk upsetting your partner.
The same advertisement, with the same message (this doesn’t feel like you’re fucking a medical supply store!) could easily have been conveyed without any of this. Even just giving a female agency in the ad would have made a huge difference. While this is by no means perfect, a woman looking at or asking about the condom and being “pleasantly puzzled” by the fact that she can see it but not feel it actually conveys the message, “Durex feels the best.” This ad says, “Her consent is a joke, do whatever you want, she won’t be able to tell, and she’s been so steeped in gendered bullshit about nice girls that she won’t even ask!”
Since this is now long enough, and I could do this all day, I’ll just leave this.
Note 1: While I use the terms “fucking” and “having sex” and all other manner of euphemisms, I am talking about any sexual activity and not just PiV sex. I apologize if I missed some references or used non-inclusive language.
Note 2: I was originally least offended by the image of the woman’s lips with the bandages. After all, I know plenty of people who like to have sex that requires minor medical attention afterwards. Rug burns, rope burns, and scratches are not all that uncommon, and I am sure that someone, somewhere on FetLife, has enjoyed a consensual, dick-induced Glasgow Smile (everything about it). However, given the rest of their advertising, an emotionless woman with a slack and injured mouth just doesn’t scream Pro-Kink and Sexual Freedom to me.