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The Answer Blog

Equal Time, Please

Tiger Woods may have led me to watch men’s professional golf championships on TV, but he also led me, inadvertently, to watch something else: discussions about the problem of erectile dysfunction in middle- and older-age men, and advertisements for Viagra and Cialis, drugs that are the newly-developed magic bullets for overcoming the problem.

I keep wondering what it must be like for men watching these golf programs with their teenage sons—or daughters, for that matter—who may have to answer the question, “Dad, what exactly is erectile dysfunction?” Or what it’s like for fathers who may have to respond when the voice-over says that if a man on one of these drugs has an “erection that lasts for more than four hours,” he must seek medical help.

I suppose I should be a good sport. After all, we’ve become sufficiently comfortable as a nation using such terms as erectile dysfunction to have these ads shown on both network and cable TV. I do applaud this. But, if we can promote products such as Viagra and Cialis, why, I want to know, can’t we promote the lowly, little latex condom?

Why won’t the major networks accept ads that talk about the effectiveness of using condoms to prevent unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS? Why, to the best of my memory, have I never seen an ad promoting condom use on a major network, during primetime viewing hours, in this country?

Perhaps one of the reasons why the U.S. has one of the highest teen-pregnancy rates in the Western industrialized world is that we don’t promote using condoms on national TV. Perhaps one of the reasons why one in four teenage girls has an STD is that the networks choose not to accept ads for condoms out of fear that they will be picketed by groups that promote abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. These groups fervently believe that young people only should know about the failure rates of condoms rather than learning about their effectiveness.

If educators were to encourage young people in their sex education classes to design a condom-promotion campaign, students would learn about the many good reasons for using a condom, if and when they choose to have sex. Students might also hold a class debate about the pros and cons of running ads for condoms on TV. Finally, as potential advocates, they might write to the powers that control ad buys and ad placements on TV and find out why ads for Cialis are so readily accepted and ads for condoms are not.

Are you an educator looking for lesson plans on condoms and other forms of contraception? Check out our online lesson plans.

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