Bikini-clad cuties cavorting in tropical paradise: just fine. Himbos stripping down to display their goods for discriminating ladies: no problem. Kissing, groping, and nipple-licking of all kinds: bring it on! A woman discussing with her husband the use of a contraceptive spermicide: no way.
That’s the position Fox Broadcasting Company took in January when it refused to air an ad for the spermicide Encare on an episode of its latest gleefully sleazy—and guiltily compelling—reality show, Temptation Island. In case you missed it, TI corralled four unmarried, but committed straight couples into resorts with a dozen “fantasy singles” of the opposite sex so that they could rut like telegenic bunnies; oh, sorry, I mean critically examine the future of their relationships in front of the cameras. Since the show featured plenty of drunken flirting, frolicking, and bod-flaunting, the problem couldn’t have been that the disputed ad—which depicts a phone conversation between a fully clothed married couple—was too racy for the airwaves. And it’s not that advertising dealing with sexual topics is off-limits—the network has run commercials for the erection drug Viagra.
FOX defended its decision by saying that the ad “did not meet broadcast standards in multiple ways,” including a requirement that contraceptive advertising be focused on “health concerns” rather than on pregnancy prevention. Since when is unwanted pregnancy not a major public health issue?
ABC, which also takes Viagra ads, refused the Encare ad, telling Advertising Age that it has never accepted nonprescription contraceptive advertising because “this raises issues that resonate with people on religious, moral, and ethical grounds.” Even with the critically acclaimed, nudity-rich NYPD Blue, ABC’s programming is generally far less provocative than FOX’s, making ABC’s decision slightly less hypocritical. (CBS has already begun airing the ad, and NBC has agreed to do so.)
By FOX’s reasoning, it’s O.K. to woo as many prurient eyeballs as possible for a television show that’s all about illicit sex, as long as you don’t use it to advertise one of the things you definitely want if you’re having illicit sex: a convenient, affordable birth control method. Of course, condoms fit this bill as well, but nary a “latex” was uttered on Temptation Island, in spite of network honchos’ insistence that FOX is oh-so-concerned about disease prevention. Oh, no, such a product might be too much for viewers’ delicate sensibilities.
Of course, there’s no such risk when shilling Viagra, a drug that basically does nothing but enable male gratification and soothe the male ego. After all, in a culture that is too slowly shaking off the double standard dictating pleasure for men and judgment for women, what could be offensive about a product that’s designed to give men the ability to get hard and get off? But a product that addresses an issue consistently faced by all sexually active straight women between the ages of 13 and 50—people might have moral problems with it.
Should feminists really care that a spermicide manufacturer lost out on the perfect marketing opportunity?
At a time when pro-choice organizations must gird themselves for battles over gains we thought we’d won years ago, and pop-culture sexuality is becoming more ubiquitous and extreme, the rejection of a spermicide ad on “moral” grounds takes on larger meaning.
To complicate matters, when it was revealed that one of the couples on TI had a child, they were bounced from the show. TI producers, who maintain they believed all couples to be offspring-free, insisted that they did not want to be responsible for putting “the mother an