By Patricia Evangelista
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: February 02, 2008
MANILA, Philippines--CONDOM ADS, ARGUES JO IMBONG OF FAMILY MEDIA Advocacy Foundation (FMAF), “convey a vulgar message and mock the sensibilities of the audience.”
I’d like to ask what she means by “a vulgar message.” If she is against the manner by which these advertisements are made, then her argument is not against condom advertisements in general, but against particular ads that “mock” her sensibilities. And yet FMAF and other conservative groups are calling for a blanket ban on all condom commercials, irrelevant of content. There is only one common denominator in all condom commercials, whether they involve King Kong, lingerie, or a doctor giving an opinion—it is that sexual activity must be accompanied by condom use. It is not the advertisements per se that Ms Imbong finds vulgar, it is the message that artificial contraception itself is acceptable.
Pro-Life Philippines’ Edgardo Sorreta says that these commercials “violate the innocence of the young, as their impressionistic minds are subconsciously formed on wrong values on sex.” Again, who determines what “the right values” are on sex? Sorreta and his group assume that they have a monopoly on morality, and that their perceptions and judgments are the perceptions and judgments of the millions who watch television. It follows, by their own limited perspectives, that because they perceive artificial contraception to be evil, others must be denied the right to this choice.
This is not only a debate on advertising; it is a debate on free choice. The right of the conservatives to choice is protected by the state, but so is the choice of the others to use artificial contraception. Unless they are able to prove, beyond personal and religious conviction, that artificial contraception is a danger to the individual, the state cannot and must not be compelled to deny its other citizens of the right to choose. I wonder how this group would feel if government mandated denying the public of information on natural family planning, and refused its teaching in public schools.
But let us give its members the benefit of the doubt.. Let us assume that all they are against are condom commercials. Essentially, the anti-condom advertising lobby argues that advertisements encourage people to have sex. Marikina Rep. Marcelino Teodoro says that condom commercials “would only heighten the practice of pre-marital sex among the youth.”
The argument that condom commercials lead to sexual activity presupposes several things. It assumes that young people live in a vacuum devoid of the influences of school, the pressures of home, hormones and the daily onslaught of popular culture. There are no studies to prove this, but statistics do show this—that as of 2002, 23 percent of young Filipinos, ages 15-24 (about 4 million) have had premarital sex. Eighty percent of these sexually active youth said they did not use any form of protection, and 75 percent of their most recent sexual experiences were unprotected. I cannot believe that this predisposition for sexual activity is due to the sight of a young couple choosing condom flavors at a drugstore (in the case of Frenzy condoms) or due to Winnie Cordero interviewing a doctor about Trust condoms. The argument presumes that no other factors exist, and that young people live in a glass bubble. If condom commercials have such a profound effect in this manner, it follows to reason that the sight of these condoms on supermarket counters is enough to make innocents indulge in a frenzy of sexual activity. A condom commercial, in the face of current realities, is a warning, the offer of a choice to many who are unaware and uneducated. The fact that they are shown on prime time is only correct, because the more young people see these commercials, the more they will be aware that they too can be protected.
Perhaps before arguing that contraception advertisements are an insult to public morals, it is best to define what these morals are. After all, we live in a country whose tourists flock to ABS-CBN Studio 3, where the Wowowee girls, wrapped in scraps of neon jersey, thrust hip and cleavage at bedazzled audiences. Cosmopolitan’s cover announces it has “News that will change your sex life,” while a ripe Andrea del Rosario arcs her naked back on the cover of Maxim. On television, red-bikinied amazons charge at a man spraying Axe deodorant, while in another commercial, three beautifully muscled young men, for some inexplicable reason, prance through a rainforest dressed in their Bench underwear. And yet conservatives talk on as if condom advertisements are out of the ordinary in the context of modern Filipino culture.
Their logic assumes that the citizen is unable to make decisions, as if Robin Padilla wielding a gun and shooting indiscriminately in a telenovela will induce every man to go racing for an AK-47. If they persist in believing they define Filipino culture, and assume that the individual cannot make independent judgments, I suggest they ban every TV show from “Friends” to “Desperate Housewives,” every youth-oriented commercial, every other soap opera, romance novel and romantic comedy, burn literary classics and half the paintings in the national museum. After all, all these may lead to promiscuity.
Former CBCP president Oscar Cruz is right in that there is a danger of condom commercials misleading the public into believing that they prevent AIDS a hundred percent. There is nothing to stop the AdBoard from slapping a surgeon-general’s warning at the end of every ad that condoms only work 98 percent of the time. That fact, however, does not deny the utility of condoms in responsible sexual activity—according to the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization, condoms are “the best defense” in preventing sexually transmitted diseases—if people insist on having sex, a 2-percent danger is better than a hundred percent. And yet he thunders with his most imposing point: “If that ‘thing’ can prevent the spread of AIDS and other diseases, how come AIDS cases are increasing?” The answer, I hazard, is because “that thing” is not being used—what with the removal of subsidies, a lack of access to contraceptives, and a strong conservative lobby against sex education.
Conservative groups are asking the courts to ban condom advertising—essentially depriving many citizens of their only source of information on condom use, and the right to make responsible choices. That, for me, mocks the public’s sensibilities.