RochelLeah's RealLife

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I'd blush if I had to explain this ad to a 10-year-old

This is not a question of censorship. It's not a suggestion that people shouldn't talk about sexual subjects in public. It's just a contemplation on the lack of discretion in our culture.

Today, I was watching Law & Order (aka TV crack) reruns on TNT. (In the interest of full-disclosure, I actually watched four episodes. J. has Tivo, and I'm not ashamed to take advantage of it.) Lately, I've been noticing the presence of ads for erectile disfunction information packets and Cialis. They generally are a bit oblique about what they're advertising. Then today, I saw an ad for a feminine lubricant. No vague comments about "dryness" there... the product claims to correct pH imbalances and the resulting irritation following "intercourse", menstruation, etc. Yes, that's right, it specifically mentions that it's a product to use after having sex.

Mind you, this is not an ad during afternoon cartoons, nor is it during the Late Show. We're talking an early evening during a show that will most likely not interest young children.

Lately, I've also been a bit weirded out by the Good Vibrations bus and BART ads. For those of you from outside the Bay Area, Good Vibrations is a worker-owned cooperative store that sells sexual paraphenelia, erotic literature, and sexual education materials. They also hold classes (in everything from tying safe and effective bondage knots to recovering from sexual abuse) at their two stores, which are Bay Area institutions. The stores are known for being well-lit, helpfully staffed, and friendly to women. During the holiday season, they had a rather simple ad campaign on BART and the buses that had a retro-styled woman carrying one of their bags and had the phrase, "Good things come in our packages." Simple and somewhat oblique. Draws on the existing knowledge about their business that's already around and reminds people "in the know" to stop into their stores for holiday gifts. I thought it was clever.

Immediately after this, though, came the Valentine's Day ad: The "Love lab" poster, as I'd like to call it. Promoting the "Science of pleasure," the ad features drawings of test-tubes and beakers and a disassembled vibrator (a Hitachi Magic Wand, to be precise). Now, I don't think I'm particularly prudish. But I am embarrassed to look at a picture of a vibrator, even disassembled one, in the presence of the miscellaneous people (the vast majority of them strangers, but with the occasional acquaintance thrown in) with whom I ride the train, including children. I'm going to guess that most of them won't really "get" the ad. But I'm still uncomfortable.

It's not that I wish that sexual matters went back "in the closet"--I think that public discourse about sex is helpful and interesting, promotes sexual health and safety, and diminishes our culture's sense of shame and secrecy about sexuality. On the other hand, maybe it's a bit too brazen.