To my lovely teenage daughter,
Have lots of sex! You’re invincible with condoms!
That’s the message of Planned Parenthood’s new commercial debuting on MTV and MySpace.com. The ad, part of Planned Parenthood’s new "Safe and Sexy" outreach campaign, launched on April 15 in the San Francisco area. One need look no further than Planned Parenthood’s own description of the commercial to see how racy it is:
It begins with a young woman working with power tools in a hard-hat zone. A female voice-over states, "My father always told me to use the right tool for the right job." At the end of the day she returns home to find her hard-hat wearing boyfriend already under the covers. She tosses her own hard-hat aside and pulls off her coveralls, stripping down to a "Safe is Sexy" tank top, shorts style underpants and a tool belt. She dives across the bed for her safe sex toolbox, which is well stocked with colorful condoms, courtesy of Planned Parenthood. The ad closes with a shot of the safe sex toolbox and the same female voice-over saying, "Nice tool!"
Who is this girl’s father? I doubt he thought his home repairs lesson would become pillow talk between his daughter and her boyfriend.
This campaign would better be marketed as “Safe and Skanky”—to appeal directly to fathers and daughters who think this behavior is appropriate.
The real danger in the commercial isn’t the bad joke, but the lies Planned Parenthood feeds to its young audience. Contrary to Planned Parenthood’s message, these teenagers need to know there’s no such thing as “safe” sex. Of course condoms may prevent pregnancy, but slapping on a piece of rubber doesn’t protect teens from many other risks associated with sex.
Condoms are not 100% effective preventing STDs. Even with perfect use condoms aren’t affective at preventing someone from contracting some STDs, like HPV. When used improperly, people are at even greater risk. Certainly, condoms reduce the risks involved with sex, but they are no guarantee. Presenting them as foolproof products will only lead to an overconfident generation of fools.
Planned Parenthood even admits on its website that most people “dramatically underestimate the national prevalence of such infections and their own personal risk of acquiring one” yet Planned Parenthood’s commercial perpetuates such ignorance. The sad reality is that there are 15 million new STD cases a year. By age 24, one in three sexually active youngsters will contract an STD. The estimated direct cost of treating STDs is over $8 billion annually.
Aside from physical consequences, emotions are also at stake. Condoms do nothing to protect the fragile emotions of the teens targeted by this campaign. Sex—particularly casual sex—can have real and lasting emotional consequences. Women are particularly at risk: women are more inclined than men to become emotionally attached and hurt when the relationship doesn’t evolve past a one-night stand.
None of this is to say that abstinence is the only answer for young people, but they should only make the decision to have sex knowing all the facts, not the skewed reality presented in Planned Parenthood’s condom commercial.
Planned Parenthood justifies the campaign as educational outreach for teens, with the goal of reaching as many teens and young adults as possible. But who are they really educating? Everyone knows the reasons to use a condom. We’re talking about a generation that has been bombarded with pro-condom rhetoric since elementary school. Unfortunately, the message that this age group needs to hear is not the benefits of condoms, but the risks associated with “safe” sex.
Parents must be responsible for delivering this message to their children. But groups like Planned Parenthood that claim to be concerned about the welfare of America’s youth should at least strive not to contribute to the glorification of promiscuity. This latest effort fails to meet that minimal criteria: it promotes sex more than it promotes condoms. America’s youth deserve better.