Have you seen the condom advertisements on television? In one ad, a handsome 26-year-old man says he only dates nice women but wants to be “safe.” The camera dissolves to the condom package. In another ad, an attractive young woman says she wants to love but is not willing to die for it.

The networks were initially hesitant. They spoke of “bad taste,” saying the public was “not ready.” Their critics said this reflects “an appalling indifference” to public-health needs, AIDS is spreading rapidly.

Indeed it is, but advertising condoms on television is the wrong way to fight this alarming epidemic. Two arguments against the ads come to mind: (1) the rationale for the ads contains a significant inconsistency; and (2) a crucial assumption of the rationale is false.

Promoting The Cause Of Aids

The rationale for advertising condoms sounds noble enough. One way to slow the spread of AIDS is to inform the public how condoms can prevent this disease. But who needs to be informed about condoms and about the dangers of extramarital intercourse and homosexual activity? Novices do! Mainly, that means adolescent youngsters who are just beginning to discover their sexuality. At a time when they are forming attitudes about their new-found desires, along comes a direct message from the most powerful medium of our culture: “As long as you use a condom you’ll be safe.” To provide further motivation, the ads picture handsome, articulate men or women who talk about condoms without looking stupid or embarrassed. But by glamorizing the use of condoms, the ads inevitably glamorize the act in which they are used. They make it appear that sex is just another recreational activity, no different ...

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