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Sex Ads & Ed in London

Posted by Ryan Morgan on October 31, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Karen is a student at Clemson University and studies abroad this semester.  Join us as she shares her experiences  on reproductive rights across the pond!

When I arrived in London, the Paraolympics were just beginning. As a result, it seemed like a majority of the advertisements I saw when I rode The Underground, or walked around the streets were all somehow Olympic themed. There were Underground memos with giant muscly weight lifters getting stuck in the subway doors, reminding riders to plan well to “get ahead of the game.” There were British Airways signs telling people this summer, “Don’t fly!” Don’t use our business, stay in town, and support our city and our teams in the Olympic games – pretty clever. But my favorite Olympic themed advertisement of all was for Durex.

At first glance it just looks like one of the other billion reminders that the Olympics are in town. A white background with the Olympic rings, but when you look closer, what do you see? “Usain – not every man wants to be the fastest in the world.” And that’s when you notice. They aren’t rings; they are colorful condoms. What is interesting is that Durex is an official sponsor, and they supply condoms to the athletes. (And boy, do they need them! - You can read some interesting things online about what happens at the Olympic village, after the athletes have finished their competitions.

I loved it, but I started to think that back home, an advertisement like this wouldn’t fly. It’s not particularly raunchy. It’s not very sexy. It’s not even that suggestive. It’s nothing like this other advertisement, that while accepted in London, would be torn down in a heartbeat in most of South Carolina. So why did I get this sinking feeling that the light hearted, funny, Olympics ad would be looked down upon in my home state? Was I being bitter and cynical and not giving them enough credit? Or maybe Londoners themselves found the advertisement offensive.

Luckily the people of London are really nice, and living in a hostel makes it easy to meet other people. I decided to talk to a few students who were British about what they thought of the advertisements and sex ed in England. As I expected, the pack of 20-something year olds found the condom advertisement to be completely unoffensive and hilarious, or “cheeky,” but when I expected them to say they got comprehensive sexual health education in schools ( I for some reason, always just assume all the countries of Europe are ahead of us in this area), I was surprised. They told me that there are actually a lot of teen pregnancies in England and that sex ed, which is not required, sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t cover contraceptives.

The guys even went on to tell me they share a lot of the same cultural ideas about sex. They have the same dichotomy where when you’re young, before you go to university, if you’re a guy, you’re trying to have sex with a girl because you want to be cool and if your friends find out (and of course they will, because you’ll be running to tell them), your friends will be jealous, but of course, if you’re young and a girl and you have sex that makes you a slut. The boys assured me that at university level, everyone is a lot more accepting and laid back. I was really surprised to hear this, I guess I was expecting Europe to be the great cultural pinnacle, full of respect and honest education, but I was all sorts of wrong.

The fact remains though, that during my four days in London, I passed at least 5 different condom ads, 5 more than I’ve seen in the last year in South Carolina, and I didn’t notice a single look of disgust on the faces of the people passing by them.

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