The ups and downs of a condom advert - rip and roll

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jethro's picture

I am finally going to weigh into this public debate that has turned into a farce.


Some of what I am going to say is factual and other is opinion - I will clearly define each. Comments will be moderated - if you shoot the messenger and not the message, if you cant elucidate your thought clearly without turning to vitriolic or childish abuse then i will moderate / delete your comments. However if you care to comment on either side of the debate clearly and succinctly then I will allow you comment with no editing.


First let me describe the situation for clarity.

A Rip and Roll advert appeared in bus shelters and billboards. It shows a man kissing another man on the neck while embracing him from behind while holding a condom.

The advert is clearly not G-rated, and contains messages that are clearly not suitable for children (regardless of your sexual persuasions).

There was an immediate request to the advertising company by Senate candidate Wendy Francis and this resulted in the ads being removed. A counter response by gay activist groups had them reinstated and a media storm resulted. Refer: The Drum


I have stayed out of the social media on this article because of the lack of objectivity in the furore that has gone on with people claiming sides and defending all sorts of things. I have friends who strongly objected to the ads, some who supported the ads going back up and other friends who don't really care. I have friends from the gay and lesbian side who are calling people who want them removed homophobes.


Homophobic is the completely wrong label to be using - it defines people who have a fear of gay people. Wikipedia - Homosexual. This situation is not about the fear of gay people and if I and any other person dislike the ad it doesn't by implication make us homophobic - that is both poor logic and poor use of English. A person might not like it for any number of reasons. In fact a gay person might not like it and you could hardly call him / her a homophobe as a result.

This ad is about "safe sex" and targets gay men (as gay woman would have no use for condoms). The real issue is why it has to be in a public bus stop. The debate (if any at all) should be about:

  • the ads content and rating
  • the ads placement - and thus visibility to minors
  • the ads target audience

Lets break this down.

The ad is clearly about sex, and specifically gay male sex. The assumption from the ad is that the two men are about to engage in either oral or anal sex and that using a condom is a safe sex practice. Note: while condoms may reduces the possibility of harm they are not 100% reliable as a prevention for disease - refer Wikipedia- safe sex.

The ad was in a public space - in a public bus stop - frequented by all ages - including children and minors.

The ad is targeting gay men. A very small percentage of people in Australia. Using some basic statistics there are approximately 8.5million men over the age of 16 in Australia. ABS. A Monash University survey estimates some 20,711 gay men live in same sex households in Australia. If there are say 1.6% adult males who identify as gay in Australia (as reported in The 2003 'Sex in Australia' survey of 20,000 people, with a special weighting to Sydney's homosexual centre. Conducted by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society(ARCSHS) at La Trobe University. Published in Australian & NZ Journal of Public Health, Vol 27 No 2 2003 ISSN 1326 0200) that would be a total of approximately 136,000. Of them all a very small fraction would walk past this particular bus stop.


If you must have a condom ad (which is designed by the way to make money for the condom manufacture not promote safe sex as its primary raison d'etre, why not put it in gay men's magazines or places they frequent.

My opinions are not homophobic, rather they are child safe. As Wendy Francis suggests, I would agree that it is the parents responsibilities to teach their children about sex, sexuality, practising "safe sex" and not have minority practices exposed to them on  a bus stop advert.


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Simon Hobbs's picture

Sexual subjects dominate

Sexual subjects dominate advertising and media. We could walk around a city and discuss examples. Why is this one so controversial?

jethro's picture

good question Simon. I think

good question Simon. I think there are two reasons here. the first is that while "sex sells" and ads that use suggestive imagery are everywhere generally they are not specifically selling sex itself - but using sexuality or suggestiveness to sell another product. So in this case this is a cause of concern for G rated advertising advocates. Of itself that isnt such a big thing and if this had been a hetero couple i think that it would have just been quietly removed. you can't see married people all over australia (99+% of couples) just clamouring for its reinstatement.
The second reason is the shit storm that has erupted over the removal on the (incorrect) basis that it was removed due to homophobic concerns. I think this is what has caused the furore. A very vocal minority has got their knickers in a twist over a perceived wrong and the result is what has happened.
My 2c

Anonymous's picture

"I would agree that it is the

"I would agree that it is the parents responsibilities to teach their children about sex, sexuality, practising "safe sex" and not have minority practices exposed to them on a bus stop advert." I couln't agree more!

Stephen Dann's picture

A response 1) Describing a

A response
1) Describing a safe sex campaign as a commercial product to sell condoms is an incorrect assumption. A commercial company (ansell) would need to be the provider, rather than the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities, which is partly funded by Queensland Health. Do you oppose the use of the 5 and 2 health message because it's shilling for Woolworths and Coles? Do you regard the government's 30 minutes of exercise as a commercial venture to sell more Nike shoes? I am intrigued to see how a health message became a commercial message for you.

2) The use of public transport bus shelters, railway advertising and billboard advertising is a common technique in the health promotion sector. Previously, adverts for campaigns to lower injecting drug use, ice use, cocaine, and speed. All of these are adult centric products with limited appeal to children, and as such, are placed in areas frequented by adults. You may also wish to review the advertising for Call of Duty 3, The Hangover II, and Lynx "Even Angels Fall". Attempting to proscribe bus shelter and billboard advertising as a G rated product venue is not consistent with current commercial and community accepted practice. Several heterosexual centric commercial advertising campaigns occupy these spaces. So do adverts for cars (18+), alcohol (18+) and a range of other non-child related products (home loans, credit cards, banks, real estate agencies). This is not an exclusive children's communication channel, and should not be presented as if it were such.

3) You may wish to review the Queensland Government's STI campaign site - with particular reference to the campaign tracking data on bus shelter placements. For a heterosexual centric campaign of safe sex and condom use, the tracking data reports "The print/posters, in particular the ‘Without Even Knowing’ approach tended to have the highest impact, with recognition of the radio and internet banners at a lower level overall". (Wave 3 33%, Wave 2 25%, Wave 1 27%). Positive tracking data from the heterosexual condom use campaign would have partly informed the media buy for this campaign.

4) From a technical perspective, the value of the public transport location advertising is the anonymity of the consumption of the message. Given there remains an issue in contemporary society with identification, self-identification or potential identification as a homosexual male, the locations in the campaign allow for anonymous message consumption - something which is beneficial in all sexual health messages. Being able to see the message without having to acknowledge it was for you is a mechanism that allows for communication of potentially socially awkward or embarrassing messages. Again, a common heterosexual sexual health technique ported across to this health department sponsored health campaign.

5)If we had reasonable levels of equality between attitudes towards heterosexual and non-heterosexual sexual activity, this campaign would have run with about as much interest in it from people outside of the target market as you'd have found for the same people who weren't being targeted by the QLD teenage STI campaign. It would simply have run the course, nobody who wasn't in a same-sex male-to-male relationship or casual sexual encounter would have paid attention, and it would have joined the background clutter of the rest of the adverts in billboards, bus shelters and public transport.

6) There is also a normative component to the campaign which is the presentation of a same-sex male couple in an overt and visible manner. If this is problematic for people, then this is an area worthy of future campaigns for the normalisation of relationships that are present and part of the rich diverse culture of Australian life. I would be very keen to see more advertising in this area, not less, because there is clearly a market demand for increased levels of exposure to the apparently previously unknown concept of a safe sex message for someone who is not me (eg heterosexual). Support for and protection of minority sections of the population is a sign of decently functioning democracy that can cope with "About Me (for me)/Not about me (not for me)" dichotomies of lifestyle, religious preference, sexual practice, gender presentation, physical appearances, temporary-able states and other aspects of the differences between fellow humans. Count me in favour of the civilised discourse of messages for more than just the dominant normative social group.

jethro's picture

some short points in

some short points in repsonse
1) safe sex is a very misused phrase with a idealistic beginning and is really nothing more than a large condom selling / promoting scheme. the idea that a condom provides safe sex is itself very misleading.
2) all of the mentioned should be removed from bus stops in my opinion. I have actually personally boycotted lynx products following some of their blatant sexualising advertising and promotions. I will not be using their products again.
3) and 4) I refer to the extremely small target market. 20,000 gay male couples Australia wide. 136,000 gay men total! Look even if its double that how many of them are going to walk past that bus stop and be influenced by the sign to grab a pack of condoms with the milk on the way home?
5) Normative??? since when is a fraction of a population doing something the remainder of the population largely is ignorant of or considers at least not normative and possibly abhorrent be considered normative? Within the 20,000 couples mentioned above it is - but for the remainder of australia? How about a picture of a couple of people smoking a bong? thats far more normative!
at the end of the day this isnt about gay life styles or supporting them or their right to exist and practise what they want. if it was the ad would say that. It doesnt. It is about condoms and "safe" gay sex. unless you want to believe it isnt...

Daniel's picture

Would you still have issues

Would you still have issues with this if it were a man and a woman?

jethro's picture

Actually yes. I have 4

Actually yes. I have 4 daughters and want to be able to teach them about sex and sexuality in our own time and when they are ready and not be prompted to discussions by adverts. I agree with the idea of child safe advertising.

Sean's picture

I hadn't seen the ads but had

I hadn't seen the ads but had a bit of a Google, these adverts are very tasteful and state their message without being overtly sexually explicit. From reading your post and comments I get the feeling that the reason you don't like these ads is because it could cause children to ask or contemplate questions about them? (and please correct me if I'm wrong)

So I think the real debate is less about the adverts and more about the age we should be teaching children about sex. When I look at these ads I feel they're so tasteful that any child who could comprehend it should of already had some type of sexual education that would make these ads a none issue.

Kids are losing their virginity younger and younger, when I was in school (and I went to a Christian school) it was as young as 12, and this also included same sex relationships. But I remember my little sister coming home at age 7 talking about the kids at school talking about sex (not having sex, thank god). Kids shouldn't be getting their sexual education from their friends but most are because most parents don't talk about this earlier enough. I remember my friends glorifying sex and they certainly didn't talk about any of the negatives, this is where parents have a chance to provide a balanced view that includes abstinence.

You mentioned "I have 4 daughters and want to be able to teach them about sex and sexuality in our own time and when they are ready and not be prompted to discussions by adverts." Unfortunately I totally disagree with this, I wish it was the case that children learnt about sex when they were ready for it, but in reality their friends are already talking about it.

And sexual education isn't just about sex, its about preventing (as much as possible) sexual abuse, according to research from the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne it showed that 17 per cent of girls and 7 per cent of boys experience childhood sexual abuse, and 14 per cent of girls and 6 per cent of boys experience unwanted sexual contact.

So my point here is if children have already received sexual education these ads aren't an issue because the ads don't cover any more issues than parents should of already dealt with with their children.

I disagree with your comment "why not put it in [a] gay men's magazines or places they frequent". This seems like typical stereotyping that says that gay people read different magazines and go to different places than the straight population. Sure, many do and this would be the ideal place to put this advert, but guess what, these magazines and "places" already have these adverts. Its the gay population that doesn't frequent these "places" or read these magazines that this advert can benefit.

jethro's picture

your assumption is largely

your assumption is largely correct. My personal opinion and main concern is that the ads display a lifestyle and a practice that we would wan tot explain to our children when they are ready for it. Your assumptions about what their friends are talking about is wrong though. I agree many parents let their children find out through friends etc. Our parenting has taken a different approach and we are teaching our girls the sanctity of sex within the confines of a marriage and safe sex is abstinence.
We also guide them away from "friends" who do not have the morals or values we hold.
Of course it is their choice at the end of the day but we would hope that the teaching we have provided is a good grounding. likewise we would hope that they would avoid abusive relationships by teaching and modelling a loving relationship.
If my children were to "receive unwanted sexual contact" I would be hounding the perpetrators through the law to the absolute maximum penalty. As we are assisting a family where this has happened one of the things I am passionate about is teaching young men to be responsible adults who do not inflict sex crimes on other people - male or female. educating about the dangers is one thing - but working to solve root causes is equally if not more important dont you think?
Finally my point regarding the placement is simply based on statistics.
20,000 gay male couples Australia wide. What percentage of them don't already know about using condoms is anyones guess. What percentage of that fraction are going to walk past that ad? - Clearly the ad is not actually aimed at the target market. My opinion is that it is instead trying to sell a subtle "normative" message about a clearly non statistical normative practice to the rest of Australia - including minors.

Sean's picture

My personal opinion and main

My personal opinion and main concern is that the ads display a lifestyle and a practice that we would wan tot explain to our children when they are ready for it. Your assumptions about what their friends are talking about is wrong though.

We also guide them away from "friends" who do not have the morals or values we hold.

Sure their "friends" might not talk about it but the group of girls that just happen to sit down at the same lunch table or the conversation they walk into in the playground is unavoidable. Parents can't shelter their children from these conversations because they're happening more and more. I think parents are better equipped to talk about Sex and Homosexuality than kids at school and should before these conversations pop up so its not such a shock to the system. If Sex and Homosexuality has already been discussed these adverts just promote positive conversation of protected sex inside a consensual relationship.

As you mention solving the root cause of sexual abuse is the ultimate solution but that doesn't mean we don't take protective measures. If children don't know what sexual abuse is they're less likely to report it. A Perspective on Clergy Sexual Abuse by Dr. Thomas Plante of Stanford University and Santa Clara University states that "approximately 4% of priests during the past half century have had a sexual experience with a minor". Whether this stat is correct or not its certainly frightening to see the increase of prosecutions of child sexual abuse inside the church a place where you would think children would be safe. And once again this brings me back to why conversations about sex are important at a young age.

Clearly the ad is not actually aimed at the target market. My opinion is that it is instead trying to sell a subtle "normative" message about a clearly non statistical normative practice to the rest of Australia - including minors.

I believe that the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities has the best intentions in mind with this advertisement. We know its in multiple bus stops and there's also billboards. So as a whole the advertising campaign is reaching their target audience even if it's just a very small percentage because not all gay people read Q Magazine. Even if this stops just one person to think about carrying a condom and that stops an STD then this campaign is worth it.

Now even if QAHC doesn't have the best intentions for this advertising campaign it still doesn't undermine the fact that the campaign could have positive effects which I support. But if they are trying to (as you say): "sell a subtle 'normative' message about a clearly non statistical normative practice to the rest of Australia". They should have every right to advertise especially due to the very tasteful advertising they are using.

I can guarantee you that many members of the Australian Christian Lobby who sent in the complaints to Adshel did so because this was promoting homosexuality and not just because of "the children". Lets face it if the ACL could remove homosexuality from Australia they would, and while they have every right to hold that view, I have every right to find it as discriminatory as removing every Aboriginal from Australia.

marraine's picture

Great Article Tim, Agree 100

Great Article Tim, Agree 100 % - We don't want our children taught about sex and sexuality from a bill board - at home were you are bale to teach them about sex and sexuality in your own time and when they are ready and not because they are prompted by adverts on the streets!!
As we drove up the M1 the other day they have a huge bill board with that add on it - I thought I was seeing things at first! I had heard about the posters @ the bus stops but did not realise that they had them plastered up & down the M1 (SO WRONG )

jethro's picture

Thanks for letting me know -

Thanks for letting me know - we have to travel that way in 2 weeks.

Anonymous's picture

I see this add every day and

I see this add every day and i am disgusted by it.Promoting anal cavity ramming to children is just wrong.I don't see any women groups who prefer unnatural anal sex imposing their beliefs to mainstream society.
Keep your private stuff to yourself.
Should we have billboards for oral sex,group sex,sado-maso,bestiality...etc.-as wel.
Gays have their rights these days but we need protection for normal mainstream reproductive population .
It is against the law to offend homo-sexsual,but it is normal to offend christians (for example )at any occasion.
If we want to build tolerant society this is not the way.
We want stronger censorship.Liberalism without wisdom or morality is formula for disaster.
This is insult to thousands of christian ANZACS who gave their lives for our freedom.
Freedom to teach children mateship,that it is normal to stick it into your mate.

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