Should Hollywood do more to portray safer sexuality?

Last week, Insecures Issa Rae responded to fans who claim the reveal should do more to depict safe sexual practices but the show isnt alone in its portrayal of condom-free action

Theres still something undeniably obligating about a good sex scene. Whether its to build intrigue, advance the plot or, well, indulge our collective wish to see Hollywood stars undress and simulate coitus, they remain attention-grabbing set-pieces.

But even in the best sex scenes, the industry has generally eschewed condoms, a trend that climaxed, if you will, when fans pointed out that Issa Raes sex-heavy series Insecure has, over the course of one and a half seasons, failed to show its characters discussing, buying or applying protection. And the HBO series isnt alone: if youve ever wondered how movie and TV characters seem miraculously capable of bypassing foreplay, moving quickly from a shared glance of reciprocal desire to a carnal espouse, its because a) it isnt real, and b) they dont seem to use contraception.

Of course, the dearth of contraception use in cinema and TV is scarcely Issa Raes own cross to bear. But the show-runner and star of the Golden Globe-nominated make answered nonetheless, explaining to her Twitter adherents that she and her crew tend to place condoms in the backgrounds of scenes or connote them, attaching to the tweet two stills from the episode where open condom wrappers appear on a bedside table. We hear you guys and will do better next season, she added.

Issa Rae (@ IssaRae)

We tend to place condoms in the backgrounds of scenes or connote them. But we hear you guys and will do better next season. #InsecureHBO q9quKK3ZB8

August 14, 2017

Prentice Penny, the presents executive producer, took a less conciliatory approach, telling fans on Twitter that in the writers room its assumed characters use condoms. We are not a PSA, documentary, or non-profit, he added. They should not look to ANY decisions our characters make as a compass.

While Insecures been asked to shoulder the burden of promulgating safe sexuality recently, its still worth asking just how scarcely its practiced, or referenced, in pop culture writ large. And a dive into the annals of the cultural condom canon shows how regularly theyre utilized simply as information sources for slapstick slapstick or to cause an unintended pregnancy.

When explicitly mentioned or shown in sex scenes, condoms function as a gimmick or plot device, like in The Naked Gun, when Leslie Nielsens Lieutenant Frank Drebin and Priscilla Presleys Jane Spencer put on full-body latex suits before fooling around. The whole gag, in true Naked Gun form, was less about sexuality than it was the absurdity of these performers looking like contraceptive Teletubbies, just as it was when Steve Carrell slips a Magnum on his arm in the 40 -Year Old Virgin as Catherine Keener looks on in horror.

The plot of Judd Apatows Knocked Up is of course singularly driven by a misunderstanding between Ben( Seth Rogen) and Alison( Katherine Heigl) about not using protection during their one-night stand. I assumed you were wearing a patch or, like, a dental dam, Ben says. Then they have a newborn. The opening scene of the Master of None pilot demonstrates Dev( Aziz Ansari) having sexuality with Rachel( Noel Wells) before the condom transgress and they Uber to a convenience store to buy Plan B. One of the few hours in recent years where condoms were depicted without much fanfare was in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, where the sex is otherwise mostly vanilla; twice Christian Grey puts on a condom, and theres even in a brief joke about the oral contraceptive clause in Anas sex contract.

Steve Carrell in The 40 -Year Old Virgin Photograph: Youtube

Fifty Shades acknowledged that using protection is a safeguard against not only unintended pregnancy but sexually transmitted infections too; Girls, Transparent and the British sitcom Lovesick have also addressed STIs in ways both big and small. And based on a 2016 report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, STI rates recently reached an all-time high: in 2015, there were more than 1.5 million reported cases of chlamydia, nearly 400,000 of gonorrhea and close to 24,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis. A study by the informational site found that, in their past 10 instances of intercourse, women utilized condoms 58% of the time and men 79%.

But onscreen, you wouldnt know it; characters mostly head straight to the sack without skipping a beat.

The question of protection in Insecure was first raised by Jozen Cummings in a article last week for the Root. Some wrote off the op-ed as more pearl-clutching from the media police, while others argued that its worth Issa Raes time to show some compulsory condom application, even if it messes with the rhythm of the depicts sex scenes. But the trends too pervasive to fall on the shoulders of one demonstrate, since condoms are practically nonexistent across the industry when theyre not the butt of a joke.

A 2010 study undertaken by the UK Department of Health entitled Mis-selling Sex investigated 350 episodes of television with sexuality scenes and found that merely 7% of them featured any sort of discussion of contraceptive utilize. More alarming still is that in 99 of 102 instances of intercourse examined for the study which included British soaps such as EastEnders and Coronation Street, as well as American dramas such as Desperate Housewives and Greys Anatomy condoms didnt appear to be used at all.

But some think that we overestimate pop cultures capacity to normalize safe sexuality. And others, like Penny, argue that movies and television demonstrates arent public service announcements but creative, for-profit entities, with no responsibility whatsoever to lead audiences towards contraception and safe sex.

Theres validity to both debates. But truthfully, how hard can it be for shows to throw a condom in there for good measure, especially since the sexuality scenes unlike the kind had in porn studios in the San Fernando Valley, where legislations been proposed to mandate contraception to stop the spread of STIs arent real?

I think its easy enough to include condoms because this is fiction that is supposed to simulate certain specific types of reality, said Dr Dennis Fortenberry, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana Universitys school of medicine and a member of the American Sexual Health Associations board of directors. I think including contraception in useful ways actually accentuates the reality of the situation. And many of these demonstrates intend to create models of reality, so I dont find any particular reason to leave contraception and condoms out.

As for whether calling for more depictions of contraception employ constitutes an undue onu on a cinema or television displays writers, Fortenberry believes that we already police sex onscreen in more established and indiscernible ways.

I recognise the difficulty of defining standards and policing film and television in ways that are compatible with other social values, but we police it already in terms of prohibiting some kinds of content, with restrictions on the kinds of sex acts that can be shown or even discussed, he told me. Most of the sex thats shown on television and in most widely available cinemas is not very explicit. You actually cant understand sex by watching it on TV.

Unfortunately, theres no barometer to measure the extent to which real-life sexual practices are influenced by sexuality in cinema and Tv. But the imprint left by seeing characters simulate intercourse like the family movie night gone awry when adolescents are forced to watch a sex scene opposite their parents is potent. Fortenberry believes the issues akin to that of cigarette smoking onscreen, which Hollywood studios began to legislate when anti-smoking lobbyists framed it as a matter of public health.

If you take, for example, cigarette smoking and the limits on advertising for and portrayals of cigarettes, thats part of a larger social understanding of the harms of smoking and the importance of this approach for the prevention of those damages, Fortenberry explained.

And though he remains skeptical as to whether presenting safe sexuality would affect spectators own practices, Fortenberry thinks its worth a shot, insofar as we continue to encourage contraceptive use in other ways too.

I think by itself, depicting more contraception use wouldnt be all that helpful, but it would contribute to a larger social stance that puts value on prevention and on sex health, as a part of sexuality educated in middle and high schools and access to this kind of information through a variety of public health venues, he said. I couldnt easily support this with extensive data, but my impression is that parental values and influences, influences from peers at school and other places, sex education at schools, all of those I think are more immediate influences on young peoples attitudes and behaviors.

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