The Vagenda

When Durex Stopped Making Sex Sexy

 

Durex UK posted this on their Facebook page on Wednesday, with the caption “Poor woman…(or maybe lucky one)?”
 
Maybe I’ve had a complete sense of humour failure, rendering me with a complete inability to see a picture of an injured women with plasters on her face as anything but a woman who’s high on her luck that week. I was under the misapprehension that half of the fun of sex lies in the woman also having a good time. This advert doesn’t show a woman having a good time, it shows her injured, a victim of PR sexual depravity. The whole advert is just another step towards normalising sexual violence against women. Durex should have stopped their caption at ‘Poor woman.’
 
The World Health Organisation defines sexual violence as including “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object.” This advert glorifies sexual violence and helps create an unhealthy stereotype of women as sexual objects. A simple google search for ‘sexual violence against women’ leads you to endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk which cites a poll by Amnesty in 2005 which revealed that a third of people believe women who flirt are partially responsible for being raped and a quarter of those asked said that they thought a women was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing. This fusion of sex and violence isn’t just taking place in Darfur, its also present in huge multinational companies like Durex who posted this on a Facebook page with 167,301 likes. 
 
The marketing of dangerous activities can have a reinforcing effect when presented in such a ‘light-humoured’ way; it’s part of an emerging culture where manhood is synonymous with power and control over women – that isn’t necessarily a new concept but the format its taking is. It’s hilarious banter lolz when True Lad post jokes about rape and New Look sell misogynist T-shirts demeaning women to permanently sexually available things that are always up for it, and hey! Even if they’re not, they might be secretly, just try it! Really it’s a farcical parody of masculinity, but apparently this isn’t clear to a company that acknowledges on its Facebook page that “sex plays a fundamental role in our physical and emotional wellbeing.” 
 
Durex is promoting an ideology of women that is only seen in the most gory porn – one where the man achieves his sexual gratification by leaving the women with injuries at the end of it. The injuries sustained here are covered by plasters, perhaps Durex realised that it wouldn’t be acceptable to show a woman with open wounds at the side of her mouth, perhaps it’s not ‘sexy.’ However, it felt it was acceptable to show the wounds covered up and hidden, akin to a woman wearing sunglasses to hide the black eye she’s received.
The cut-off of the rest of the face removes any emotion, she has stopped being a person and become a sexual receptacle, for which she’s supposed to be grateful. His penis was SO HUGE that it caused injury, what a lucky lady! Banter lolz flooded the Facebook page, with many comments praising Durex for posting the image.
 
It’s unclear where the line becomes crossed in releasing adverts, or indeed if there is a line at all, when looking at adverts such as this. Does the faceless woman have to be shown with bruising or teeth knocked out before the advertisers would consider it to be glorifying violence against women and unsuitable? “Poor woman…(or maybe lucky one)?” reiterates this point, this woman has been sexually assaulted and her mouth has torn open, but she should really be grateful for his large penis. 
 
The advert plagues me with greater concerns than the consideration of whether to have a shag in the near future. My biggest concern is that I live in a society where women aren’t being treated as human beings, rather they’re sexual playthings, becoming victims by their presence of XX chromosomes and tits. I’m unaware of the memo that went out endorsing sexual violence as an advertising tool but Durex hit the spot with this advert.
 
-RF (Post originally appeared on her personal blog, here
 
You can read more about violence against women being used in advertisements and fashion editorial in the Vagenda’s most recent New Statesman column. 

23 thoughts on “When Durex Stopped Making Sex Sexy

  1. It’s been doing the rounds on Twitter this morning and it’s been confirmed to be a fake that’s been shared by Durex, it’s not actually an official advert for their products.

  2. Even if it wasn’t created by them, it’s horrible that they are sharing it and endorsing it. I’ll be avoiding their products in future, I’d feel pretty nasty about using something promoted by people who thought this was a jolly old laugh, and are happy depicting us as objects to be abused. Ew.

  3. I can’t even see the point of it – surely most men are merely going to be reminded that their knob isn’t as big as they might like it to be ? Stupid, abusive AND ineffective!!

  4. Haha, the suggestion of injury to women in sex is soooo funny… no, it’s not, it’s a bit of a sore subject. This wouldn’t be okay with any other group and it isnt okay with women, so it’s just a badly thought out (or a not a all thought out) attempt at a joke.

  5. How does this ad appeal to anyone? Obviously it’s promoting a disgusting attitude towards women, but is also perpetuating the myth that women love huge penises – the bigger the better. (It’s not true with cocks and it’s not true with tits.) Fake or not, it’s just horribly depressing for everyone.

  6. I agree. Fake or not don’t put it on your page if you don’t endorse it. Men aren’t the only ones who pick what condoms to use. I’ve been using their condoms for years and now the thought of using them makes me feel dirty…Unfortunately I just bought a large amount of them. I ended up writing a complaint to Durex. . To know that a company who makes it possible to have safer sex and make better choices about your body thinks like a morally corrupt sexist is painful. Even they don’t take women seriously or think of us as having feelings or thoughts. Thoughts like ‘ Hey I really don’t want to have my mouth torn up by a giant dick.’Or ‘I’d really like to have one time in my life where I’m not being sexually abused, demeaned or assaulted.’

    • @Wry Sparrow: I am also thinking of complaining. The endorsement of this imagery by Durex makes me not want to use their condoms (having also used them for years). It’s sickening. I’d be interested to hear how they respond to your complaint.

  7. That’s simply revolting and very, very angering. Well done, the Vagenda team, for having brought this to our attention. This calls for a mass boycott of the brand, I would say.

    bushbabygirl, I could not agree more. I know many women perpetuate this stereotype as well, but as a side note what I’ve liked to know for many years is why the idea that a larger than average, or even a much larger than average penis is desirable. It has a lot to do with porn culture, where the visual element is everything, and where men (for whom most porn is made) think penetration is the end and all of sex. The idea that a woman wants to “be filled up to bursting point” (yes, to the point of being injured) is perceived as horny, but the actual, mundane reality is very different. On average, male and female genitals have evolved to be a size which is a perfect fit. No wonder a certain size is “average”… A man with a much larger than average penis will be likely to cause his poor sexual partner to urinate blood due to internal bruising, which in turn causes cystitis. A good friend of mine experienced this for years with her then boyfriend, who actually (in practice) had more trouble satisfying a woman sexually than otherwise.

    Haha, funny…. nudge nudge! Er… actually… not really. Personally, the one sexual partner I’ve had who had a larger willy was a very boring, predictable lover, probably imagining the fact he was bigger than average made up for his lack of imagination in the sack.

  8. yuck yuck yuck. I complained to the ASA before hearing it was an endorsed fake, not actually sure what that means?) does anyone know whether it’s still possible to complain on the grounds of endorsement?

  9. “…becoming victims by their presence of XX chromosomes and tits” is a problematic phrasing. I see and agree with what you’re getting at, that we are victimized simply for being women, but the fact is that not all women have “XX chromosomes and tits.” This essentialistic framing and definition of womanhood as the possession of “XX chromosomes” denies the womanhood of trans* women and of women who lack breasts for other reasons (e.g. women with single or double mastectomies). It also denies the ugly reality that trans* women are in fact even more likely than cis women to be the victims of sexual violence. Otherwise brilliant, spot-on article. Fuck Durex, seriously. Rat bastards.

  10. Thank you so much for this, disturbing as it is. It gives me the creeps every time I look at that picture. I think, also, that many of these points are still applicable to the original ad (for Burger King, according to Fenton). Obviously, if it’s a massive hamburger, then the overt sexual abuse aspect is no longer present, and the injuries are “self-inflicted” so to speak. But Burger King, whose ads almost always target men, and usually feature men, would NEVER do this with a man. And the point that “The cut-off of the rest of the face removes any emotion, she has stopped being a person and become a sexual receptacle” is still true if you stop the sentence at “stopped being a person.”

    Really, though, the sexual nature of the image is still powerfully present—there’s a reason all Durex had to do was tack on their product in the corner. Using women a sexual objects in hamburger ads is old hat—think Paris Hilton washing a car and seductively pretending to eat a burger (a Carl’s Jr. ad). The model’s glistening, gently parted lips keep this ad still decidedly in the sexual realm. Imagine a man in this ad. Even if they dared to do such a thing (they wouldn’t), more than likely we’d see his whole face, and he definitely wouldn’t look seductive (because THAT would be silly, right?).

    Once this becomes a hamburger ad, it’s no longer skin-crawlingly disturbing in the way that the Durex version is, but I think it’s still very sexist and offensive. We all know about the prevalence of images of abused/subjugated/even dead women in fashion/advertising/whatever ugly slice of the media you dip into. This image is still very much a part of that. Another really excellent point in the blog is still very applicable: “The injuries sustained here are covered by plasters, perhaps Durex [and Burger King] realised that it wouldn’t be acceptable to show a woman with open wounds at the side of her mouth, perhaps it’s not ‘sexy.’”

  11. Assult, sexual threat and violence toward woman is too popular for this to be comical. I don’t think there could be a time in the future when this would be an okay joke. Do we joke about 3rd world kids mortality, cancer, slavery and pedophilia? Would red nose day on BBC or pudsy bear publish disturbing jokes about crying mum’s in africa? Why would Durex post an advert insinuating injury through sexual activity? They really have no brains to share between them.

  12. I wrote to Durex asking why I should not boycott their products in future after they hosted this disgusting picture. Here is their reply:

    Dear Simon,

    Thank you for your email regarding Durex and please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.

    The Durex UK facebook page is a focus for thousands of people who enjoy our posts covering a wide range of topics centred on celebrating our sexuality.
    The conversations are often frank and we know from your feedback that they are both enjoyable and helpful.
    However, on this occasion several fans of the page felt that the topic overstepped the mark and was offensive.
    As it is never our intention to offend, only to explore topics of mutual interest, we felt that in this case we should remove the post, which means all the comments are automatically removed.
    While we understand your disappointment there are plenty of new topics and ideas coming up that we hope you will enjoy.

    Thank you once again for taking the time to contact us.

    Best wishes

    Mary Roberts
    Consumer Relations

  13. Is it promoting sexual violence or just conveying that the dude had a really big dick? I think it’s a stupid ad but at the same time I don’t think it promotes sexual violence in the least. I did laugh at it because it’s lame, but I don’t think most people think “sexual violence” when they see this. And on the issue of victimizing women, well, they could easily have put a man in that picture but perhaps the reason they didn’t is because so many people are still so uncomfortable with homosexuality.

    A lady that I work with saw this ad and thought it was amusing simply because her boyfriend is very “well endowed” and she talks all the time about how when they used to have sex it was very painful but also very enjoyable. I don’t really want to hear about her sex life but there you have it. She considers herself lucky and, as she’s made clear to me, a lot of people enjoy a little pain anyhow. More than I would have thought at least.

    Anyhow these are just my thoughts on the matter. I’m not very feministic anyhow and I still think the add is stupid as hell. It just looks stupid and I certainly agree that it’s not at all sexy.

  14. Dear Emer,

    Thank you for your email regarding Durex and please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.

    The Durex UK facebook page is a focus for thousands of people who enjoy our posts covering a wide range of topics centred on celebrating our sexuality.The conversations are often frank and we know from your feedback that they are both enjoyable and helpful.However, on this occasion several fans of the page felt that the topic overstepped the mark and was offensive.
    As it is never our intention to offend, only to explore topics of mutual interest, we felt that in this case we should remove the post, which means all the comments are automatically removed.

    While we understand your disappointment there are plenty of new topics and ideas coming up that we hope you will enjoy.

    Thank you once again for taking the time to contact us.

    Best wishes

    Mary Roberts
    Consumer Relations

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you for getting back to me.

    While I am sure you don’t intend this to be the case, I feel that your e-mail fails to:

    a) take any responsibility for the fact that the moderators of the Durex UK facebook page posted an image that trivialises sexual violence against women

    b) engage with the reasons that fans found this ‘topic’ offensive as opposed to a ‘celebration of sexuality,’ of ‘mutual interest,’ ‘enjoyable,’ or ‘helpful’

    c) admit that your employees’ behaviour was inappropriate and unprofessional

    d) duly apologise.

    Your e-mail positions fans’ offence as the reason for removing the image. This is troubling. Surely it is the content of the joke – a woman who has had her mouth ripped from oral sex – that should merit its removal.

    In relation to a), your failure to take responsibility indicates that it is acceptable for Durex employees to make jokes about sexual violence against women in a public capacity.

    In relation to b), your failure to engage with the violent and misogynistic content of the image indicates that you do not regard this content as worthy of note.

    In relation to c), your failure to condemn your employees’ behaviour offers more proof that Durex considers such jokes to be appropriate to professional conduct.

    In relation to d), your failure to apologise indicates that Durex does not think feel that its employees did anything wrong in inviting its fans to laugh at a picture of a women whose mouth has been ripped from oral sex.

    I will be boycotting Durex products and encouraging my friends to do the same until the company apologises and distances itself from a culture of trivialising sexual violence against women,

    Sincerely,

    Emer O’Toole

    You can complain too! E-mail Durex at: EUConsumerCare@reckittbenckiser.com

  15. I was appalled by this ad, and then relieved it wasn’t genuine, and then appalled again that Durex missed the mark so absolutely in promoting the message anyway. How disgusting of them.

    Size matters when it comes to condoms, I think they would be better to emphasise that, rather than promote an image of an injured woman, just jking, lulz…If the glove doesn’t fit it can break more readily or slip off during the act.

    I appreciate the provision of products in all sizes, men don’t control their penis size any more than women do their breast size (with obvious surgically enhanced exceptions) and they should all be able to be safe, and keep their partners safe.
    Safe, not injured.

    I know from experience that there is such a thing as ‘too big’, it isn’t fun or funny, it’s awkward for all involved and no one gets what they want.

    Sell me safety, sell me sexy, don’t sell me injury!

  16. I sincerely do understand everyone on this issue, however I do not think that it needs so much reaction. Pain and even injuries can occur without the intention of inflicting such things, but just by accident. I have a boyfriend who is very understanding about these issues and will not do anything I am not comfortable with, and I highly respect and value that, however we have had our own little accidents before. I believe that the publishers did not expect this to be perceived as harassment but rather as a mishap, and it is not even something that is possible (mouth being ripped because of girth). They would not intentionally get on the wrong side of customers, they are trying to sell, therefore I doubt they have looked at this the same way as some may do. Maybe it is over-analysing? I share your beliefs but do not think that this matter is worth so much hatred.

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