Thought Catalog

Slut-Shaming In Advertising (But Not Really)

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You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. – Inigo Montoya

A new HIV/AIDS awareness ad just dropped and it’s got everyone’s panties in a hyped-up frenzy. Short story: the ad features a girl reclining in her underwear, legs akimbo, with the Facebook “check-in” emblem positioned over her hoo-ha. The ad reads: “Matti Vertanen and 19 others have been here.” Annnnd everyone is generally losing their shit about it, calling it cheap, offensive slut-shaming.

I think we need to collectively have a conversation about what exactly “slut-shaming” is, and what is just “still not knowing how to digest a woman being honest and proud about her sexuality.” Because one of those claims to be in the name of sexual progress and acceptance, and one exposes how far from that we still are.

So everyone inject a sedative into your jerky knees, and let’s think about this ad. The model is barely dressed, being looked at from above, legs spread, and yet she’s laughing, seems completely comfortable with the position she’s in. This woman gives off a strong sense of being in control of her situation, despite the fact that the angle of both the camera and her knees would suggest that she could be vulnerable, exposed, even exploited. But she’s not. She’s just having a good old time, feeling fine, being open and honest about the fact that she’s been with 20 other people in the past. Given the context that the text imposes, this woman’s attitude couldn’t really be any more positive, liberated and empowered. So far, I’m not yet understanding where the “shame” comes from. Let’s press on.

The ad itself isn’t implying that lying naked on a bed makes you a bad, bad, dirty, whore-ible slut. Nor is it implying that doing sex on 20 folks is something to be ashamed of. If the ad campaign was based around a bunch of guys talking about their sexual experience with the same girl, then yeah, that has the potential to hold a shitty, unfair position of women and sex. The difference between something like that and what’s happening in this ad is that the woman is owning this information about herself and her past. She owns it. She offers it up for the safety of herself and what we assume is a faceless new partner behind the camera. It’s her information, her choice, her power, and her smile as she offers it up like the unashamed modern sexual beast she is. Cue the f-cking applause.

The choice of using an Internet “check-in” to denote her number of partners past is a benign way of communicating the facts without judgment. The ad isn’t analyzing the woman based on that number, in fact, it’s not offering any additional information. It’s only a neutral conduit for conveying information that happens to draw on another currently relevant cultural staple, Facebook. In other words, they’re just being cute so relax.

It’s unfair to assume that ad is suggesting that a public listing of your bedpost roster is necessary for safe sexual health. All it seems to imply is that you should, quite simply, be real about modern sex lives: you’re probably not Christopher Columbus landing upon virgin banks, ya know? I see zero indication that this is a fact worthy of judgment, nor do I see some bogus implication that number of sex partners = increased HIV risk. All they are saying is don’t be a doofus; You never know because you have no control over someone else or where they’ve been, or whom they’ve been with. So wrap your junk up, get tested, fall in love, be happy, or don’t fall in love, and then go be safe with someone else, and have fun, live your life, don’t get AIDS, etc.

All considered, we should have a much bigger problem with people’s super-fired-up response to ads like this. We claim we want honest campaigns that promote education, sexual health and the candid addressing of relevant social issues, but the minute one of these attempts a blunt approach (which, in our over-stimulated information age, seems the only effective way to reach people), our delicate sensibilities tell us to be offended. We’re way too quick to cry slut-shaming, racism, sexism, fattism, etc., in advertising, even when there are clearly the best of intentions at play. We need to calm down and be as careful in our attacks as we ask them to be in theirs. These hurtful forms of judgment do exist and they do plenty of damage to people. Women (and men, to be fair) get hated on for their sexual behavior — especially if they are open about it. And the more honestly and brazenly they address it, the more harshly they are criticized. By now, we all know that’s wrong, right? Well, by those same standards of being evolved enough to be comfortable with #realtalk, let’s not punish a public health ad for communicating its message with the same clarity and gusto that we encourage in each other personally.

HIV is scary. It exists. Fortunately, so do sexy, fantastic, well-lit, in-control women in eerily well-fitting lingerie having sex with multiple partners and while both of you are celebrating that fact with orgasms, just be safe. That’s all this ad is saying. Save your “rage against slut-shaming” energy for those who truly deserve it (because trust, there are plenty of those who do), and spare the good-willed folks who are just trying to protect your naughty bits from a sad, sad, VD-ridden doom.

About the mostly-naked girl on the poster: Jesus Christ. Let’s not freak out. The immediate line-drawing between “nudity” and “exploitation” or “indecency” is only demonstrative of the hang-ups of the viewer, not the advertisers. The art director didn’t invent a negative connotation for this ad, your brain did. Take responsibility for that, if you’re upset about what you’re seeing. The attitude of this girl, and this photo, is so clearly light-hearted and empowered that it’s ridiculous to imagine that it’s offensive to women. She’s chillin’ in her underwear, 20 dudes have been inside her, and she’s like “WTF-ever, NBD, I’m awesome.” Where exactly is the slut shame here? So everyone lighten up. You’re the ones making this dirty. If that girl doesn’t mind her T&A (or T&V, I guess) being out there, neither should you. That’s respecting a woman’s sexuality, kiddos.

PS — If you want to be upset about anything with this ad, let it be the notion that some douche actually has checked-in on Facebook from some girl’s vagina because he thought it would be “funny”. Be upset because you just know some idiot did that at some point. TC mark

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    • biteme

      Fortunately, so do sexy, fantastic, well-lit, in-control women in eerily well-fitting lingerie have sex with multiple partners and while both of you are celebrating that fact with orgasms, just be safe. 
      There’s something grammatically wrong with that sentence. Or maybe it just sounds awkwardly-worded to me. In any case, the writer makes a valid point about the ad. There are a lot of words that can be used in connection to this ad, but slut-shame isn’t one of them. Except for the completely douchey behavior of those 20 guys. 

      • Anonymous

        it should say “HAVING sex with multiple partners” instead of “have”. Oops. 

    • Erin

       Interesting article. I think I agree that the ad is not slut-shaming,
      but I also think that a lot of people’s reactions to it would have the
      word “slut” or “skank” in it somewhere. But like you said, that’s their
      hangup, not the ad’s. I think that, as you addressed, the idea of
      checking into a girl’s vagina on Facebook is really disgusting, and so
      that makes my immediate reaction to the ad disgust. But as you
      mentioned, they’re just trying to be cute.

      Although, I disagree
      with this: “nor do I
      see some bogus implication that number of sex partners = increased HIV
      risk.”  That is definitely what they’re saying. And…isn’t that true? I
      would think it is. So I wouldn’t see a reason to be offended by it.

    • guest

      How is this woman “liberated” or “empowered” when you can’t even see her FACE? By photographing her mid-section and cutting off her head, the focus is automatically shifted from her as a PERSON to her as a SEX OBJECT–another classic case of advertising dismembering women. This ad is distasteful, and it’s clear why so many women are offended. I don’t think your argument is nobel or progressive, it simply highlights how misogyny continues to run so rampant in our society. 

      • Anonymous

        Not showing someone’s face is a classic method of making something universally applicable instead of specific; meaning, not seeing her face makes this ad about ANY woman rather than about THIS woman. It has nothing to do with “objectifying” or “sexualizing” her. As I pointed out, those connections are made in your brain, not on a poster.

        • Amber

          So because it’s universal, that means it can’t be objectifying? Please.

        • Circles

          If you knew anything about photographic codes and conventions, which you clearly don’t, you’d know that dismembering or decapitating a woman is a “classic method” of presenting her as a collection of parts rather than a whole, which in itself is both objectifying and sexualizing.  Seeing as though you demonstrate such a poor knowledge of advertising, it probably would’ve been advisable to read up on it before you wrote such an inflammatory article and then proceeded to be so overly defensive when people disagreed with your OPINION. 

        • LS

          lol “if you knew anything about photographic codes and conventions”
          my perspective is privileged! only listen to my perspective even if it makes less sense! kthx academia, bye

        • Circles

          Wow, mature.  “my perspective is privileged! only listen to my perspective even if it makes less sense!”  Essentially just described Miss Blankenship here haven’t you?  I’m a photographer, would it make you feel more secure in yourself if I’d left that sentence out?  It’s still a fact.  Kthx bye!

        • Anonymous

          No, it’s an opinion. Whoops.

      • Anonymous

        so what does it say about the men in the ad, who have neither faces, nor bodies, nor names (except 1), but are the potential bearers of STDs?

      • Anonymous

        So, suppose they had the same ad, and it cut off the mans face?
        If you still found the ad offense to women, would you be willing to acknowledge Ms. Blakenships original argument?

    • http://gabbygabbypoetry.tumblr.com/ Gabby Gabby

      the woman is not ‘in control’ in this ad

      the ad is from the male point of view b/c checking in implies individuals (in this case the 20 men) actively checking into a passive place (in this case the woman) 

      the ad is saying before you ‘check into’ a woman think of all the guys that have ‘checked into’ her before.

      because what if the woman didn’t have sex before? what if her ‘check in number’ was zero? with the way this ad is set up, it’s saying that it’s safe not to wear a condom. or hiv/aids is something you don’t have to think or worry about. it’s equating a high amount of sexual activity with the need to be more weary. that shouldn’t be the message. the message should be no matter what, if you or your partner feel the need to wear a condom, the condom should be worn regardless and not contingent on the amount of partners you’ve had. 

      instead of making this a dynamic discussion between consenting parters it’s taking away the female’s active role in the discussion about contraception 

      i think the only way that this ad wouldn’t be sexist is if there was an ad in conjunction to this from the female’s point of view. even then it’s still saying, ‘more sex = more hiv/aids’

      the decision to use contraception, and at the base level to have sex, needs to be a dialogue and not one sided. 

      this article is ‘slut shaming’ for the sake of being relevant to the ‘e-generation’ 

      but hey, that’s how ads work. even ads for non-profits. they want to grab your attention quickly, then tell you all the facts later. don’t be fooled by shitty ads with good intentions.

      • Anonymous

        Shorter Gabby Gabby:
        I don’t like the implication that someone who has more sexual partners might be at more risk for contracting or communicating a serious disease, even though it’s true. Therefore, to protect my feelings, the ad should focus on promoting behaviors that are unrealistic to expect human beings to abide by in the real world. Surely that will work!

      • Anonymous

        If her number of partners was zero, she would have almost no risk of carrying HIV.
        A high level of sexual partners DOES correlate with an increased risk of STD, so why shouldn’t that be a part of the message?

        The discussion to uses condoms can be one-sided: if either partner wants to use them, that’s it, there is no discussion.  Either they get used, or no sex occurs.  A dialogue would imply one partner should be able to talk the other out of using them.

        However, I agree that there should be an ad like this with a male body, and faceless nameless females who have checked in as having been there and done that

    • Matti Virtanen

      wut. she told me i was her first and only!

    • MttDIEGO

      There should be a Second advert with a man in exactly the same position with the check in sign or the two in the same picture … This way the focus is more on being aware of previous activity etc.

      • Anonymous

        yes, thank you (clicking “like” was not enough)

        • Anonymous

          See:

    • http://www.facebook.com/tinafine Tina Fine

      There are quite a few things wrong with the add, first is who has a body like that?  First reaction, damm, do they want girls to use a condom or become anorexic.  Second, why not have a balanced add.. something to show the guy and the girl.. that way both’s sexual partners are brought into the discussion and that would take away any slut shaming.  I don’t think the ad is slut shaming, but it does objectify the woman as a place to check in.   Sure she seems to be having fun, enjoying herself, and looking great in her lace,  but she is objectified by the “check-in” symbol.   It may have meant to be funny, but it misses the mark.   

      • Anonymous

        But it’s okay to assume that an ad featuring a trim woman is promoting eating disorders, consequently assuming the woman in the ad of being anorexic? When listing things “wrong” with the ad, YOU LISTED HER BODY as the first one. Dear god.

        Thank you for further proving my point that very often, people’s brains are the things that need re-working, not the creative choices of advertisers. 

        • Anonymous

          slow clap

        • A.

          Once you said “become anorexic” the rest of your argument became invalid.

        • Anonymous

          Damn, you are killing this shit today, Jess.

      • SBG

        I’m not sure why so many people keep trying to take the focus off of the woman — While I completely disagree with this article, I also don’t think that an equal ad of a man necessarily takes away slut shaming. 

        The entire campaign is off message. If someone has had 1 partner or 50 partners (or ZERO for that matter!), it shouldn’t matter. The focus of this campaign should be encouraging safe sex under all circumstances. Because if anyone believes determining someones ‘number’ is as easy as a Facebook check-in — or that every partner is going to be 100% honest with you to begin with — then they really do need some healthy sex ed.

      • bitesize

         If the ad were to show both the male and female together, you would have a complete other group of people throwing a tizzy about sex in advertisement. Also, if you are concerned about the false imagery of her body compared to yours or others, let me say that I would love to look like her, unfortunately I’m 25 lbs overweight and only 5 feet tall. I would MUCH rather see an ad with someone a little more attractive than myself. As a woman with a *solid* sexual past, I can say that I’m just as upfront as this woman appears to be with it. That combined with my better judgement and taste in men is probably what has protected me from any std’s. I see nothing wrong with the advertisement at all.

      • http://dirtyyoungmen.wordpress.com/ Maxwell Chance

        SHUT TFU

      • Trololollo

        Lol u must be a fattie

      • Anonymous

        you have obviously never seen an actual anorexic in underwear

    • Anonymous

      I think this ad, like all before and after it, is just trying to be catchy and relevant–as Jessica pointed out–hence, the Facebook Check-In app. We can argue until we’re blue in the face that OUR SEXUAL HISTORIES DON’T DEFINE US OMG but, if you’re trying to keep yourself safe and sound–whether male or female–we need to wrap it up. No exceptions. We can often forget just how little we can know about a new person, so sometimes it’s necessary to see jolting advertisements like this. There are a million ways to get the point across (the point being that we are not sure of a new person’s sexual history, and thus need to be very careful when entering into a sexual relationship if we want to protect ourselves), but this certainly caught people’s attention and got everyone talking. 
      In the end, I’m pretty sure both the ad agency and the people fighting against the spread of AIDS would consider that a victory.

      • http://gabbygabbypoetry.tumblr.com/ Gabby Gabby

        i think you’re missing the point. no one is saving ‘hiv/aids advocates are terrible sexist people’ no one is saying, ‘hiv/aids ads shouldn’t exist because they’re all sexist and terrible.’ what’s happening is that this particular ad is misguided in their attempt to make people aware of hiv/aids. 

        i think we need to divorce ourselves from the fact that is ad is really trying to do a good thing and focus on the fact that it fails in so many way. we, as citizens and as thinking people, need to be critical of our media and not just take whatever messages are handed down to us. it’s important to recognize where this ad fails because this is just one of many sexists ads. those many sexist ads make up our culture. if we want to change our culture we need to do it one step at a time. we need to do it one ad at a time.

        • guest

          bravo, gabby. 

        • Anonymous

          Like most people, you fail to defend how exactly this ad is sexist. It’s fairly neutral in it’s presentation, and the most power it has as a sexist tool is derived from you and so many others attaching that word and those thoughts to it. In other words, this ad wasn’t negative until you and its other detractors started painting it that way. 

          You call something “sexist” based solely on the grounds that it’s “sexy” and those are not the same thing. You’re the one making it negative, and failing to see the point.

        • http://gabbygabbypoetry.tumblr.com/ Gabby Gabby

          you failed to reply to my first message which explicitly states why it’s sexist: 

          the woman is not ‘in control’ in this adthe ad is from the male point of view b/c checking in implies individuals (in this case the 20 men) actively checking into a passive place (in this case the woman) the ad is saying before you ‘check into’ a woman think of all the guys that have ‘checked into’ her before.

          because what if the woman didn’t have sex before? what if her ‘check in number’ was zero? with the way this ad is set up, it’s saying that it’s safe not to wear a condom. or hiv/aids is something you don’t have to think or worry about. it’s equating a high amount of sexual activity with the need to be more weary. that shouldn’t be the message. the message should be no matter what, if you or your partner feel the need to wear a condom, the condom should be worn regardless and not contingent on the amount of partners you’ve had. 

          instead of making this a dynamic discussion between consenting parters it’s taking away the female’s active role in the discussion about contraception 

          i think the only way that this ad wouldn’t be sexist is if there was an ad in conjunction to this from the female’s point of view. even then it’s still saying, ‘more sex = more

          hiv/aids’the decision to use contraception, and at the base level to have sex, needs to be a dialogue and not one sided. 

          this article is ‘slut shaming’ for the sake of being relevant to the ‘e-generation’ 

          but hey, that’s how ads work. even ads for non-profits. they want to grab your attention quickly, then tell you all the facts later. don’t be fooled by shitty ads with good intentions.

        • Anonymous

          “what if her ‘check in number’ was zero? with the way this ad is set up, it’s saying that it’s safe not to wear a condom. or hiv/aids is something you don’t have to think or worry about.”

          Yeah, uhhh, it doesn’t imply that at all. In fact, there is NOTHING about this ad that implies that 20 is considered a “high” number. YOU decided that. Are you catching on yet?

          And as far as your psychoanalysis of the aggressive act of checking in to a woman’s “passive space”…it’s supposed to be cheeky. i assure you no one gives nearly enough of a shit to get to that conclusion. you kinda just need to lighten up.

        • kandylions

          “And as far as your psychoanalysis of the aggressive act of checking in
          to a woman’s “passive space”…it’s supposed to be cheeky. i assure you
          no one gives nearly enough of a shit to get to that conclusion. you
          kinda just need to lighten up.”
          ^ classic gaslighting

        • Anonymous

          ^ classic knee-jerk, gets-off-on-getting-pissed-off, bullshit. 

          and i say all of this as a young female who’s has more than 20 sex partners, feels fully in control of her sexuality, uses condoms like there’s a prize at the bottom of the box and gets an HIV test every year. And who doesn’t feel the LEAST bit offended, exploited, judged, or looked down upon by this ad. 

        • Amber

          So because you don’t feel offended, that must mean everyone who is a woman, despite their own personal experiences with sex and sexism, must have the exact same reaction as you. Otherwise, they’re wrong! They just have knee-jerk reactions that get off on getting pissed off! 

          You’re being so condescending with your comments, it’s actually ridiculous. 

        • kandylions

          it’s gaslighting because you told gabby to stop giving a shit, to stop thinking so critically. i wouldn’t say the ad is slut-shaming myself but i do see the sexist undertones, and gabby presented and supported her argument in a clear and thoughtful way. and you come back at her with “no one cares what you think”? do we really need LESS critical thinking in this day and age? it’s fine if the ad doesn’t bother you, but who are you to tell someone else what they’re allowed to unpack from an ad that views the female body from a male gaze?

        • Anonymous

          Kandylions is using the term gaslighting to refer to something that isn’t gaslighting, a classic gaslighting technique.

        • http://gabbygabbypoetry.tumblr.com/ Gabby Gabby

          but the thing is, like i stated, this isn’t from the female perspective. it’s saying ‘hey look male bodied people! this girl has had sex with 20 other people! wear a condom because she has had sex with 20 people!” 

          also, why would analytical thinking about context and culture be a problem?

        • Lana

          Just because you claim to have had a lot of sex doesn’t mean you’re in a place to be telling other women that they shouldn’t get offended over being objectified. You can have your own opinion, but stop shoving it down our throats and screaming all the while that you’re right and we’re idiots.  

        • Anonymous

          Just because you claim or believe you’re being objectified doesn’t mean you’re being objectified.
          In other words: Godwimmen’s Law.

        • Amber

          Okay, you can crawl back under your bridge now. 

        • Anonymous

          So do you have anything to contribute other than ad hominem?

        • Amber

          Already did, and it went without a real response. I just assumed you read all the comments, since you “liked” every single one of the author’s. 

        • http://gabbygabbypoetry.tumblr.com/ Gabby Gabby

          would the ad have the same effect if it said ‘0 people have checked in. wear a condom.’ no. it hinges on the fact that the number is 20, or a relatively high number in terms of the linear progression of numbers. 

          and no, the whole point is that we need to think analytically about these ads. the whole point is that people need to start giving a shit and thinking about how these ads have affects on the way we think about things. i don’t need to lighten up. thank you for the suggestion though.

        • Anonymous

          I think, conversely, you need to consider that the way you think has an effect on how you perceive these ads. That’s all.

        • Amber

          Just because you’re female doesn’t mean you hold the right to tell other females when they should and should not be offended, especially in a case like this where the ad DOES seem sexist on a surface level. Gabby presented all her arguments in a thoughtful, non-aggressive manner, and you tell her to “lighten up”? You wrote this article because you  just had to have everyone listen to your opinion on the issue—if you can’t respectfully listen to others, then your entire POV is invalid.

        • Paul

          I agree that this ad shouldn’t exist, but the anti-slut-shaming crowd needs to be more careful with their arguments. I know the point of the movement is to protect women, but saying it would be okay if it were a man in the ad makes your argument hollow. If anti-slut-shaming is to be respected, it needs to be about equality, not equal inequality. The latter attitude makes it exponentially harder to change the attitudes and behavior of the shamers.

        • http://gabbygabbypoetry.tumblr.com/ Gabby Gabby

          i said ‘even then it would still be saying more sex = hiv/aids’ i.e. it would still have a slut-shaming message. 

          i also said that it needs to be a dialogue between partners (male/female, male/male, female/female, etc.) 

          i do not think that making anyone’s genitals (regardless of gender) as a checkpoint is the appropriate way to view sex. when viewing it that way it makes one person an object (the check point) and the other person in control. both people need to have an active role.

        • Anonymous

          If the anti-slut-shaming crowd were more careful with their arguments, they wouldn’t be in the anti-slut-shaming crowd.

    • http://twitter.com/AFDex16 Tony F.

      so, I’d still smash.

    • Drhermy

      The higher the number of partners, the higher the risk of contracting any STD, including HIV. That’s not bogus, just statistics.

    • Anonymous

      Putting women in a sexual context (especially when it’s relevant, i.e., discussing HIV) does not equal “objectifying” them. That’s the fallacy we need to overcome altogether. Too many people equate “showing the sexual nature of women” with “exploiting women as sex objects”. They are not the same thing. And even when something in media or advertising is clearly not casting the woman or situation in a negative light, if sexuality is on the surface, lots of people will think it’s offensive. So really, who’s the true sexist here: The people who think there’s nothing wrong with showing women in a sexual light, or the ones who decry it every. single. time?

      • Anonymous

        Preach.

      • steph

        I agree with this, however I also think that the responsibility is that of ‘us as a whole’ in this society to have different culturally-derived feelings about how taboo and shameful it is to be a woman who is ok with her own sexuality (sexual empowerment).  In a way, we automatically respond to that sort of message with distaste.  It isn’t solely the individual responsible for changing that automatic reaction, as that reaction is due to cultural programming.  The messages that are put out there should be changed, so that people don’t operate under the assumptions that lead to being offended by this sort of ad…  Any deeper discussion of this point is to propose a definition of ‘ok/not ok’ portrayals of sexuality or contexts within which to do so, and I don’t think I’m really qualified to do that.  

        But I can speak for myself, saying that I, too, sense a weird pressure to be physically attractive and sexually desirable yet also not culpable as a slut, just by having grown up in the time and place that I did (white middle-class California suburbs in the 90’s), with very few familial influences of the sort.  

        Of course, the commodification of women’s bodies as a communicative symbol to instantly make statements about social status, as well as other cultural messages, is an outgrowth of the fact that women haven’t been viewed in an equal and fair light (compared to men).  I think people are responding to the fact that they feel like they are once again being fed a dose of the same (because how can we possibly understand a symbol to have certain cultural meanings, but then interpret a message– addressed to the masses– as being divorced from this cultural meaning?  We would have to restructure how we deal with the inherent meanings, and change the way/fact that we do use a woman’s appearance as shorthand for certain messages.)

        • Anonymous

          I agree. And it is a tall order, asking ourselves to reprocess “more of the same” but with a restructured sense of how to perceive it. We are appalled by images like this because we’re so used to the appropriation of women’s bodies in a disrespectful way that we assume that’s the intent. In reality, the only way to truly move past that to any significant degree is to stop accepting it as vulgar. If we don’t allow ourselves to be receptive to sexist messages, then they lose their power. THAT’S how we remove the sexist implications of images like this; we simply choose to exist in a different mental space, a post-sexism, pro-equality headspace, where images like this don’t possess negative power on their own merit. Because they don’t. We allow them to.

          But it IS a tall order.

        • Steph

          Yeah…  But it’s also very one-sided to ask for the viewer/consumer to shoulder the entire responsibility of making change.  I think it’s really silly to say that only those who produce the messages/images OR only those who consume them are at fault and the ones who ‘need to change.’  It’s both.  
          I think maybe people would be more receptive to your message if you could acknowledge that reality, though I understand why one would argue that the consumer should take the initiative to make change, being as how it isn’t enough to be upset over the message if you aren’t willing to do anything to alter the status quo.  ‘Doing something’ does start in your own mind, by re-arranging your habitual thought-patterns (otherwise, you’re still just a passive consumer, and still allowing these ‘evil-doers’ to augment the bottom line by preying on your vulnerability to their marketing schemes, and you’re still perpetuating the ideas by holding them to be true and acting accordingly, and thereby encouraging others to do the same, directly or indirectly… and changing yourself does a LOT more than just whining about the way people cause things to be).  
          HOWEVER, I do tend to focus on the image-makers’ role here, because they are not only exploiting a pre-existing instinctive proclivity to respond to certain ideas/images, but also perpetuating cultural misperceptions of reality/value by exploiting the fact that they’re now PRE-programmed into people’s minds.  (And instinct plus programming is a tough combo to undo, so it’s totally merciless that these entities feed off of that vulnerability in people without regard to the effect it has on society and therefore the wellbeing or would-be liberated thinking of ‘the individual’).

          Having said all of that, it is also quite silly that people would be up in arms over an anti-STD (and anti-HIV/-AIDS, no less!) PSA.  On that line of thinking, I am totally in agreement with you, people are being lame and getting offended almost for its own sake, it would seem to me…

          Oh, yes, also, whether or not I agree 100% with the views you expressed, you did pose a very thought-provoking quandary here, and got a lively discussion going.  That’s important to do in this world, where people don’t tend to question things enough!  THAT is what people should take away from this, not “you’re right” or “you’re wrong” … Good job with that, lol

      • A L Dunne

        Just because it’s not objectifying all the time doesn’t mean it’s not objectifying here. Even the boy who cried wolf really did see a wolf at one point.
        This ad really seems to me to be saying “this woman’s vagina is dangerous because a bunch of guys were here before you.”

      • http://twitter.com/disquisition Spenser

        Image of a woman in a sexual context? Not necessarily sexist. Image of a woman who is explicitly identified as a “place” rather than a “human” in a sexual context? Pretty fucking sexist.

        Using the Facebook Places check-in icon as visual shorthand doesn’t change its meaning. If anything, its connotations are part of the overall message: This woman lacks sexual agency, therefore she cannot be trusted, therefore she is dangerous.

        • Anonymous

          It would only be “sexist” if they had an ad with a woman, but none for a man.
          Since they have both, it may be objectifying (and we can argue over whether that is good bad or neutral), but it isn’t sexist

    • Angelbaby3838

      People really read TOO much into things! Another problem is people over analyzing! It’s a simpler adage, no need to dissect every pixel in the picture. Who cares if it’s a man or woman?! Who cares if it’s a check-in sign or a sentence underneath that says she’s been with 20 people?! It’s a simple, straightforward message and everyone has to be so analytical and overly critical. Geez people, lighten up. Message from this ad? AIDS, don’t get it! LoL

    • W_y_n

      I mostly agree with this article, although I do think it’s a toss up as to whether you can really argue that this woman is “in control” — because she’s only been allowed to have half a head, so I’m unsure how folk are managing to read so much into half a facial expression with such confidence. 

      Claiming that lopping women’s heads off makes advertisements “universal” is also a major stretch.  Decapitation of [particularly female] subjects is top of the Objectification 101 list.  “But it gives the product/message universal appeal!” sounds like the kind of hastily-thought-up excuse an advertiser might offer up in a press release apology to a women’s rights group.  Here, it feels like you’re deliberately railing against the people who you’ve clearly allowed to upset the unholy fuck ou of you (and really… why so serious?), rather than making a genuine critique of this ads/ads like this ad.

      But I mainly want to pick up on points made by other commenters.  The people who said a) that using a thin girl is bad because OMG eating disorders, and b) that if there was a similar ad with a hot guy then this would all be totes OK?  Yeah, they’re making themselves look daft.  BUT there is a point there somewhere.  Wouldn’t it be nice if this ad were one of a series, featuring a mix of men and women, a mix of white people and people of colour, a mix of body types (including yaknow, bodies that aren’t just of the standard thin/apparently cis/apparently able variety)?  Wouldn’t it be nice if the name hovering above the young, thin, white, able woman’s body were not obviously male?  Given the message they’re trying to put across, it would be nice if the ad/s could promote ideas about sex being cool for everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, orientation, body type, etc.  The main problem with this image is definitely not slut-shaming.  It’s the ad’s reinforcement of white-, cis-, hetero-normativity. 

      • sgi

        You should email your comment to the ad company. I would definitely love to see that kind of campaign. 

      • Anonymous

        Given that around 95% of Finland is white, (where the ad is from) – and unlike in the US, being overweight isn’t the norm – and the fact that the male version was released at the same time as the ad (see pic below) I think the lack of diversity is pretty reasonable.

        Seems the people who originally picked up this (non)story left out some very relevant details

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=3320466 Ron Alfa

      Really Jessica? You’re not getting how this objectifies women?  Let me help. The woman’s vagina has a check-in symbol, lets think about what these symbols are used for… to let people know where you are.. at some place. Her vagina is a place.. a place to be checked in at. Are you a place? The definition of objectification is: to describe the treatment of a human being as a thing. The woman in the ad is a place,  which is a thing much more than it is a human. She is objectified. Period. 

      I understand that you’ve been getting into these discussions for a while now and have been sitting at home, waiting, wishing, and hoping for someone to get super offended by something rather innocuous so you could finally write this piece about how super sensitive we are. But this was not the best opportunity and it shows from your poorly constructed argument. 

      • guesty testy

        I don’t think this is offensive, and I’m a woman. You could do the exact same thing with a man in his underwear, and it wouldn’t be considered offensive at all. No one would say “The man’s penis has a check-in symbol… His penis is a place… Are you a place?” 

        The purpose of the check-in symbol is to clearly, concisely show that she’s been with 20 people. It’s not to say “Hey, look at this place we can all check in to! In fact, if we book 10 days in advance we get a 25% discount! Let’s all go together!” 
        The female body is not a temple that can’t be touched. It’s not a museum exhibition that should be kept behind glass, protected from the dangers of real air and humidity. Women shouldn’t be “protected” from things, just like men shouldn’t be needlessly berated for things that women can do without getting flak.I think that this is a smart, eye-catching ad with a good message that perfectly appeals to a younger generation. I enjoyed this article and the author’s argument. And also, I think your second paragraph was needlessly hurtful to the author. 

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=3320466 Ron Alfa

          You don’t think this is offensive, and you’re a woman? Obviously other women do, so that doesn’t exactly invalidate my argument does it? but nice work opening up the response with a logical fallacy.

          It’s not really about whether you or and other particular people find this offensive. The question is, does the ad objectify women. And the answer to that is, by definition, yes… as I stated above. From there you can decide whether it’s okay to objectify people for the sake of a “good cause” as someone else suggested. 

        • Guesty testy

          It’s not a logical fallacy, I was simply stating my gender. A logical fallacy would be “This isn’t offensive because I don’t find it offensive, and if you find this offensive you’re wrong because I don’t think it’s offensive and I’m a woman.” I stated why I didn’t think it was objectifying. I didn’t just say “I have a vagina! Trust me!” 

        • Anonymous

          Not only could you, but they did, at the same time.
          Everyone was too busy being offended to even wonder if it existed, but it was there all along:

    • http://twitter.com/omgitzamber Amber Obaid

      I don’t see this as an image where the woman is in control of her sexuality, my main arguement being the fact that her eyes aren’t showing. It’s just half of her face. I think the image would be more compelling and show ownership of the self if you could see her face and she was looking at the camera, and maybe even the one doing the talking. There are HIV ads around the train stations in NYC that have full body shots of gay men (dressed) with their partner and the caption above it encourages testing as a means of staying safe and being in control of your sexuality and protecting the sexual community that you are in. 

      In short, I agree with the message, but its a tacky ad. I’ve definitely seen better, more effective, and more PC stuff. 

    • R_U_SRS?

      This does NOT promote eating disorders! This is what human beings should look like. It’s 2012.We know that diabetes and heart diseases are no good now so lets stop eating shit and stop criticizing those who are actually doing it right.

      • W_y_n

        Wow.  Totally irrelevant to the discussion AND a breathtaking display of body fascism, all in two-and-a-quarter lines.

        • Anonymous

          Wow. Totally irrelevant to the discussion AND a breathtaking display of mind fascism / feminist shaming, all in one and a quarter line.

        • sgi

          You are so right. Let’s all go eat foods high in sodium and sugar and never exercise! Yay! Because my body is my body, and you have no right to tell me that being clinically obese is bad for my health, you body fascist! Whoo-hoo, fast food! 

        • W_y_n

          Do you and fiafa maybe want to be alone…?

    • Marcheline

      Honestly my first reaction was “This woman has had 20 men inside her. Wear a condom she probably has an STD.” I know the sentiment is “wear a condom anyone you sleep with could have an STD” but I think this is a particularly tasteless way to convey that info. Like it or not, it puts the woman in a bad light.

      • Anonymous

        If it puts the woman in a bad light, isn’t that because of your evil sex-repressive attitudes?!

        • Amber

          No, it’s because of the advertiser’s sex-repressive attitudes. So are you Jessica’s BFF or just a regular ol’ misogynist?

        • guesty testy

          The fact that you assume someone who has had numerous sexual partners has an STD is an assumption, affected by your schema. So basically, it’s all in your head. I think about my long-term girlfriend who, in the past, has had many sexual partners. She’s STD-free. 

          The ad is saying that if you use protection no matter how many partners you have, you’ll still be healthy and will have fun. Hence the smile and the openness. If this was with a man, people wouldn’t be saying it put him in a bad light. They’d be saying “Wow, what a boss, sleeping with 20 girls? Amazing.” Consider double standards. Also, why is it that anyone who disagrees with you has to be the author’s friend OR a misogynist? How does that make sense? There are over 7 billion people on this planet. 

        • Amber

          By that logic, no one could ever truly be offended by anything, because taking offense would only be our perception of said offensive material, and therefore all in our head. This type of thinking is dangerous because it removes all moral and ethical responsibility from the person creating the offensive material, and puts the burden on the viewers/consumers. So uh, do you not believe in personal responsibility, or what?

          Also, I don’t think you read all of Fiafa’s comments in this post. Scroll down for some classic woman-hating.

        • guesty testy

          But there’s a difference between an ad like this and an ad that contains a racist joke. I think this ad is open to a lot more debate than, say, Abercrombie’s push-up bras for 11-year-olds because it’s not blatantly offensive. It’s more about perception and preference. I’m pretty sure very few people believe push-up bras for children are ok, but there are quite a few people who aren’t offended by this ad. 

          This is like the classic argument over what constitutes art. You can’t say that everything is art, but you can’t say nothing is art, either. No, responsibility does not 100% lay with the viewers. But nor does it lay with the advertisers 100%. I do believe in personal responsibility. Like if I shot a guy, I wouldn’t say “LOL, Eminem and his hate music made me do it! Not my fault!” 

      • Anonymous

        Having more partners increases risk.
        That’s not a judgment, its statistics.

        The male version of this ad is exactly the same:

    • Brittany Leah

      I just want to point out that the woman is not the one in control here. The one “checking in” would be the male, and as such, she is not “feeling fine and in control”, but rather being deduced as a “place” to have “been”. I really don’t understand how you see this as a suitable message. Don’t you think there are less tacky, victim blaming ways to promote AIDS awareness? I get the sense that your tongue-in-cheek discussion (don’t get your “pantys in a knot”… really?) is in large part a stressed effort to be admitted into the “boys club” that is our modern professional world. 

      • Amber

        “I get the sense that your tongue-in-cheek discussion is in large part a stressed effort to be admitted into the “boys club” that is our modern professional world.”

        Same. “Who cares if the majority of women are offended by this ad, I’M NOT CAUSE I’M COOL.”

    • Guestropod

      “Be careful, fellas, she’s probably diseased!”  is what I’m getting from this ad

    • Emma G.

      Wow. I think Thought Catalog really missed the mark here. Gabby Gabby laid her argument out pretty clearly and all the author can seem to do is make ad hominem attacks on everyone who disagrees with her. Look, if all you wanted to do is write an opinion piece, than frame it as such. Don’t write a piece calling everyone who doesn’t agree with you a close minded idiot.

      • Anonymous

        A) all this commenting gets boring so I wasn’t ignoring anyone as much as i was, ya know, off living life for a few minutes.

        B) my only point is not that anyone is “wrong”, but that the only real danger present in an ad like this comes from how we talk about it. That is, it is not “sexist” or anything else negative until THOSE are the points you CHOOSE to pull from it and point out and focus on. Those are individual filters. There is no problem unless you choose to see one, and it does not exist unless you say it does. 

        It’s called “threat construction”, folks, and it’s not a new idea. 

        This article was meant to challenge the way we digest ads like this, and posit that perhaps the problem lies there, rather than in the ads themselves. So far, all of the negative opinions offered in these comments have done nothing but reaffirm that idea for me. 

        (and if i don’t respond to everything, it’s because fighting on the internet is the lamest of the lame so I’m probably off doing something better with my time. I’ve already engaged way, way more in these comments than I ever do. Go ahead and find a way to be offended by that too.)

        • Amber

          By that logic, no one could ever truly be offended by anything, because taking offense would only be our perception of said offensive material, and therefore all in our head. This type of thinking is dangerous because it removes all moral and ethical responsibility from the person creating the offensive material, and puts the burden on the viewers/consumers. So uh, do you not believe in personal responsibility, or what?

        • Amber

          When you warn us that you’re not going to reply to dissenting opinions of your article, you’re implying that you’re okay with shirking personal responsibility for what you’ve said. So I guess I answered my own question, then. 

        • Anonymous

          No, it’s just that we could go round and round forever. The fact that I’ve debated with some of you means I obviously don’t invalidate your opinions, even if I don’t agree with them. That said, my decision to walk away from the conversation isn’t disrespectful, nor is it “giving up”; it’s realizing that only so much can be accomplished from arguing online and having enough respect for myself to step away from the laptop and do something more worthwhile.

        • Amber

          Instead of doing that whole “lol it’s the internet, y so srs” thing, maybe you could actually address the logical inconsistencies in your argument that I brought up in my last comment.

        • kandylions

          i haven’t seen much debate from your side, your replies mostly consist of telling commenters that any offense they might take from the ad is something that they made up due to their preexisting biases and therefore they should lighten up. according to my knee-jerk reactionary filters, that appears to be you invalidating well-supported opinions.
          perhaps you could acknowledge that the ad does play on sexist tropes, as clearly pointed out by your readers, and then take your argument from there.

        • sgi

          There’s a difference between an ad like this and an ad for, let’s say, Axe. In Axe ads, women are shown to be sex-crazed, mindless beings who can’t resist the smell of whatever-the-hell makes up Axe. The purpose of objectification in Axe ads are to encourage men to buy the product and become “sex bombs.” I would be offended at an Axe ad. I’m not offended at this ad. 

        • Anonymous

          “By that logic, no one could ever truly be offended by anything, because
          taking offense would only be our perception of said offensive material,
          and therefore all in our head.”
          that actually sounds like a pretty reasonable suggestion to me!

        • Amber

          That is a super privileged thing to even suggest. 

        • Anonymous

          I didn’t mean to imply that people shouldn’t (for example) call others out on racism and sexism, or work to make things more fair and just.
          I just think the feeling of offense itself isn’t particularly helpful.

          A cop doesn’t have to be angry in order to apprehend a criminal.  In fact, if her/his emotions run high, that will most likely interfere with getting the job done safely and efficiently.
          In the same way, I think making a personal effort to check ones own feeling of offense can reduce knee-jerk emotional reactions allowing for a more thoughtful and productive dialogue to take place instead.
          I’ve just been reading comments from both sides of the debate about transgender bobby trying to join the girlscouts, and it seems that everyone’s arguments on both sides are purely expressions of how offended each is based on their own personal biases

        • Anonymous

          And it turns out this is a great example.
          Everyone was so busy being outraged, that no one took the time to even inquire if there actually WAS a male equivalent ad. 
          Everyone just assumed there wasn’t, because they expected the campaign to be sexist, (which would be an example of what the author was talking about).
          Well, it turns out there is.
          Which pretty much invalidates about 90% of the counter-arguments to this post

        • Amber

          Well I never even commented on the actual ad itself, so I don’t really know why you’re responding to me. Except I think that’s everyone’s “assumptions” are 100% the fault of the author, because she obviously forgot to do her research. If you’re a journalist and you’re going to write a very aggressively-opinionated editorial piece, you better have all sides of the story. That’s just fucking bad journalism. 
          I do agree, though, if she had presented the male ad, then 90% of these counterarguments wouldn’t have happened—but again, that’s all on the author. I also don’t see how this proves the author’s point at all, because she presented the female ad as if it was a single ad—and if that truly had been the case, most of these counter-arguments would still stand.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=3320466 Ron Alfa

          1. You shouldn’t waste your time responding to comments. The fact that there is commentary, suggests the piece was thought provoking one way or another. So long as people aren’t trolling. 

          2. The fault with your shift of responsibility from the ad to the viewer is evident with appreciation of the fact that the message necessarily relies on the ‘negative filter’ that you are attempting to criticize. That is, if we look at the ad and see only an “positive, empowered, liberated woman” and are unperturbed by the 20 sexual partners, then what is the impetus to be vigilant of HIV and use condoms? This image is only an HIV ad through the filtered lens. Only in relation to the message: “Lots of people have been in this vagina, HIV is scary, better use condoms.” 

          No, the art director did not invent a negative connotation. The art director did however create an image that refers to that negative connotation, and deploys it with the willful intention of sending a powerful message. The viewer did not invent the negative connotation, it exists epistemically if you will, in life, in society…  at the frat house with a case of cheap American beers. Do we want to stabilize it by using it to send messages, or should we rather be coming up with more creative ways to send messages?  

    • Anonymous

      I think, objectification.

      The vagina is definitely construed as a place, in this ad an in other
      contexts: from the obscene to the poetic (“he burrowed into her cave”)
      The penis is more rarely turned into metaphor in (“He entered merrily
      with his maypole”) and even when it is, it’s never a
      place explicitly designated for  something else’s
      use.

      Places are the property of objects or entities, of people. In this ad
      there is an implication – however slight – that the place of this
      woman’s vagina belongs Matti, the 19 before, and the many after who will
      use her vagina for their own recreation. The recreation in itself isn’t
      “wrong,” (sexduh) but by making her a place, and not equal to the
      person Matti, she becomes a fixed object that is marked by the events
      that have happened in her.  It’s not like a roller coaster gets a kick
      out of being ridden, it just gets puked on. She becomes something
      inhuman with a physical history that should be accounted for and perhaps
      avoided.

      Nowhere is it suggested that Matti, too, has checked in to 19 other
      women, or that Matti can be the one with a potentially-infectious
      history. Nowhere is it implied that if she had an STD (assuming she’s
      straight) it would have come from a man.

      When a woman becomes a place it suggests that her vagina is the origin
      of an STD; this ad totally dismisses the mutual exchanges between men
      and women that lead to the spread of disease. They could have achieved a
      more equal result by showing a man and woman with check-ins over his
      pepe and her nana. The reason why this ad is a problem is because it’s
      one-sided.

      • Anonymous

        To me, it seems like your comment is an example of what the author is talking about.
        You are reading into the part about a place implying ownership.
        A place is where you are.  When you check in on FB, you are not in a place you own.

        There is only one human, one actual person with a face, in this ad, and it is the woman.  The guys are just abstract, 19 of them don’t even have a name.  They are faceless nameless props.
        If anyone is dehumanized and reduced to an object, wouldn’t it be men 1-19?
        Furthermore, the implication is that any one of those 20 guys are the potential source of disease.  That is the whole point.  There are 20 people, each potentially with an STD, who have had sex with her.  If she was a virgin, she couldn’t have an STD, so that makes her vagina not the original source. 
        They say that when you have unprotected sex, you are basically having sex with every person your partner was with before you, (and everyone each of those people ever has, etc).
        This is just saying that, but in a concise graphical way that appeals to kids who use FB.

        That being said, they could certainly have used a male instead, had him be just as naked and provocative, and avoided the (what-should-have-been-obvious) controversy over supposed sexism

        • Anonymous

          The point of the ad is obviously to be controversial.

        • Adry

          THANK YOU

        • sgi

          Thank you for being awesome  

        • sgi

          Why doesn’t anyone reply to this comment? Everyone hates on every other comment… Could it be that no one has a rebuttal? This must be a first in the history of the internet. 

      • http://twitter.com/thoughtlessbeast ami

        EXACTLY!

      • Anonymous

        Please reevaluate comments in light of the fact that the male version is identical is every aspect, except that the model is male:

    • Onbeingoffended

      Look up Steve Hughes – Offended. 

    • Seikel

      I love sluts.

    • Anonymous

      So many things wrong with this, I wouldn’t even know where to start.

      • Sadfhlk

         Try.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for the encouragement mom!

    • Michaelwg

      1. This ad makes me chuckle. 2. I call dibs on 21.

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