After last week’s episode of HBO’s Insecure, social media erupted in criticisms citing how the show hasn’t been as explicit with showing condoms and other safer sex materials on the show.
But this push back sheds an important light on how our media impacts our sex lives, whether we’re aware of it or not.
Media impacts so many things about our lives, so it’s no surprise that our sex lives are also included in that. Over the decades, many popular shows have tackled sex and sexuality, and that’s become part of their appeal. Sex and the City, Broad City, even shows aimed at younger demographics like Degrassi: Next Class and Awkward are including sex as a major point of character development for the cast. This is important because it helps to normalize what we’re seeing. Viewers are able to relate to the struggles, joys, and disappointments that come along with navigating sex in their lives.
But safer sex has always been part of these conversations, whether explicitly stated or not. In many of these shows when characters are about to engage in sex, there may not be an explicit mention of safer sex materials like condoms because it is presumed to be part of the experience, without the characters having to mention it. Such is the case with Insecure: in a tweet from creator Issa Rae, she spoke of the show not explicitly showing of focusing on condoms prominently because it was assumed that viewers would now that they are being used.
But a question that is also raised with this is what role does influence play in media representation for safer sex? Are viewers actually more or less likely to use safer sex materials themselves if they see characters on their favorite shows using them? Studies have been done trying to answer this question in regards to adolescent sexual behavior, but little information focuses on individuals older than 17. A big part of answering this question would need for viewers to have a certain level of media literacy. But this also leaves little room for individual responsibility.
When it comes to whether shows can actually impact a viewer’s decision to use safer sex materials during sex, it depends. For some, a TV show can provide as a reminder of the importance of using a condom or a dental dam during sex to prevent pregnancy and/or STIs. But for others, watching safer sex materials being used on TV don’t make as big of a difference because it’s viewed specifically for entertainment, and meant to be taken as fantasy.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum of feelings, it’s important to know that your sexual health matters and it’s your responsibility to protect it. Using safer sex materials can not only protect you during a sexual experience, but it can make the experience more pleasurable. Sure, talking about STIs, pregnancy, and condoms may seem intimidating and uncomfortable, but it’s better to be uncomfortable and safe than not. And if your favorite TV shows can talk about it, then you can too.