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India’s crackdown on condom ads is ridiculous

A real dick move

India has banned condom adverts on primetime television – apparently it was a TV campaign featuring a former porn star that instigated the decision to crackdown on content the government say promotes “unhealthy practices” and “endangers” children. 

For several months, conservative groups have been campaigning against commercials that feature former porn actor Sunny Leone slowly undressing. Now the government has ruled around 900 Indian TV channels must adhere to a new policy that restricts adverts to between 10pm and 6am, outside of popular watching times. 

The Indian government has funded birth control services, encouraged vasectomies and engaged in research all to perturb the rising population. India is the world’s second-most populous country – 1.3 billion people, and it’s expected to exceed China’s numbers in the next decade. Condom use is very low – 5 per cent of men say they use protection, and numbers of people using other contraceptives are staggeringly small. Female sterilisation is the most popular method. It’s also the third-biggest region for HIV/Aids sufferers.

The condom industry has shifted along with changing cultural attitudes towards sex in India, since condoms were introduced to the market in the 60s. While first marketed for their practicality, ads have gotten increasingly erotic, with Bollywood actors as ambassadors, flavoured condoms and risqué storylines. The industry is valued at a pretty measly Rs1,000 crore and Rs1,300 crore 

"In the second most populated country where sex education is a bare minimum, imposing such bans can only have a detrimental effect,” Japleen Pasricha, editor-in-chief of Feminism in India tells Dazed. “It is a senseless move where the government is adopting the classic 'pigeon closing its eyes on seeing a cat' strategy. The government thinks if they ban condom ads, young adults will not engage in acts that they consider ‘immoral’.” 

She adds: “However, information about sex is just a click away and young adults will do what they want irrespective of the government thinking otherwise. Instead of promoting safe sex and healthy concepts of consent, mutual respect and dignity, the government is succumbing to ridiculous measures to 'protect' young adults. We do not support this move and will continue educating young children and adults in their sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

“We need to reach out to more people with more and more advertising, not less,” Poonam Muttreja, the executive director of the Population Foundation of India, told the NYT. ‘‘Condoms are one of the few methods of birth control which prevent HIV and unwanted pregnancies. And they have no side effects.” 

Muttreja said the ban was a “direct contradiction to the population policy of the government.”

Large cities like Mumbai have huge billboards with condom adds, though in outer areas attitudes can be much more traditional. Billboards with Leone were taken down in the Gujarat state before the Hindu festival of Navratri because of protests. The word ‘condom’ has been bleeped out in several feature films, while others have had kissing scenes cut.