Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sexing it up with Elexa

I recently noticed a new ad in the latest Us Weekly. Before I could even read the copy I knew from the graphics that it was targeting hipster cum sex-and-the-city women (pulsing pink chick-lit disco girls in plunging necklines against a black background, their fists in the air and their hair in updos). And then the text. In large print: "The SEXUAL REVOLUTION has finally reached the feminine care aisle." In medium print: "Introducing Elexa, a premium line of intimacy products and condoms from Trojan. Elexa is designed from a woman's perspective. And thoughtfully available in the feminine care aisle.*" And then in teeny-tiny print: "*Elexa Vibrating Ring not for sale in Al, GA, TX, MS, LA, KS, CO or VA." Damn!

Now I love condoms. And Safe Sex is good. Very very very good. Condoms are good -- great! Condoms protect against unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Go Condoms! I'm all for any product that allows for healthy, happy sex. Spread the condom love! And condoms can be fun and creative too. Yes, we are pro-condom over here.

And I'm definitely into women-designed birth control and "intimacy products," and it makes sense that said products would be available in the "feminine care aisle" since this is where women shop. But . . .

I find the term "feminine care aisle" a bit of a tired euphemism (also see "Feminine protection" and "Feminine hygiene"). I mean, I'm used to it and all. It's rare that an ad for tampons or maxi pads actually references menstruation. The closest you'll get is some pretty blue fluid or a bouncing red dot. And it's still a funny joke to make a boy buy tampons (i.e. that Dr. Pepper commercial where a guy does yoga and buys tampons but splits as soon as his lady friend tries to take a sip of his Dr. Pepper). And though I didn't see the movie, I'm pretty sure that one of the jokes in How to Lose A Guy in Ten Days involves cluttering up the bathroom with big pink boxes of tampons. Hilarious!!!! And there's also those feminine deodorant products for "that not so fresh feeling." Yeah, the "feminine care aisle" is practically the aisle of women's liberation!

But more importantly, what's up with this ad's reference to the "sexual revolution." I'm sorry, but women buying condoms hardly seems revolutionary. In fact, almost every woman I know is responsible for the birth control in their intimate relationships (both financially and in terms of providing it and in terms of insisting that it be used). Think about it, how many forms of birth control are available just for women. The pill? Women only. Diaphram? Women only. Depo-provera ? Women only. IUD's? Women only. Norplant? Women only. The sponge? Women only. The patch? Women only. The Ring? Women only. The list goes on.

Several months ago I was having drinks with a group of young women who were all graduate students in some field related to medicine. One of them was studying pharmacology and several of them were studying public health. The ones in public health were particularly interested in reproductive health, which naturally led to my little rant about abstinence-only sex ed in Texas and how when I was in high school (also in a conservative state - south carolina) I learned how to put a condom on a banana. Granted, this was the early 90s. There were Trojan commercials on MTV. You could get handfuls of condoms from the public-school nurse. There were school-wide presentations on HIV. Anyway, after my rant I asked the women what was up with developing a birth control pill for men. I was surprised by the response. First, most of the women at the table wondered if such a thing were possible (and it is, you can read all about it here, here, and here). But that quickly faded into laughter over the idea that any man could be disciplined enough to take a pill everyday. The women agreed that they wouldn't trust their own partners to remember!!! (WTF???? If a guy is in a relationship I hope he cares enough about his partner's health to remember to take a pill!!!! Sheesh!)

I can't help but wonder if this new line of Elexa products is really progressive, or is simply a reflection of the fact that more women are buying condoms, not just because they want to have safe sex, but because the men they are having sex with are less and less likely to provide them. I've heard too many stories about men who don't want to wear condoms or get tested for STDs. What bam-bams!!!! Grow up!!! I mean, let's not beat around the bush (no pun intended); birth control has long been considered the women's responsibility. After all, chicks are the ones with the womb!!! Never mind that men have the swimmers!

Can you imagine sponges and diaphrams being sold in the "masculine care" aisle?

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think Elexa is bad -- I just think their ad campaign illuminates some troubling trends. There's some useful information on the Club Elexa page, including an article on body image and the importance of enjoying sex even after you no longer feel "young." And there are tips on achieving orgasm and all that good stuff. And pro-woman language and even -- gasp -- the "f" word (feminism) is sprinkled throughout the site. But it's not the catalogue of progressive, women-centered sex-products you'll find advertised in the pages of Bust, or Bitch, or even Ms. No, Elexa ain't no Toys in Babeland.

In last weeks episode of Laguna Beach, Alex M. was pissed at Casey because she told a few of the boys that Alex M. had a mysterious "hygiene problem." Now the exact nature of the problem was never revealed, but Jenny confirmed my suspicion that it was "probably something vagina related." In an episode of Friends, Monica and Rachel fight over the last condom in the house as their partners (we must presume) both arrived unprepared and must wait for the women to return with the goods. And in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry mistakenly puts a condom designed to sustain his erection on inside out, leaving Cheryl, his poor wife, with a numb vagina.

I bring these examples up simply to illustrate how anxiety about the female body -- it's shape, size, impregnability, and smell -- is one of the things that creates a market for "feminine care products." One imagines that the target audience of the Elexa ads are women like Casey and Alex M. , whose bodies must be kept smelless and pristine to be deemed acceptable by the cadre of immature boys of Laguna Beach. Or else women like Monica and Rachel, who, without their own supply of condoms, may never get laid again. Or like Cheryl, who if she leaves the condom buying and even the condom putting-on to Larry, might end up with an uncomfortably numb vagina.

Lastly, if women are expected to remember and provide and finance birth control, shouldn't women make MORE than men?


Crystal said...

It's pretty pathetic that women are being forced to shoulder the burden of birth control alone, and I have never understood men who don't wanta wear a condom. I mean, don't they care about catching disease or unwanted pregnancies too? And the whole abstinence-only sex education is just appallingly irresponsible. I'm from the South too, and there are huge percentages of teen pregnancies down there, so that's just stupid to stay deluded thinking that every girl is gonna stay a virgin 'till marriage.

Anonymous said...

Don't even start with me today.

My partner and I split the birth control and "women's" health expenses. We're both staying healthy and child-free, right?

But we can't split the morning sickness induced by birth control pills that circulate hormones through my entire body to simulate pregnancy . . . and I just called my gyn today to learn that no, they won't consider inserting the local hormone IUD because I haven't had kids. All my friends in CA can get one, but I can't . . . Anyone know why this IUD problem is regional? Or how to efficiently find someone who'll consider placing the IUD??

And I too have heard about men's hormone treatments . . . and none of my medico friends have.

I'm in the worst mood about this, and you just happened to post . . .

elizalou said...


And, unfortunately, I'm not so shocked about your medical friends being unaware either. I had long been reading about Seasonale (before it had an official name, I guess) and mentioned it to my gyno at a visit. She had no idea what I was talking about. "What kind of pill is this?" she asked.

Granted this was about two years before it actually hit the market, but still, if little 21 year old me found out about it why couldn't a gynecologist?

So, yeah, grrr...

rabfish said...

GREAT post

it's mindblowing how unwilling people are to see that these disparencies are out of, as you say, anxiety about the female body, and not just freaking 'neutral.'

Crystal said...

Yo Anonymous, have you considered depo-provera? It works like a charm!