'Sex is fun' says Durex - and the advertising watchdog agrees
Underage children will not start having sex just because Durex says on the packaging of its product: "Sex is fun."
"A child who is otherwise not at risk would not, on the reading of the packaging, decide to have sex," the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) ruled on May 20.
"The directorate [ARB] recognises that it might aggravate other problems. A child with unfettered access to the internet might have discovered a new search term, a child who is being abused might become even more confused and ashamed, but these are all situations where other factors are at play, and where any number of things that children are exposed to might trigger additional harm. The reality is that we live in a society where children are exposed to more, younger."
Sithabile Ntshele complained to the ad watchdog about the packaging of Durex’s Fetherlite condoms with the tagline "Sex is fun".
Ntshele argued that it was "highly inappropriate as children of any age can see/ read it and get the wrong idea".
"Parents should have a choice of when and how they inform their children about the subject of sex," Ntshele said.
Durex argued the packaging contained no nudity, graphic, obscene or pornographic images and that the font for the words "sex is fun" is neither over-dramatised nor offensive.
"Children of a very young age will and should be accompanied by parents who may educate their children on sex when they feel that the time is fitting, however for the public in general the need for contraceptives is a matter of public interest, particularly so in SA where there is a high prevalence of HIV."
Durex believed it was common to find condoms in SA public elementary and high schools.
"Considering this, it is perplexing that parents should take issue with non-pornographic condom packaging."
The ARB was divided in its ruling, because it might be a "potential problem" to children who could read but had not been exposed to sex education. It identified these children as being about six to 11 years old.
ARB said "sex is fun" was an important part of the safe sex conversation and education around adult sexuality.
"It is perhaps a message that is often lost in the sex education done with children."
But it said it could be "somewhat confusing", because this group might associate fun with "toys, games and appropriate activities".
The ARB noted that the packaging could put parents in a precarious position if a child saw it but they did not.
"This is not a big billboard, or a television advertisement at a time when a parent would also be watching, but a small package that the child may notice and read without drawing the parent’s attention to it," ARB said.
"A younger child who simply sees the messaging may understand that sex is fun at any given time and manner. This is not ideal messaging for children that age."
The ARB dismissed the complaint despite the division.