By JAMILA RIZVI
What do all of these television couples have in common?
A sexually transmitted infection, that’s what.
In fact, statistically speaking, they wouldn’t just have one. No, no. The chances are that with all the super steamy sex these characters have been having over the years, each one of them has a veritable Arnott’s Biscuits type assortment of diseases.
Take a moment, if you will and think about how many times Carrie and Big have sex over the six seasons of Sex and the City; sex with each other and sex with someone else.
This isn’t a judgement thing – all power to them both, I say (although I will never forgive Big for leaving her at the altar. Tool.)
But. BUT. In amongst all that passion and lust, all of Big’s dark brooding man feelings and Carrie’s endless sexual not-so-private reflections in a major NYC newspaper – how come nobody ever stopped to reach for the condoms.
When Meredith Grey and Dr McDreamy were desperately ripping off each others scrubs in the on-call room before having a heated argument and bounding off for angry revenge sex with a random scrub nurse – how come neither of the Grey’s Anatomy characters could spare a moment for contraception? You’re DOCTORS for Christ’s sake, don’t you care about STIs?
A study by the UK Department of Health recently analysed more than 350 drama and comedy television shows that are popular with young people, to try and discover if any of the characters cared about preventing the spread of STIs. Shows analysed included the aforementioned Grey’s Anatomy but also Lost, Desperate Housewives and Australian made dramas like Home and Away and Neighbours. The researched found that only:
7 percent of the sex scenes included discussions of safe sex. Of the 102 encounters of actual sex, three couples used condoms, and 13 per cent of sexual encounters where contraception was not featured dealt with any kind of consequence, such as pregnancy or contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Of the 99 instances of unsafe sex, nine characters regretted their behaviour, according to the study. Further, the study says that nearly 37 percent of youngsters turn to television for guidance on sex and relationships, and almost 50 percent of young adults say they would feel more confident about using condoms if they were discussed more openly in the media.
Even in shows that are praised for their ‘real life’ approach to the challenges of sexual relationships – like HBO’s new hit series, Girls – don’t seem to think condoms are worth mentioning unless they didn’t work.
Girls is all about authenticity and depicting sex as it really is and not in the glossy, perfect, my-boobs-are-perky-even-when-I’m-on-my-back and nobody-ever-smacks-their-head-accidentally-on-the-bedside-table kind of way.
And yet by my count, there are barely any episodes that mention contraception in the everyday sort of way – other than those where a character has an unwanted pregnancy, or gets an STI. (Having said that, props to Girls for giving it a damn good go and doing a better job than any other show on TV).
It seems that the only time television series characters do discuss condoms or any other kind of contraception, is when that contraception has failed.
Discussions of condoms breaking or being out of date or the Pill failing to be effective – they manage to make it into the script – but not the awkward normality of having to press pause on the passionate stuff in order to open a new box.
And that has consequences.
It isn’t some tiny percentage of Australian teenagers who fail to use condoms when they have sex – it’s the majority. In fact more than 30 per cent of young people told a Victorian survey that they didn’t use a condom last time they had sex.
More than half of those who are on the pill, don’t bother with condoms. And a fifth of those surveyed say they don’t use condoms because they don’t ‘like them’.
Okay so condoms aren’t sexy. They’re slimy and rubbery and that’s before you event get started.