To Prevent Teen Pregnancies, Campaign Launches Safer Sex Product Placement
SOURCE: ABC Family/Pretty Little Liars
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is trying to encourage teenagers to be more knowledgeable and responsible about sex by funneling their messaging through channels and platforms teens actually use—like Twitter, the Internet, and popular TV shows like "Pretty Little Liars"—and in turn, plan to reduce teen pregnancy rates by a third by 2015.
Sometimes the messages are subtle.
On "Pretty Little Liars," for example, two teens in the show are depicted undressing. But before anything gets too hot and heavy, one of the female leads on the show asks her boyfriend to put on a condom—sort of.
"Do you have a...?," she asks, to which he replies yes, the subtext being an entire conversation about safe sex and condom usage that occurred in just five words.
Though nothing more is said on the topic of safer sex, the implied message is succinct enough to suggest that asking your partner to use protection can be just as much a part of the game as peeling off each others' clothes. By inserting the painless reference to safer sex, the show successfully normalizes a possibly awkward but necessary endeavor. It's product placement you don't often see in steamy sex scenes but one that may be the most beneficial, protecting the young (and old) from matters of the loins, if not the heart.
What happens when teenagers decide to have sex is not always perfect—but the campaign makes sure that at the very least, betwixt the fraught tension and the love below, there is a realistic way to cover contraceptives.
Those birds-and-the-bees conversations we have with our parents are generally the first opportunity young people get to talk to someone more knowledgeable about sex than themselves, or their peers. But they can also be setups for misinformation, denial, and yield little information.
On an episode of "Parenthood," a daughter lies to her mother about having sex, and in turn, her mother lies about how old she was the first time she had sex. But just because the first go-around of sex talk can go awry doesn't mean it's the end of the conversation. In time, mother and daughter tell the truth about both of their experiences and engage in meaningful dialogue about what having sex might mean to a young person.
The campaign doesn't pay for these placements, yet it still works closely with every major television network, targeting teen audiences through shows like "Gossip Girl," "Glee," and "Pretty Little Liars" and has worked with hundreds of shows since the campaign was founded in 1996. The campaign is now the nation's No. 1 resource on preventing teen pregnancy.
Reaching a wide audience is key, and they have been successful. Between 1999 and 2007, the campaign distributed more than 7.6 million materials and appeared in over 6,000 newspapers, and nearly 3.5 million teens participated in the campaign's National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy between 2002 and 2008.
But three-in-ten teenagers still get pregnant by the age of 20, and teen pregnancy rates in the United States are still the highest among fully industrialized nations. Rates of teen pregnancy and birth for Latino teenagers are above the national average. While the campaign's strategy to target teens through media and social networking is keenly gaining traction, they still have a way to go.
Dahlia Grossman-Heinze is a reporter-blogger for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @salvadordahlia.