Melissa White received persuasive emails from Twitter’s advertising department for weeks, asking her “turn followers into customers” by advertising her business with the social media giant. So she finally decided to give it a try. But White soon learned that Twitter doesn’t necessarily want her customers.
“Tired of lousy condoms? LuckyBloke.com Condom Experts: shipping the world’s best condoms (world-wide) w/a 100% money back guarantee,” read the sponsored tweet that White submitted on behalf of her condom company. Shortly thereafter, she was notified that Lucky Bloke’s account is actually “ineligible to participate in the Twitter ads program” because of the company’s policy on sexual products.
Twitter’s advertising policy prohibits the “promotion of adult or sexual products and services,” including contraceptives. There’s an exception for campaigns intended to promote sexual health and HIV prevention, but only if they don’t include “sexual content.” They’re not allowed to link to anything that’s classified as a prohibited product, which includes birth control methods.
White, whose company focuses on promoting safe sex by helping people find properly fitting condoms, was frustrated that Twitter rejected her sponsored tweet. “There’s still so much stigma and shame attached to using condoms, and policies like this from big corporations just perpetuate that even further,” she explained in an interview with ThinkProgress. So she decided to do something about it.
On Tuesday, White launched an online campaign to pressure Twitter to change its policy about condom advertisements, encouraging supporters to join her cause by signing a petition and using the #Tweet4Condoms hashtag. “Our simple request for Twitter: Kindly remove condoms from Twitter Ads content blacklist,” the petition reads. “In the fight against the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies, condoms are the first line of defense. If you restrict the distribution of condoms, you are restricting efforts to save lives.”
In response to a ThinkProgress inquiry about White’s campaign, a Twitter spokesperson said there is no blanket policy against all advertisements from companies that sell condoms. “Lucky Bloke’s ad was rejected because it violated our policy, not because they are a condom manufacturer,” the spokesperson said. “Condom manufacturers are allowed to advertise on Twitter, along with safer sex education and HIV/STD awareness campaigns. For example, Durex (@durexlovesex) and Bedsider (@bedsider) have both advertised on Twitter.”
The spokesperson did not clarify how Twitter determines what counts as “sexual content” or how Lucky Bloke’s ad differed from the sponsored tweets from the other condom manufacturers. White thinks the policy is confusing, especially if it hinges on ads refraining from linking to condoms. She believes it restricts some nonprofit groups, like organizations working to reduce HIV infections, from sharing pro-condom messages on Twitter.
“I just think it’s interesting that corporations will censor you when you talk about pleasure in the context of sexual health. In fact, pleasure is how you’re going to get people to use condoms in the first place,” White noted. “If condoms are too small or too big, they’re not going to feel as good, and people won’t want to use them. So this education is really important.”
Lucky Bloke isn’t the only organization that takes that stance. Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched a new campaign to promote sexual health around the globe by creating a more pleasurable condom. Although there have been plenty of other public health campaigns to encourage condom use, they haven’t typically focused on enhancing sexual pleasure, and the foundation wanted to change that. “Decreased sexual pleasure is typically the predominant reason for not using them. Can we actually make them more desirable? That’s what we’re shooting for,” a program officer for the Gates Foundation explained when the campaign first launched.
In general, linking sex with pleasure is largely taboo in efforts to help encourage people to make healthier choices about their sex lives. Some sex ed teachers have made the case that it’s important to teach kids about the pleasurable aspects of sex, but they’re still very much in the minority in a country that’s dominated by inadequate classroom standards and abstinence-only education.
White referred to Twitter’s ad policy as “a little Puritanical” and said she’s been receiving a lot of positive feedback about her campaign. More than 200 people have already signed her petition.