Do Your Favorite TV Shows Impact Your Safe Sex Usage?

Sep 15, 2017 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images

After a recent episode of HBO’s Insecure, social media erupted in criticisms citing how the show hasn’t been as explicit with showing condoms and other safer-sex materials on the show.

But this pushback sheds an important light on how media impacts our sex lives, whether we’re aware of it or not.

More: People Assume I Have STIs Because I’m Polyamorous

Over the decades, many popular shows have tackled sex and sexuality, and that’s become part of their appeal. Sex and the City, Broad City, even shows aimed at younger demographics like Degrassi: Next Class and Awkward are including sex as a major point of character-development for the cast. This is important because it helps to normalize what we’re seeing. Viewers are able to relate to the struggles, joys and disappointments that come along with navigating sex in their lives.

But safer sex has always been part of these conversations, whether explicitly stated or not. In many of these shows, when characters are about to engage in sex, there might not be an explicit mention of safer-sex materials like condoms because it is presumed to be part of the experience without the characters having to mention it. Such is the case with Insecure. In a tweet from creator Issa Rae, she spoke of the show not explicitly showing or focusing on condoms prominently because it was assumed that viewers would know they are being used.

More: I thought telling my son to use a condom was enough — I was wrong

But this also raises the question: What role does media representation of safer sex play in influence? Are viewers actually more or less likely to use safer-sex materials themselves if they see characters on their favorite shows using them? Studies have been done trying to answer this question in regard to adolescent sexual behavior, but little information focuses on individuals older than 17. A big part of answering this question would need viewers to have a certain level of media literacy. But this also leaves little room for individual responsibility.

When it comes to whether shows can actually impact a viewer’s decision to use safer-sex materials during sex, it depends. For some, a TV show can provide a reminder of the importance of using a condom or a dental dam during sex to prevent pregnancy and/or STIs. But for others, watching safer-sex materials being used on TV don’t make as big a difference because it’s viewed specifically for entertainment and meant to be taken as fantasy.

More: 5 STIs that can threaten your fertility

No matter where you fall on the spectrum of feelings, it’s important to know that your sexual health matters, and it’s your responsibility to protect it. Using safer-sex materials can not only protect you during a sexual experience, it can make the experience more pleasurable. Sure, talking about STIs, pregnancy and condoms might seem intimidating and uncomfortable, but it’s better to be uncomfortable and safe than not. And if your favorite TV shows can talk about it, then you can too.

By Cameron Glover

Originally published on HelloFlo.