When this Finnish HIV/AIDS awareness ad came out, it sparked a lot of controversy: was it empowering or was it slut-shaming? Was it slut-shaming, or female-shaming in general? Just because there is another ad with a man on it, does that make it okay? I'm still not completely sure. At first I was shocked and disgusted by the ad--it's been traveling the Tumblr circuit recently, which is where I first came across it--because the objectification of the woman (at first) seemed so obvious. I reblogged it and wrote, "yikes. so freaking despicable." A female friend of mine wrote, "gross, dude. what human looked at this and was like 'yes, good.'"
I don't believe that our reactions were unfounded. The top of the model's head (the part that holds her brain!) is cut off, and she's looking away from the camera. She may be smiling, but she's also lying down, waiting to be sexed on, with seemingly little agency. Yet, it's the Facebook Places (their version of Foursquare) aspect that's the most clever and jarring and striking and maybe offensive. But maybe not.
The ad seems, upon first glance, to imply that the woman's having slept with twenty dudes is a bad thing. And that whoever is behind the camera better wrap up his junk quick because there's a greater chance that as soon as he "checks in" to her vagina (which is also just such a vulgar way to think about it), he'll be entering a cesspool of disease. (It's important to note that the ad is isolating in its cis-gender focus, as well.) And yet, the men's ad says he's been with 35 people--so they appear to be saying that it's more acceptable for men to have a greater number of sexual partners.
But maybe that's reading into it too much. Maybe there was no motive behind cropping out the tops of both the man and the woman's heads, except that to show that they could be anybody. Maybe revealing the number of sexual partners the woman had as well as the man makes the campaign more progressive; most young people talk about sex candidly in this day and age, so why not have an ad that is completely about sex reflect that?
The ad is not saying that men and women should divulge their sexual histories before hopping into bed with one another; they're simply urging people to keep in mind that they don't and can't know the sexual history of the person they're about to get jiggy with, so they should be safe. The woman's smile is crucial--she's enjoying herself. She doesn't feel bad about her sexual choices, and shouldn't.
I'm still ambivalent, though. There's something about placing a map marker over a random lingerie-clad woman's vagina (and boxer-clad man's penis) and sticking it on an ad that feels cheap. At the same time, while the connotation seems to be "they're sluts, watch out," maybe that's not it at all. Maybe the ad is beyond slut-shaming: maybe it's just saying, "Young people have sex and shouldn't be ashamed of it. But they should wear condoms."
It's tough. What do you think?
The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.