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It’s okay for children to learn that sex is fun, SA’s advertising regulator says – even though it’s not thrilled at the idea

Phillip de Wet , Business Insider SA
 May 27, 2019, 12:17 PM
Durex Fetherlite condoms
  • South Africa's Advertising Regulatory Board had dismissed a complaint that condom brand Durex was giving kids the wrong idea about sex.
  • Children who see the slogan "sex is fun" on a box of condoms won't decide to have sex as a result, the regulator ruled.
  • But the ARB isn't thrilled about that kind of message either.


Based on a strict interpretation of its rules, the slogan "sex is fun" on a pack of condoms is not unacceptable advertising, the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) has ruled – even though it is neither thrilled about that nor unanimous in its decision.

The regulator was ruling on a complaint from a consumer who said condom manufacturer Durex's packaging was inappropriate for children, who could "get the wrong idea".

The slogan appeared on the Durex Fetherlite line, as part of a Valentine's Day promotion, though Durex said a limited number of the special packages were probably still in the retail system.

Sex is fun condom package

In response to the complaint Durex argued that its slogan would not cause harm to children, that contraception is a matter of public interest, and that condoms are made available in primary schools through government initiatives.

The ARB ultimately accepted that children would not be harmed by being told that sex is fun – but with some reluctance, and in a decision that was not unanimous.

See also: Sucking a man’s finger to taste Doritos chips is not sexual harassment, SA advertising regulator rules

Children between the ages of 6 and 11 who can read but have not necessarily been exposed to sex education yet associate the word "fun" with "toys, games and appropriate activities", the ARB said in its ruling.

"The message might therefor create some confusion as to the age appropriateness of sex as a fun activity."

Ideally, the regulator said, children should understand that sex is fun "at a suitable age, and with appropriate protection depending on the situation. A younger child who simply sees the messaging may understand that sex is fun at any given time and manner".

It also noted the possibility that the idea of sex as fun could aggravate other problems, including adding to the confusion and shame of a child who is being abused, or giving a child with unmonitored access to the internet an idea for a new search term. 

See also: A new plan will make it a crime to give a child a cellphone that can access pornography

"The reality is that we live in a society where children are exposed to more, younger," the ARB directorate wrote of its decision. "The temptation is to clamp down, to protect children at all costs, and for a body such as the ARB to err on the side of caution in a matter like this."

Resisting that temptation, the ABR decided the condom packages were not aimed at children, and would not encourage children to act in a fashion that could harm them.

"A child who is otherwise not at risk would not, on the reading of the packaging, decide to have sex," it said. 

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