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Finally Some PSAs About Sex; A Closer Look at the New Bedsider Campaign

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Written by Martha Kempner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the  original post.

The first public service announcement (PSA) that I remember is one about prejudice.  It featured a young white boy fishing in a rowboat with his grandfather. He complains with a little bit of stutter on the big word:  “Grandpa, yesterday Jimmy said I was prejudiced.” Grandpa explains that “prejudice is when you react to someone because of their religion or their color.”  The boy protests that he doesn’t do that but proceeds to describe Jimmy as “one of my Jewish friends.”  Grandpa calmly says, “Then you are prejudiced because you think of Jimmy as one of your Jewish friends and not just one of your friends.”

This commercial, which aired in the late 70s, has clearly stuck with me over the years; though I will admit that in my memory Jimmy was “one of his black friends” and grandpa didn’t have to explain that the kid was prejudiced, we were just meant to see the irony in his protest. (Thanks YouTube for correcting the flaws in my memory.) Still, I’ve got to think that that PSA did its job – 7-year-old me saw it, went to talk to my parents about it, and never forgot what prejudice was – or the image of the kid and grandpa in the boat.

In the years since, we’ve seen many PSA campaigns come and go.  Who can forget the fried egg – “this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs,” for example.  My sex educator colleagues and I, however, have always bemoaned the fact that there have been few widely released commercials celebrating safer sex, condom use, or contraception.  They have them in Europe – my favorite, as of today’s YouTube search, being one depicting a 6-year old having the king of all supermarket tantrums when he’s denied candy by his father.  The tagline is simply, “use condoms.”

But in this country, our discomfort with sexuality in general and teen sexuality in particular, has meant that commercials for Axe body spray can be replete with sexual innuendo but PSAs stick to telling kids to eat better, get active, and stay out of their parents' medicine chests.

That changed a little bit last week with the launch of the Bedsider campaign.

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