In the following ad by Durex, entitled “Too big for her,” a woman smiles while moaning “ow, Ow!”
The joke, that apparently the guy behind her has a penis so big it hurts her even when he uses it gently, is neither new nor original. Men (let’s assume these ads are geared toward men and not trans women) don’t like to be reminded that, however virile and huge they may feel, a woman’s mouth or vagina is capable of handling quite a bit more than a larger-than-average penis. You don’t sell condoms with clever euphemisms about cold hot dogs.
Certainly there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel virile and sexy, especially in the context of sex, but these ads take the message beyond that. They present the act of harming women during sexual congress as evidence of virility. They present the act of harming women as not only funny, but sexy, and women as not only willing, but animalistically compelled to seek it out. Her pain is evidence of good sex.
In this ad, the penis is a bull and the ad encourages men to “let that beast go!” What happens when bulls “go” at somebody? Well, typically they’re gored. The message, followed to its natural conclusion, is “go gore a vagina!”
Penises are just flesh. When people are harmed by sex that involves a penis, it is not because a penis was just being a penis, it is because the person behind the penis inflicted violence upon them. This reality is purposefully glossed over in these ads.
Rape culture is what happens when we accept and encourage pervasive messages that sexual violence is normal and okay. The result of rape culture is that sexual violence that happens to women is not taken seriously, and that the crime of rape is excused. When Durex runs ads that overtly disregard the well-being of women in the context of sex, they are willingly perpetuating the message that a woman’s well-being doesn’t matter or is incidental to sex. Rape culture directly affects whether we’re willing to consider what has happened to a woman rape, or just along the natural spectrum of sex. When we are taught that women experiencing pain and injury as a result of sex is natural and okay, we are more reluctant to recognize when a crime has been committed and put a stop to it.
Durex’s contact page, in case you’d like to tell them yourself.