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Screw that

Editorial by Bruce Wark

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I must have been really wicked in a past life because in this one, I’m required to scan news releases. On Tuesday, November 8, I noticed one from Canada NewsWire, a PR outfit that gets paid to send a daily flood of promotional blurbs into newsrooms. The release, from the giant condom maker Durex, claimed that Canadian women are more satisfied in bed than their male partners. It added the company’s latest online sex survey found that 47 percent of Canadian women but only 37 percent of men were confident in asserting their sexual needs with partners. “Women reported being more open-minded about their sex lives…and more willing to experiment with sexual aids than men.” The release added that Durex is “indulging this desire for experimentation” with massagers for women that “offer ways to explore new sensations alone or with a partner.” The massagers are now available in drug stores, along with “four different varieties of lubricants, which include pleasure-enhancing, tingling and warming sensations.” The release was peppered with stats comparing Canadians to people in 40 other countries who also completed online sex surveys. “The 2005 Durex Global Sex Survey revealed that lovers around the world are having sex an average of 103 times a year. Canadians are a little above the global average at 108 times per year.” Yippee!

I must have been a serial rapist in a past life because in this one, I’m required to read newspapers. Sure enough, in the days following the news release, stories about the Durex sex survey appeared in papers across the country. The Halifax Daily News, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Regina Leader-Post, and Edmonton Journal were among those which ran a CanWest news story by Misty Harris. The story reported that the Durex survey showed Canadian women are “more open-minded between the sheets and more likely to experiment with sex toys than their male counterparts.” Harris called the Durex survey “the largest sexual health research project of its kind,” and cited many statistics from the news release, including one showing that “almost half of Canadians (49 percent) admit to having unprotected sex without knowing their partner’s sexual history.”

In an email in response to my question about how accurate she thought the survey was, Harris acknowledged that she “wouldn’t necessarily use any of the stats in a court of law.” But, she wrote, “I would like to give our readers credit for knowing the difference between a doctor-led research project and a global survey executed by a condom company on the internet.” Harris apparently still has faith in the Durex survey however. “I think the results are a good indication of things that are absolutely happening but don’t necessarily offer scientific proof.” Besides, she suggested, her piece shouldn’t be taken as gospel: “In short, it’s meant to be a fun and informative article printed to make people think and hopefully smile a bit.” Harris’s story didn’t mention the new Durex massagers and lubricants. It didn’t have to. Durex is trying to encourage women to experiment with sex aids. Its survey, as reported in the papers, claims to show that women are already “more open-minded between the sheets.”

Both the Durex news release and Harris’s article quoted Stephanie Mitelman, a “sexuality educator” in Montreal. Mitelman travels the country discussing sex with young people. She’s sponsored by Durex and a company that peddles birth control pills. Mitelman advises young people to use condoms and pills together to avoid STDs and unwanted pregnancies; sage advice that just happens to promote her sponsors’ products. The Herald ran an upbeat story on Mitelman when she visited Halifax last month, but failed to mention Durex and the pill maker that pay for her travels. It seems that behind many a “fun and informative” news story there stands the mighty engine of corporate PR. When hacks team up with flacks to concoct the “news,” it’s our heads they’re trying to screw. You don’t need an online sex survey to tell you that.

Send promo material to: bwark@accesswave.ca or check out all the news (and PR) fit to print at my homepage: accesswave.ca/~bwark.

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