The world’s second most populous country is cutting down on condom advertisements

Only on late-night TV.
Only on late-night TV.
Image: Reuters/Jose Manuel Ribeiro
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The world’s second-most populous country—and third-biggest hub of AIDS patients on the planet—wants to restrict people’s exposure to condom commercials.

In a notification released on Dec. 11, India’s information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry advised television channels to restrict their airing to between 10pm and 6am. Invoking the Cable Television Ruling from 1994, which states that “indecent, vulgar, suggestive, repulsive or offensive themes or treatment shall be avoided in all advertisements,” the ministry asked them “not to telecast the advertisements of condoms which are for a particular age group and could be indecent and inappropriate for viewing by children.”

Failure to comply with the advisory “will attract action,” the notification added. The advisory follows a number of complaints received by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) on condom adverts.

India and condoms

Condoms were first introduced in India in a big way in the 1960s as a means to control the population. Over the years, though, the emphasis of condom marketing has shifted from their utilitarian aspects to eroticism because attitudes towards sex have evolved in India. But their sales have been nothing to rave about, with the market currently estimated at between just Rs1,000 crore and Rs1,300 crore.

Meanwhile, India is set to topple China as the world’s most populous country by 2024. The scourge of AIDS has also taken a toll on the country’s population. Yet, India has one of the lowest condom usage rates in the world. Research by the National Family Health Survey shows that between 2005 and 2015, the proportion of Indians using condoms grew from a measly 5.2% to 5.6%. Instead, female sterilisation remains the most popular contraceptive method.

Condom-makers, on their part, have tried various strategies, including flavoured condoms and roping in Bollywood celebrities as brand ambassadors, to lure young consumers. Yet, the market is growing at a sluggish pace.

And now, there’s this latest government move.

Experts feel these restrictions do a great disservice to the cause of promoting safe sex. “The nature of an advertisement can be debated, but a ban on advertising is counter-productive and is rooted in a shame-filled and stigmatising the attitude towards sex. It ends up doing injustice to all three aspects: needs, desires, and realities of people’s sexual lives,” said Paromita Vohra, a documentary filmmaker and the founder of Agents of Ishq, a multi-media project promoting conversations around sex and love.

Vohra is of the view that with progressives attitude towards sex prevailing, especially in urban India, condom ads should be on the rise. “Given that women have a hard time negotiating condom use, and that the age at which people have sex is going down all the time, and that cultural attitudes to sex are relaxing positively, it’s imperative that we have more, not less advertising about condoms,” she said.

This isn’t the first time condom commercials have come under fire in the country. Various regulatory bodies and political leaders have in the past expressed their disapproval of such ads. The latest diktat only reaffirms India’s long-standing conservatism.