This video has been making the rounds since the weekend. It depicts an advertisement for “Lil Poundcake,” whose hair smells like frosting and who comes with accessories like a cell phone and earrings that her human friends can wear too. She is also equipped to administer the three shots over a six-month period that make up the HPV vaccine.
Shockingly (or perhaps not, if you speak satire/happened to watch Saturday Night Live this week), Lil Poundcake is a parody, designed to poke fun at the “HPV wars” that have been taking place during the Republican campaign for the Presidential nomination. It’s a humorous way of drawing attention to the hysteria surrounding the HPV vaccine and proposals (or legislation, where such legislation exists) to make it mandatory for all students – sometimes just female students, sometimes female and male – of a certain age.
One of the more striking things about the video is just how much it highlights the fact that when it comes to safer sex and reproductive health technologies, the delivery methods may have advanced (lower doses of pills than in my mother’s generation, condoms that “feel as though you aren’t using one,” silicone rings administering the same synthetic hormones in birth control pills) but the basic building blocks are the same. Even though there are advances being made (the much buzzed-about “male birth control” comes to mind), when it comes to contraception there are precious few options to choose from – and I recognize that I, living comfortably and legally in a medium-sized city, in a country with accessible health care provided by the provincial government, am coming from a place of serious privilege. If Margaret Sanger were to walk through a sexual health centre, she would most likely recognize most of the devices and methods on display as current – rather than former – birth control methods.
Over at RH Reality Check, Kirsten Moore has a great post up about the differences in technological advancement between smartphones and contraceptives, arguing that if consumer demand for advancement in one mirrored that of the other, the safer sex and contraceptive product market would look quite different:
The opportunities for innovation in products and services are as varied as the women and men who need them. There is no one silver bullet (or pill, or condom) when it comes to contraception: each woman is different and has unique and changing life circumstances. As consumers, we need to talk about what we like, what we don’t like, and what we wish we had when it comes to birth control.
Keeping safer sex and reproductive health technologies out of the public discourse – except to demonize and discredit them – does nobody any favors.
Sanger worked throughout her entire life to improve the accessibility and caliber of birth control in the United States and globally, using methods as diverse as government lobbying for increased research efforts and, when necessary, smuggling. Why, then, should we assume that what we have is “good enough,” and stop asking for something better?
Without open discourse about what works, what doesn’t, and who likes to use what (and for which reasons), there is no room for innovation. There is no question that for many, many people, the barriers to accessing what is actually available are financial, physical, and social. It is, however, possible to improve access to what does exist without forgetting to keep an eye on what might be coming over the horizon.