In fact, it is exactly those words that sounded the alarms last spring, when a sponsored tweet linked back to the Bedsider homepage, where the article about loving condoms (with the above tagline) was featured. It wasn’t the words of the promoted tweet itself that were an issue, it was the fact that that tweet linked back to a website with “sexual content.” A Twitter account strategist alerted Bedsider’s director, Lawrence Swiader, there would be an issue promoting any tweets while the condom love article was featured on Bedsider’s homepage. Even though the article was about safer sex, said the rep, “It still paints sex in a recreational/positive light versus being neutral and dry.”
Under Twitter’s ad policy, it’s okay to have messages about safer sex, they just can’t be sexual. So if an organization wants to encourage safer sex, they are limited to headlines like, “Use Condoms.” This is a problem for Bedsider, the entire existence of which is based on the premise that safer sex is better sex. “We need to be able to talk about sex in a real way: that it’s fun, funny, sexy, awkward … all the things that the entertainment industry gets so well,” Swiader says. “How can we possibly compete with all of the not-so-healthy messages about sex if we have to speak like doctors and show stale pictures of people who look like they’re shopping for car insurance?” While Kim Kardashian’s bare butt is “breaking the Internet” with click-throughs, sexual-health organizations must compete for attention with slogans fit for high-school health books.
Sexual health is something that has to be sold, like anything else. “We have to make healthy behaviors desirable by using creative, humorous, and positive appeals. We don't use negative, fear-based messaging to promote products, and we can't use it to promote behaviors,” says Susan Gilbert, co-director of The National Coalition for Sexual Health. “If we really want to improve sexual health in this country, we must give Americans access to accurate and engaging information that can help them protect their bodies, build good relationships, and access key health services."
Twitter’s non-sexy sex policy is one of many that have made online ventures difficult for the sexual-health community. A Facebook ad for a Bedsider article titled “Six Things You Should Know About Your Well-Woman visit” with the tagline “You’re so sexy when you’re well” was recently rejected because it violated “Facebook's advertising guidelines for language that is profane, vulgar, threatening or generates high negative feedback.” So said the email Facebook sent to Bedsider disapproving the ad. This policy, like many others, is so vaguely written that it’s difficult for organizations to abide by it. Was it the word sexy that was “profane?” Or is the idea of a well-woman visit threatening? (Fair enough, speculums can be intimidating.)