they'll like us when we win

Trigger warning. Discussion of attitudes supportive of sexual violence.

Here’s a TED talk of Melinda Gates talking about how Coke does things that human services can learn from. Coke, she tells us, uses real-time data, local entrepreneurs, and aspirational marketing.

What she doesn’t mention is that Coke has a product that is chemically addictive (caffeine) and filled with glycogen-ready sucrose. Human bodies/brains respond to table sugar in much the way they respond to cocaine. I’m pretty sure Coke doesn’t need to make us feel good with aspirational marketing, because it makes us feel good with sugar and caffeine.

In contrast, when it comes to prevention interventions around sex, it really doesn’t matter how “aspirational” your marketing is or how good your data are: condoms interfere with pleasure. They require a skillset separate from (and potentially interfering with) the skillset for being good in bed and enjoying sexual pleasure. They do. Condoms don’t feel as nice as skin, and anyone who says differently probably works for a condom company or a public health office.

I’m a sex educator; it’s my job (among other things) to persuade people to use condoms correctly and consistently. What are the good things and the not-so-good things about using a condom?

Good things: not getting a disease, not getting pregnant.

Not so good things: fumbling around, feeling embarrassed, potential loss of erection, making your partner think you don’t trust them or that you think they have a disease or that you cheated on them or think they cheated on you, not to mention reduced sensation.

Young people in particular have a hard enough time communicating about sex, but add to that communicating about condoms and you just have a shitshow.

What is there but fear – and POWERFUL fear, to overcome the perceived unlikelihood of negative consequences – to force someone to use a condom, given that laundry list of hassles and worries and angst?


This fell into my head after a series of conversations with a variety of people that can be summed up this way:

In Europe, there are small pockets of immigrant, Muslim men who believe that women who wear t-shirts and show their knees are no better than they should be and it’s completely fine to do anything you like to them, including sexually harass and assault them. Just small pockets of them, but they’re there, and they’re convinced by their cultural beliefs (emphatically NOT their religious beliefs or their families’ beliefs, but by specific cultural rules of men in impoverished and marginalized communities) that what I call violence against women is completely acceptable.

So tell me, Melinda Gates, what does Coke have to teach us about changing that? What aspirational marketing, local entrepreneurship, or real-time data will convince these men that their behavior is in fact morally reprehensible, not to mention criminal?

This, at a time when my mandatory sexual harassment training tell me that if a coach touches his athlete in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable and asks her personal questions that make her feel uncomfortable, this might not be harassment if (a) it’s common for coaches to do these things (b) he treats all his athletes this way or © other athletes don’t agree that she’s being harassed.

That’s what MY LAWYER is telling me.

(NB: If it’s common for coaches to touch their athletes in this way, then there’s systemic abuse happening; if this coach treats all his athletes this way, then he’s a serial perpetrator. And if the other athletes don’t agree she’s being harassed, they’re participating in rape culture, with its victim blaming/survivor stigmatization, its gender stereotypes, and its rape myth acceptance.)

Sometimes you can’t be nice. Sometimes you just have to make laws and enforce the hell out of them and manage the inevitable resistance that arises, and eventually you WIN and then people settle into a new normal.

Toby on West Wing said it: They’ll like us when we win.

Condoms are not the answer to STIs: cures and vaccines are the answer. People can’t be relied on to protect their long term interests in the face of short-term loss.

And collaborative, developmental conversations are not the answer to changing the culture of objectification of women: shaming and imprisonment are the answer. People can’t be relied on to retain respect for others when everything in their culture and their meta-culture tells them that others are not really human.

There are days when I’m not interested in creative solutions or getting the buy-in of the stakeholders. There are days when I just want to blow people off the face of the earth. They’ll like us when we win.