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The Holding Court Issue

Selling Safe Sex to the Developing World

Population growth is slowing in most of the world, but not in Pakistan.

Screenshot courtesy of DKT International

Population growth is slowing in most of the world, but not in Pakistan – the UN estimates that the country had 173 million residents as of 2010, up from 143 million in 2000 and only 111 million in 1990. This is a problem, especially in rural areas where poverty and lack of government services are widespread. DKT International, an NGO that provides birth control throughout the developing world, is among the organisations trying to contain the country's population bomb, and it's doing so with condom commercials that are too hot for Pakistani TV. DKT was founded by Phil Harvey, who made his fortune selling sex toys, condoms and porn through his company Adam & Eve. DKT sells rather than donates condoms in order to take advantage of retail distribution networks (shopkeepers have to be able to profit from something to stock it on their shelves) and because buying family-planning products encourages people to value and actually use them. A big part of DKT's strategy is not just educating people about birth control but marketing their products, which is why they aired a commercial that showed Pakistani supermodel Mathira married to a goofball of a dude because he used the company's Josh Condoms. Unfortunately, the spot drew complaints for being "immoral" and was pulled off the air in late July by conservative government censors. Christopher Purdy, executive vice president for DKT, which has operated in Pakistan since last year, said the problem with the ad was not just Mathira's image (she's the Marilyn Monroe of Pakistan, he said) but the somewhat hidden implication that the couple had sex before tying the knot. The ad was also accused of promoting oral sex because Josh Condoms come in a strawberry flavour, but that's "in the eye of the beholder", according to Christopher. "Why you'd want a strawberry-flavoured condom is usually just to mask the scent of the latex," he said. "The irony is that we've been selling strawberry-flavoured condoms since we started [in Pakistan] and that's our number-one variant." DKT's condom commercials vary a lot from country to country – their Brazilian TV spots are very sexy, while their Ethiopian ones don't show any skin – and in this case, they were able to get an edited version of the ad back on TV in September, along with a follow-up commercial that features the same actors and characters. The NGO is also expanding its efforts in rural areas, where people are less connected to mass media; their end-of-the-year goal is to have 200 midwife clinics in the country that can provide not just condoms but also IUDs and other medical procedures. Currently, Christopher said, "If a women wants to get an injection, she may have to travel by bus for four hours… If we can reduce that travel time and put a clinic within walking distance or a 15-minute motorcycle ride, it makes life a lot easier."

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